Their confidence in 1999 sales prospects buoyed by strong first-quarter sell-through in virtually every major appliance category, white-goods manufacturers let themselves go in terms of design and high-tech innovation at this month's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) in Orlando.
The expected evolutionary cooking, refrigeration and home-laundry products were unveiled at the show, but suppliers also brought along a raft of prototypes - some slated for production later this year or early next, others just an industrial designer's dream, for now - to gauge reactions of the trend-savvy kitchen designers and remodeling specialists who are the largest segment of the K/BIS attendance roster.
Show attendees saw "concept" models of bright yellow ovens (from Fisher & Paykel), lime-green ranges (Viking) and sparkle-flecked raspberry refrigerators (Maytag). They saw microwave ovens that offered advice on pan placement (KitchenAid), washers that "spoke" seven languages (Asko) and side-by-sides with built-in e-mail access (Frigidaire). And they saw a microwave oven in a drawer (Sharp), an infrared gas broiler inside an electric convection oven (Dacor), and a built-in oven that cooks with steam (Gaggenau).
Showgoers also saw a lot of upscale outdoor gas grills, several new entries in the growing wine cooler category and broadened use of the new, neutral off-white color that is called Biscuit by KitchenAid and Whirlpool and Bisque by GE Appliances and Jenn-Air.
A few K/BIS exhibitors were talking about executive changes, new distribution deals and - in the case of BSH Home Appliances - a widespread restructuring, as well.
Here is a sampling of new products at K/BIS:
- GE Appliances highlighted its new quick-cooking Advantium oven, due out in October, as well as new "no pre-rinsing" dishwashers in its Profile and Profile Performance lines. Company officials were also talking about their new Bisque appliance color. Available initially in GE's high-end Profile and Profile Performance lines beginning in October, the new shade is seen taking market share away from 20-year-old almond, which has been losing sales ground to white since the early 1990s, according to GE research.
- Whirlpool also has high hopes for the new shade, first introduced by its KitchenAid division at last year's K/BIS. The company showed a full kitchen of upscale Whirlpool Gold appliances in Biscuit. Also new from Whirlpool was The Edge, a restyled series of 1,100-watt microwave ovens with AccuDial sensor cooking including four sensored reheating cycles. The Edge ovens are available in sizes ranging from 0.7 to 1.8 cubic feet. In addition to new gas and electric ranges, KitchenAid introduced a 1.4-cubic-foot microwave oven with scroll display that automatically determines cooking time according to type and amount of food. The display also offers suggestions on how to arrange dishes inside the cavity. The over-the-range oven, available in July, has halogen interior and cooktop lighting.
- Frigidaire Home Products showed an electric cooktop in a "true white" shade of ceramic glass. The new material will be used first on the company's high-end Gallery cooktops, then move down the line. Also new were improved refrigerator filtration and a new line of Millenia gas ranges in Frigidaire's Tappan line; electric Millenia ranges are due in July.Frigidaire also showed off its prototype "online refrigerator" with touchscreen PC monitor mounted in the door for at-home shopping. Although the company has no concrete plans to produce the concept, developed in conjunction with ICL's retail systems division, a Frigidaire spokesman told TWICE, "The technology is available right now, so it's really a question of 'when' rather than 'if'."
- Maytag highlighted its new dual-oven Gemini range as well as the Atlantis laundry pair it introduced at the January Builders Show. But the focal point of its K/BIS display was a revolving exhibit of futuristic technology from Joseph Ungari, the new director of Maytag's industrial design team, who promises "new aggressiveness in esthetics and form" in the company's appliances. Concept products on view included three refrigerators with flowing lines and Day-Glo colors, a "digital pillow" with built-in monitor that could allow users to check food cooking in the oven, and an interactive two-way communicator that could allow private instruction by chefs anywhere in the world.Maytag's Jenn-Air division also showed appliances in the new neutral color, which joins its line in early August; Jenn-Air is adopting the Bisque name for the shade.
- BSH Home Appliances brought new products from its three appliance brands - Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau - to Orlando. New in the Bosch line were redesigned convection ovens with improved heat distribution. Thermador also showed redesigned C-Series convection/microwave ovens, now with new Cook Smart feature, and expanded its stainless-steel gas grill line with new drop-in models. And Gaggenau unveiled its new Combi Oven, which combines steam and dry heat to keep food moist and enhance baking. The oven, which requires a water hookup and a drain, is expected to be available early next year.
- Viking highlighted design prototypes, including an Advanced Rangetop Concept combining sealed gas burners and electric induction cooking elements in a single cooktop that includes griddle, grill, wooden cutting board and ventilation. It also tested a new lime-green appliance color, shown on the self-cleaning gas oven it introduced at the Builders Show.
- Fisher & Paykel was also gauging attendee reaction to new colors, as it showcased oven doors in some of the hues it currently offers in Australia and New Zealand, including vivid yellow, dark red and blue. Company executives were also talking about their first U.S. cooking product, a 36-inch gas cooktop due here in the fourth quarter.
- Sub-Zero joined the fast-growing wine-storage market with four new models, each offering two separate refrigeration compartments with independent temperature zones. The units range in capacity from 46 to 147 bottles and come with glass or solid doors.
- Sharp Electronics came to Orlando with its new microwave ovens, along with several design prototypes: the dual-swing refrigerator Sharp first unveiled at last year's Gourmet Products Show; the top-loading washer with inverter motor it showed at the recent Housewares Show; and a new "microwave-in-a-drawer" concept that would cook in a rollout cavity, with controls mounted up front.
- Asko showed a redesigned washer and dryer line with increased door opening and tub size plus a new quick-wash cycle. A new condenser dryer has been added at the low end of the line, as well. Asko also has a new stainless-steel dishwasher with chrome handle as well as two new mid-line dishwasher models.