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Talking to several of the major players in the game it seems that a combination of new home builds, increased user awareness of power efficiency and a demand for new feature-rich and larger, more luxurious fridges has kept the fridge market ticking along for some and booming for others.
Samsung Sales Director Consumer Electronics Jon Barrell is one to report growth in the higher end: “According to our retail customers and anecdotal feedback, the market has been fairly static, with people tending not to go above the $4,000 price point.
“While we cater for consumers with different needs, we have been growing the high-end home appliance market with innovative new products such as the Food ShowCase Refrigerator and the Sparkling Water Refrigerator and consumers are responding well to the premium design and technology of our refrigerators,” Barrell says.
Also seeing good results in the more premium end is Sharp Managing Director Jan Nicol: “Our fridge business is remaining steady and we are expanding our high end range leading with our French double door range.”
French door has been a boon according to Fisher & Paykel Product Manager Refrigeration & Cooking Grant Sandom, who reports that last year’s predicted upturn in demand for larger models and French door options has come to fruition.
“We’ve seen good growth in larger capacity fridges 400 litre plus especially in French door. So for Fisher & Paykel we’ve been concentrating on those 400 litre plus sections of the market and we’ve seen market growth there. French door is growing and side by side is still significant and the same can be said for Haier in that we have seen some growth in that upper end of the market from a large capacity perspective.”
Speaking of the Haier brand, National Sales Manager Troy Scragg reports nothing but good news, with Haier seeing massive growth in the last year. Scragg explains that while Fisher & Paykel products are where the premium design features are focused, the Haier brand is expanding from its historic user base, which has been entry level 18-25 year olds.
He explains: “We are lifting the Haier brand with the new ‘Everyday’ campaign that we launched this month which is a way to get away from being a purely price sensitive option where you buy instead of rent to being more of a player in the game with key values.”
APPEARANCE TRUMPS FUNCTIONALITY
An area that Fisher & Paykel and many of the players I spoke with are putting more focus on is in a strong and cohesive design aesthetic in order to match design and colour schemes of kitchens and living areas.
The importance of this is backed up by a 2014 survey by Canstar Blue into consumer satisfaction that comfirms one of the most important factors when purchasing a refrigerator is its ability to match kitchen décor.
Miele Category Manager Louise Paynter gives her insight into why a fridge’s outside is becoming as important as its inside: “As today’s kitchen is often integrated within an open plan living and entertainment area, the design of refrigerators plays an increasingly important role.
“Miele continues to experience strong growth in freestanding refrigeration units as well as the integrated refrigeration category. This is especially driven by design aesthetics which perfectly match Miele cooking appliances, reflecting the growing trend for seamless kitchen design.”
Strong aesthetics and design statements have definitely been one of the key contributors to the success of Smegs’s FAB28 fridges here in New Zealand reports Applico Group Managing Director Rachel Louie.
“Our Smeg retro fridges are always popular for us with their iconic 50s styling and a strong range of colours proving time and time again to be quite popular with people who want a unique point of difference, so they are going well for us,” she says.
An emphasis on the visual impact of a fridge has also created opportunities for DéLonghi’s dedicated beverage refrigeration units explain National Accounts Manager Pat Neville.
“We notice in our showroom that when designers come through they are quite taken by them. And in some offices it is nice to be able to display a nice brand of sparkling water to show and with a beverage cabinet is it triple glazed, with UV filer and backlit LED lights so it’s kind of creating a bit of theatre,” Neville says.
HOW SMART DOES A FRIDGE NEED TO BE?
It’s not all about looks of course and these days everyone wants a fridge to be smart, right?
“There’s certainly a lot of noise about that in the industry but it’s arguable whether it’s adding any value at this point,” says Fisher & Paykel General Manager, Product Management, John Molloy.
“Smart homes are obviously coming, and are here to some degree, but our philosophy is that we will introduce features like that when there is clear value to the customer rather than as a gimmick. So while we are absolutely working in that space and we will be doing something there at some point, it is absolutely driven by customer value.”
Some benefits of the smart home are obvious. It’s nice to come back to a house that has had the heat pump turned on remotely 30 minutes before you get there and being able to let in a tradie with the push of a button while you are at work is a real boon for those with busy lives.
But what about the fridge? It’s not something you can turn on and off after all. “People don’t necessarily want to be interacting all the time with their fridge,” says John Molloy. “So we think it will be some subtle things that really add value to people in their day.”
Are we looking too far ahead then? Electrolux’s Malcom Bain agrees that efficiency is still more crucial within refrigeration than connectivity: “The efficiency game is still a big one – there’s a bit more to play on that and I think the New Zealand consumer is becoming savvier to that.
“In terms of functionality we do get consumers who want all the bells and whistles but then you also have those who don’t need to connect to a cell phone or those types of things. So we are still waiting to see what connectivity is going to bring to that space. Until they can crack the ‘what’s in my fridge’ question, then that’s about the only tangible thing I can think of that I would want to dial up on my phone.”
LG is certainly among the companies trying to crack the connected fridge concept, attempting to provide genuine benefits to end users, at least in overseas markets.
LG’s Glen Chean explains:
“This is an area that LG is paying very close attention to and in certain markets like Korea and the US the smart fridge concept does exist. There are fridges in Korea that LG makes for example that link together with service providers like supermarkets to allow easy and convenient ordering of food directly out of the fridge. And there are a number of projects being conducted by LG in the US in conjunction with service providers including power companies or food and beverage providers.”
So will New Zealand ever get access to these kinds of services? Chean suggest that while there may be a little infrastructure required – the supermarkets have to get on board for one – it’s certainly a possibility.
“It’s a feasible model and is part of the LG international portfolio of products and services so the next step for it to potentially come here would be to see the feasibility of having these services connected together and that’s where the thought needs to be put.”
DESIGN FOR LIFE
Connected technology has a lot of potential and is most likely inevitable in the home, but there are also innovations toward hardware and design that show potential for some players.
Both Samsung and LG have made some interesting changes to the way fridges are laid out recently with LG’s door-in-door technology and Samsung’s Showcase refrigerator addressing the way consumers really use their fridges by allowing easy access to commonly used items such as milk and beverages while keeping the loss of cold air in other areas to a minimum.
Finding solutions like these to everyday problems is a hallmark of good design. And, as new services and technologies improve our lives they can also create new problems that in turn create opportunities for the industry to address.
The increased use of online food and grocery delivery services such as those provided by My Food Bag, Countdown online supermarket shopping and produce delivery services such as FoodBox in urban areas has caught the attention of Electrolux’s Malcom Bain.
“I think particularly in metro areas there appears to be a real demand for that kind of online shopping but no one has really solved that problem of ‘if I’m not home, how do I keep it fresh?’ So an idea that is gaining momentum is being able to access a fridge from outside the home so the deliverer can make sure that salmon stays fresh or that chicken doesn’t heat up,” Bain explains.
Indeed Electrolux has some products in Europe it is about to bring down which are almost a refrigerated mailbox type set-up. Watch this space!
So the refrigeration area has more to offer than just a passive food cooling system if you take the right approach to it and think a little outside the box. And while some of these ideas may still be at the concept stage this is definitely a category to watch.