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Rise of the (kitchen) machines: convenience or fine cuisine?


Over the past twenty years, food and dining in general has embedded itself in UK culture like never before. Old jokes about the British killing their lamb twice (once when they butcher it and again when they cook it) have become the stuff of history. Well, in theory anyway. From Masterchef to the Great British Bake-Off by way of Delia Smith, our love for creative, stylised ways of cooking has become nearly obsessive in some quarters. We still rank lower than many other countries when it comes to shouting about our passion. A recent GfK survey* suggests over a quarter of us are really passionate about food, although we do spend nearly 6 hours a week cooking the stuff, ahead of the US, France, Germany and Sweden. Another thing us Brits love are our gadgets and this is seen clearly in the world of small kitchen appliances where we are ranked the second biggest volume buyer in Europe** next to France. In 2014 we spent nearly £900m on everything from slow cookers to milk frothers, the latter another sign that we are closing in on our European cousins for our love of coffee. Not all who love food will be drawn to sous vide cookers, many of the best performing gadgets are of the easy and healthy variety; convenience being as much a marker of modern cooking trends as it ever was.

What these trends suggest, is that there may be even more room for kitchen appliances to expand …and crucially for us to beat France. So which machines are rising fastest and reaching the furthest? And are we genuinely keen to create culinary delights, or just to make life easier for ourselves?

Since 2010, small kitchen appliances grew by over £250m. Whilst kettles top the list as the single biggest market in value hotly pursued by coffee makers, the fastest growing product in the last year has been liquidisers with a 49% uplift in sales. Other products enjoying double digit growth include: citrus presses; contact grills, otherwise known as health grills; food steamers; and multi-functional, electric cooking pots. Liquidisers makes for a particularly interesting case study as there are two very different products within the category boosting sales: those with a cooking function; and those with a take-away cup. Liquidisers that can heat its contents have proved increasingly popular in recent years as it provides an easy and potentially less messy way of preparing soups and broths. They also allow soups to be tailored to one’s personal taste and consistency allowing creativity along with simplicity. Whilst “soup makers” only represent 10% of the market right now, a 60% growth year on year makes it likely to increase its share during 2015. On the other side of the coin, liquidisers offering removable cups mean juices and smoothies of all descriptions can be blended directly in the cup and then taken away. A massive 445% gain in the last twelve months has resulted in this segment accounting for over a half of total liquidiser value meaning traditional blenders have seen their importance diminish.

The resurgence in demand for contact grills and juicers enforces the message that as well as wanting convenience, we are more health-conscious as a nation. The “healthy” marketing behind contact grills is that they drain fat away from food more efficiently although there is a suggestion they may do so no more or less than a conventional grill. They do offer superior speed and potentially taste as the ingredients are kept moist and of course, there is the easier cleaning. Whatever the motivation, over a quarter of UK households bought one last year with value reaching £22.3m. Juice extractors, with more transparent health benefits, saw its value sky-rocket over the past five years from £6.5m to £23.4m. Centrifugal juicers, relying on a fast spinning mesh with teeth at one end, remain the biggest element taking around 97% of the market through a mixture of wide distribution and affordability. Masticating juicers, as the name suggests, “chews” the food fed into it maximizing yield and reducing waste product. Although prices slipped in 2014, these usually retail above £200 putting it firmly in the “considered purchase” category for small kitchen appliances. Whilst not in the mainstream yet, masticating, or slow juicers are growing exponentially thanks to the proliferation of juice-based diets. The number of available models quadrupled in the last four years and value rose by more than 70% year on year.

Other popular products include electric cooking pots like slow cookers and multi-cookers. The popularity of the former is driven by a range of fluctuating fashions for one pot meals but with convenience at its heart. A 4% growth in value year on year puts slow cookers on a positive path and worth nearly £21m last year. Average prices remain pretty static at around £20 and there is not an abundance of innovation, either needed or wanted which makes multi-cookers a far more intriguing area for the lazy cook. Multi cookers allow a range of ways to cook food which usually includes the slow method as well as steaming, grilling, boiling, roasting and even baking. The concept is simple: with tabletop space at a premium in the average kitchen, why not do away with pots, pans and dishes in favour of one compact item. Since 2010, this segment has soared by 629% to a respectable £5m in value and with new products coming to market is one to watch for the future. They are already a firm favourite elsewhere in Europe and thanks to a reachable if premium price point of £60, last year’s 67% value hike suggests a bright future.

So convenience plays its part and it seems consumers are prepared to spend more on premium products, but what of the budding gourmet?

Looking at the cook’s arsenal of kitchen equipment, demand is very disparate. In food preparation, hand blenders and hand mixers are falling out of favour showing annual declines however kitchen machines like stand mixers, an oxymoron in the new multifunctional world, are going from strength to strength and bolstering overall food preparation sales. Kitchen machines, like many high value products, perform best in the run-up to Christmas and with November’s Black Friday event helping bring forward some purchases, Britons spent over £46m in the last year, around 23% of total food prep electrical kitchen appliances. It’s fair to say that some gadgets can fall foul to the fickle forces of fashion. Whilst offering some innovative techniques, items including sous vide ovens and electric pressure cookers have seen sales tumble in 2014. We Brits are fond of revivals though and as with contact grills, slow cookers and juicers, all previously troubled markets, we could see the return of culinary tools from the past merge or complement those of the future.

*GfK Consumer Lifestyle, Global Cooking Survey, 2015

**GfK Point of Sales Tracking, Europe 29 Countries Total, 2014 All other data referenced sourced from GfK Point of Sales Tracking (MAT to March 2015 unless otherwise stated).

Small Kitchen Appliances includes: bread makers, can openers, deep fryers, electric knives, electrical cooking pots, food steamers, food preparation, fun cooking, hot beverage makers, ice cream makers, juicers, kettles, kitchen scales, mini ovens, rice cookers, sandwich/waffle/grills, toasters.