If you’re looking for luxury-look appliances but lack the budget, new manufacturers and new innovations are heating up the mass premium category, where high design and high-tech features won’t break the bank.
Industry professionals quibble on where the mass or commodity market ends and the mass premium segment begins. But roughly, dishwashers start at around $700, refrigeration at $1,100, cooking at $1,400, and ventilation at $600. Consumers in the ultra-high end market can spend anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 on kitchen appliances, whereas Chino, Calif.-based newcomer Thor Kitchen offers a four-piece suite for less than $6,000. It consists of a 30-inch pro-style range, undercabinet range hood, a counter-depth French door refrigerator, and an integrated dishwasher.
With affordability, of course, comes questions of quality, functionality, and fabrication, but many features once exclusive to the luxury market are increasingly standard in the mass premium segment.
The 1930s-inspired Classic Collection is now available with brushed copper trim and in white, matte black, French blue, stainless steel, cabernet, and cream, as well as 200 custom colorways.
For example, dishwashers typically have stainless steel tubs, adjustable racks, more wash cycles, and quieter—40 decibels and lower—operation. Ranges boast one or more 18,000-20,000-Btu burners, a griddle, and a convection oven with full-extension telescopic racks. French door refrigerators, now available in counter-depth models, may include LCD displays, in-door or internal icemaker and water dispensers, and a drawer or zone capable of transitioning from freezer to fridge.
To keep prices attainable, some manufacturers, such as Thor and Reno, Nev.-based ZLine Kitchen and Bath, are designing their products locally, sourcing parts globally—Italian burners are popular—and assembling them in China. Turkish manufacturer Beko, which made its U.S. debut in the last two years, says the company benefits from its experience in Europe, where some longtime standards are still viewed as upgrades in the U.S. market.
“In refrigeration, we are using the European standard R600A refrigerant, which is a [more] environmentally friendly refrigerant” with lower global warming potential, says Sazi Bugay, director of product management at Beko. Already in use in Europe for the past 30 years, it will become mandatory in September 2021, which will require investment for compliance. “For us, there’s no investment needed,” Bugay says.
The 24-inch Microwave Drawer comes in black stainless steel, has 1,000 watts of cooking power, and opens and closes with a touch of a button. The touch screen menu allows users to choose from a variety of options.
Perhaps not surprisingly, sales in the mass premium category are robust. In terms of units sold, it accounts for the top 25 percent of the marketplace, says Wayne Davis, senior director for GE Appliances’ Café brand. Ultra-premium sales make up 2 percent, while the mass and value channels bring up the rear.
The target audience is also broad, ranging from empty nesters wishing to save on a home remodel, to Generations X and Y. “In Boston, you’re looking at first-time buyers,” says Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Boston-based retailer Yale Appliance and Lighting. Based on GE’s internal research, mass premium customers desire a kitchen that either reflects their personality and lifestyle or embraces advanced technology, such as LCD screens and home connectivity. Davis adds, “Those are two rich territories for mass premium brands.”
The new 36-inch four-door French door refrigerator offers three temperature zones, Dual EverFresh+ crisper drawers, and an Active Fresh Blue Light to help retain vitamins, among other features.
The holy grail of all things kitchen is customization, but in appliances, the option was previously only available to those willing to pay top dollar. For everyone else, there was stainless steel. Market oversaturation has further amplified the yearning for more personalization, says Orion Creamer, founder of Big Chill in Boulder, Colo.
But several manufacturers are heeding the call for customization.
The Professional Collection offers kitchen appliances in matte white, matte black, and stainless steel that can be customized with hardware available in four finishes.
GE Café’s Professional Collection comprises kitchen appliances in stainless steel, matte black, and matte white that can be mixed and matched with handles in four metallic finishes. ZLine offers its dishwashers with modern or traditional handles and front panels in five finishes, including hand-hammered copper and a proprietary snow-finished stainless steel; its ranges come in various matte and glossy colors in addition to stainless steel. Big Chill produces retro, modern-, and classic-inspired appliances in 200 custom colors, some with multiple trim options, including its latest, a brushed copper finish.
Other antidotes to stainless steel fatigue have emerged. Black stainless steel is already available from several brands, with others soon to follow. Café will roll out a Modern Glass Collection with low-profile or pocket handles. Bosch has added a tempered gray glass surface option in its Benchmark Series gas cooktop models that can be installed flush or surface-mounted, says Anja Prescher, director of brand marketing for Bosch Home Appliances.
The counter-depth French door fridge offers a four-point FarmFresh System that includes an automatic temperature and humidity control drawer, a filter that absorbs ethylene gas to slow down ripening, and an air circulation system, among other features.
For the tech-loving crowd, mass premium appliances are incorporating connectivity to allow remote control and monitoring by a mobile device. Some, such as Samsung’s Chef refrigerator and the Café oven, have built-in cameras for remote viewing. Bluetooth technology enables vent hoods to automatically turn on when cooktops are in use and auto-heat sensing adjusts fan operation.
In refrigeration, new technologies are responding to lifestyle trends, such as the interest in farmers markets, healthier eating, and minimizing food waste. Both Bosch and Beko have introduced refrigerators with advanced humidity and temperature control to keep food fresher longer. Bosch’s VitaFreshPro drawer uses an automatic system with pre-programmed settings, while Beko adds an ActiveFresh Blue Light to help retain vitamins and minerals. Both employ ionizers to neutralize odor transfer.
Other fun and funky innovations, such as sparkling- and hot-water dispensers in refrigerators and airfrying ovens, are proving the mass premium category to be worthy of consumers’ hearts, imaginations, and wallets. “People want unique, beautiful kitchens,” says Davis. “Mass premium is where that really happens.”
The new 36-inch Chef Collection Pro Range and Hood use Bluetooth technology to automatically start fan operation when the range is in use. Auto-heat sensing in the hood automatically adjusts the fan speed.
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