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High-End Kitchen, Laundry Lines Highlight K/BIS 2001

5/21/2001 02:00:00 AM Eastern

ORLANDO, FLA. — High-end, second-tier majap manufacturers shrugged off the nation's economic doldrums and continued to concentrate on their well-heeled customer base at last month's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS), held here at the Orange Country Convention Center.

Indeed, up-market wares ruled the roost on the show floor, as niche players rolled out new lines of luxury white goods in seeming defiance of dips in consumer confidence.

Leading the parade with the U.S. launch of its new Eurotech line was AM Appliance, formerly Asko. According to marketing director Joe Yoder, the debut represented the first joint showing by the Richardson, Tex.-based company and its new corporate parent, Italy's Antonio Merloni Group, which acquired Asko's appliance business last year.

The stainless steel Eurotech platform includes two front-loading washers, three electric dryers, one gas dryer, a combination washer/dryer that will retail for less than $1,000, and four dishwashers that start at a suggested $399 retail. Shipping begins this fall.

"The distribution and sales functions are already set up in the U.S.," Yoder said of the new appliance entity, "and we will start accessing Merloni's R&D capabilities soon."

Stainless steel was also in abundance at the Dacor display, where the Pasadena, Calif.-based cooking specialist showed its innovative Integrated Warming Oven. Proclaimed by the company as an industry first, the oven allows consumers to conceal their warming oven drawer in the same cabinetry as the rest of the kitchen. Available with 24-inch or 27-inch chassis, the units can be installed in a number of configurations, and come standard with an easy-load, full-extension drawer, four-hour timer and a "Sabbath compliant" manual timer override switch.

New at Findlay, Ohio-based Danby Products were a contingent of full- and mid-sized appliances and wine coolers to complement the company's core compact line. Chief among them: the 15-cubic-foot stainless steel Millennium refrigerator, set to ship in 60 days, and the 1950s-look, novelty Retro Refrigerator, currently available in silver and red, which ships next month.

Also continuing along the high road was Houston-based Equator Corp., whose centerpiece round refrigerator turned heads at the show. The cylindrical bottom-mount unit offers 14-cubic-feet of capacity and features four crispers, a pair of slide-out lazy Susan freezer baskets and a suggested retail price tag of $3,995.

In the compact department, Equator offered up its 79 x 23.6-inch Eco Fridge, which boasts 12 cubic feet of storage space and an electric bill of only $47 a year. Available in stainless steel, black and white, the unit carries a suggested $995 retail. Another diminutive device is its Mini-Maid countertop dishwasher. Measuring only 19 inches all around, the unit features a 20-minute Fast Wash Option cycle plus a faucet adopter that can connect it to a kitchen sink. Suggested retail: $399. It's larger cousin, the $600 72 Series dishwasher, can fit under a 34-inch countertop and offers whisper-soft, 50-decibel operation.

New Zealand's Fisher & Paykel also had a full plate at K/BIS. New products included its third generation DishDrawer dishwashing system, which now uses as little as 2.4 gallons of water per load and boasts new progress indicator symbols that allow users to see which stage the appliance is engaged in. Like its predecessors, the units can run two cycles at once, and can vary the water pressure within each wash cycle.

Within the cooking category, the company debuted its GC901 Cooktop, which features a wide range of burner outputs, including a rapid 14,000 Btu burner designed for wok and speed cooking. The unit is the first in a new Fisher & Paykel family of cooktops that include a double oven, single oven and matching DishDrawer.

Meanwhile, Marvel Industries added a clear, commercial-quality ice maker (model 3IMA) to its line of high-end undercounter refrigerators that produces up to 55 pounds of ice per day and has a 26-pound built-in storage bin. "The addition of the clear ice maker rounds out Marvel's line of outdoor refrigeration," explained sales and marketing director Larry Ferguson. "We now offer wine storage, refrigerator storage and ice making capability."

Elsewhere, Sharp Electronics was showing its 24-inch-wide, over-the-counter Carousel microwave oven, whose easy-to-install mounting bracket requires no additional built-in kit or shelf. The bottom-ventilated unit features under-the-cabinet lighting and a control panel located on the lower face of the door for easy access, plus 1.5-cubic-feet of capacity, a 14-1/8-inch turntable and 1,100 watts of power output. Pricing and ship dates have not been determined.

At Sub-Zero, the company spoke of the ongoing integration of Wolf Gourmet following last year's acquisition — a move that was complicated by the decision to relocate the subsidiary from its home base in Compton, Calif. to a new 300,000-square-foot office/factory facility at Sub-Zero headquarters in Madison, Wis. Despite the enormity of the endeavor, which included the purchase of all-new machinery and tooling, operations were up and running by January 2001, with president James Bakke describing the transition as "exceedingly smooth, both from an operations perspective and also on a marketing level. The primary goal now is to inter-link the brands and their identities."

To that end, new ad campaigns for both Sub-Zero and Wolf are being formulated for debut during the fourth quarter.

Corporate neighbor U-Line Corp., based in Milwaukee used the K/BIS forum to unveil its Echelon Series of undercounter refrigeration appliances. The new product line includes built-in ice makers, Combo refrigerator/ice makers, Wine Captain wine storage units, refrigerators and refrigerator/freezers. The exteriors of all models boast gentle curves and contours that soften their appearance, along with redesigned door handles, a less visible, newly styled grill front, and an automatic door closing mechanism that prevents partial closure. The new units also feature a stronger hinge that can handle additional weight from in-door storage and custom cabinetry panels.

Finally, Viking Range Corp. extended its line of all-gas, self-cleaning ranges with the addition of a 48-inch-wide model that joins existing 30-inch and 36-inch units. Available in 14 color finishes, the new addition offers a variety of surface configurations, and as well as infinitely variable burner settings that range from a low VariSimmer level to a 15,000 Btu high on all surface burners. What's more, the oven cavity's convection bake setting provides even browning, and a 1,500-degree infrared broiler can be used for searing meat.

On the refrigeration front, Viking has begun in-house production of its Professional and Designer Series after recently completing construction on its Greenwood, Miss., manufacturing facility. The fruit of that labor include a 48-inch side-by-side refrigerator/freezer and 36-inch-wide bottom-mount model that features a pullout freezer drawer.

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