Billed as a healthy alternative to conventional ovens, and still a relatively new concept, steam ovens are slowly growing in popularity thanks to increasing consumer awareness. However, there is still a long way to go, meaning that there is significant future sales potential for retailers.
Richard Walker, sales and marketing director at FagorBrandt UK, explains: “Steaming is widely regarded by consumers as an excellent and healthy way to cook, however people are less aware that many of the vital nutrients are lost when using a conventional hob steamer. More and more manufacturers feature integrated steam ovens in their ranges, so they are much more of a talking point and consumer understanding is therefore increasing, and the market will grow as a result”.
Neff’s sales director, Mike Jarrett, agrees, commenting: “Currently few households have dedicated steam ovens, but as the ‘health’ message grows in significance (5-a-day etc) and more and more dedicated pre-prepared foods become available, so the demand for steam ovens must surely rise too”.
Why choose steam?
So, how do steam ovens work and what benefits can they offer? These products use a process of evaporation to heat food. Richard Walker of FagorBrandt UK explains: “The oven (usually the same size as a conventional microwave) features a water reservoir that is either attached directly to the mains water supply or with an independent removable jar. By selecting a pre-set temperature, the water will heat to above boiling point to convert the water into vapour. This is then pumped into the main cavity, or distributed via gravity to steam the food within”.
Steam ovens are ideal for healthy cooking, as no nutrients are lost during the cooking process and no extra fat needs to be added. The texture, colour and shape of the food is also retained, unlike in a conventional oven. What’s more, there is no transfer of flavours or odours between foods, so sweet and savoury dishes can be cooked at the same time, without any adverse effects on the food.
The only real drawback of using steam ovens, explains Marc Stewart, product marketing manager for built-in at Indesit Company, is that users cannot ‘brown’ foods, such as red meat. He suggests putting the cooked food on a griddle or under a hot grill for a few seconds to colour it.
As most steam ovens are built-in, the design of the products are extremely important, as they have to fit with the aesthetics of consumers’ kitchens, while offering a degree of flexibility. Hotpoint offers the new SEO100 steam oven, while De Dietrich offers the DOV499X steam oven as part of its Collection 38 range of modular appliances. These can be purchased as one complete console (with pyrolytic oven, microwave combi and steam oven), or as individual appliances. As the steam oven has its own water reservoir, it doesn’t need to be plumbed in, giving the user more options on where to place it in the kitchen.
For those that don’t have room for a dedicated steam oven, a steam combination oven, such as those offered by Gaggenau and AEG-Electrolux, may be the answer. As these can also be used as a conventional oven, they cut out the need for two separate appliances.
Dawn Stockell, brand and marketing manager at Electrolux Major Appliances, comments: “We cannot expect steam cooking to completely replace traditional methods of cooking – there will always be a need for a standard oven in the kitchen, which is why we have developed a multi-function oven with built-in steam functions”.
One of the first manufacturers to introduce a steam oven several years ago was Gaggenau. One of the manufacturer’s latest products is the ED 220 steam oven, designed as part of the 200 series oven range, explains sales director Adam Roddan. “The Gaggenau steam oven can be used in three different ways: as a steam oven, as a hot air oven, or a combination of the two, so not only is moisture retained, but food will also brown and crisp.”
What do retailers need to do to make the most of this blossoming product sector? Training is the key, says Jane Massey, brand manager for Siemens. “Neff and Siemens both offer facilities in their showrooms in Milton Keynes for dealers to be shown how to use the steam oven. This makes it so much easier when explaining to a customer at point of sale. Even better if the dealer has used a steam oven in his or her own home or showroom because this is always the best possible test of product knowledge.”
Richard Walker of FagorBrandt UK goes on to explain that it is essential that retailers are clued up on the product benefits. “An integrated steam oven is still far more expensive than its freestanding worktop equivalent, so retailers need to be aware of the advantages of built-in versions and be able to explain the benefits to consumers in terms of aesthetic and lifestyle choices.”
Indesit Company’s Marc Stewart concludes: “With the increased focus on healthy cooking, the steam oven market can only grow. As more consumers realise that steam cooking is a quick and healthy way to prepare a meal with minimal intervention, then this should mean even more improvement within this sector”.
Steam oven: the benefits
• Preserves nutrients, flavour, texture and colour of food
• No transfer of flavours or odours between foods
• No extra fat needed
• Defrosts quickly, without losing moisture
• Facilitates food preparation, such as skinning tomatoes or sterilising bottles/jars