Ring masters

15 Jun, 15

Induction is not the basis of some media circus, but is central to hob sales reports Philippa Turrell

Just like some bands that have been an ‘overnight success’ after years of behind the scenes toil, 30 years after their introduction into the UK, induction has become mainstream. In fact, it is now so popular, induction has not only single-handedly seen electric hobs challenge and overtake gas hob sales, but ensure they stay ahead. Head of category for built-in at Glen Dimplex Home Appliances, Richard Walker comments: “Electric built-in hobs continue to grow in terms of both value and volume. As a percentage, versus the alternative fuel gas, electric hobs now command 66% of the market. Much of this growth has been driven by induction.” And the speed at which induction is growing, is impressive too. We reported last year, sales of induction hobs in 2012-2013 grew 18%, whereas in 2014 sales of these appliances rocketed by 21.7% year-on-year. Trade marketing manager of Whirlpool UK, Neil Austin points out: “GfK reports that induction hobs make up over a third (34%) of market value.”

Challenging minds and actions

Of course we all know the popularity of induction has been boosted because of its enhanced safety, compared to a traditional hob as it heats the pan not the surrounding area. Not to mention it comes with the likes of child locks and pause and play functions, should the chef have their attention diverted elsewhere. But it energy efficiency and can also challenge the controllability of gas. It can even meet the demands of the flame purists, as Samsung has just launched into the UK an induction hob, as part of its Chef Collection, that boasts Virtual Flame Technology. This sees a ring of LEDs surround each zone, to give the impression of a rising and falling flame.

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Four-zone as standard

As with the latest technology, the trend for induction hobs was launched and is now firmly established from the premium-end, where it is now a given through to mass and even entry-level appliances. And since induction is available at every level of the market, it’s no surprise that the most popular option still remains the four-zone 600mm hob, as it’s the most affordable and therefore most accessible. It not only offers a trade up from a standard ceramic glass hob, but may also be a direct replacement for an existing hob. Although Richard Walker of GDHA believes “induction is – and will be for a long time – the trade up from touch ceramic rather than the replacement market.”

To put some meat on the bones of induction hob sales, head of product kitchen UK & Ireland at Electrolux Major Appliances, Sophie Davidson comments: “The most popular induction hob width is 600mm at 77% of volume.” However, she points out: “The biggest volume increase was in 700-900mm, up 37.6% to now account for 16.5% of volume in 2014.”

Size increase with experience

The larger hobs allow for more flexibility in cooking, especially as they may have features such as bridging or flexi-zones, where two zones can be joined together to create a larger cooking area. In fact, there are now even models which incorporate multiple flexizones for even more cooking flexibility and variety. Richard Treffler, product manager for kitchen at Miele, says these types of hobs (called PowerFlex at his company) are for the more discerning consumer: “PowerFlex zones are great for consumers who enjoy cooking and often entertain. They use two individual zones, which can be combined together into one larger zones, offering increased flexibility when cooking, such as using a large casserole dish.” And product manager of Fisher & Paykel, Alex Zaretsky agrees: “Flexi zones are the most popular type of hob as they enable excellent use of the hob surface for all sizes of pots and pans.” Such is the popularity of these hobs, among those who like to cook, cooking category manager of the BSH group John McLauchlan says “they account for up to half of our hob sales, depending upon distribution channel”.

However, interestingly, the Flexi-zone has already filtered from premium appliance brands to more mid-market and predictions is that it will spread across the gamut of price levels for the masses. It opens the doors for first-time induction buyers too: “Over the course of 2015 and 2016 this feature will filter to all segments of the induction market”, predicts Richard Walker who continues “It offers the benefit of more flexible cooking within a defined area on an induction hob, and can be applied to 600, 800 and 900mm wifths. Glen Dimplex Home Appliances will pioneer this concept across price points by launching flexi induction across all three of its cooking brands – New World, Belling and Stoves – in 600, 800 and 900mm widths in the coming months.”

Differentiation of premium models

So if Flexinduction is now charging through the mid and eventually mass market, how have manufacturers differentiated their induction hob in the premium sector? The answer is zoneless. Brand trading maanger of Teka UK, Tim Spann agrees: “Full zoneless hobs are likely to become more widespread in the future, as they will offer complete cooking flexibility.” AEG has just launched the MaxiSense Combi induction hob with a FreeZone area that can accommodate up to three pans. By pre-programming the required temperature for each pan, users can move them around the hob and it will trace the movement. And for the ultimate in convenience touch control is a must, whether using a slider, circular control or TFT screen. Alex Zaretsky of Fisher & Paykel says: “Touch control is a key trend as it offers a greater user experience.”

But of course it is the specialist functions that a top-end zoneless induction hob may offer, that differentiates it from the mid-market. Joining ‘pause and play’ functions and child locks, premium induction hobs will have fast boils, low temperature simmering and even specific features such as VZug’s RiceControl which stops the cooking process when rice is ready. While a standard feature on many Miele induction hob is Con@activity 2.0 which turns on the cooker hood when the hob is switched on, and which automatically adjusts during the cooking process.

Think outside the square

But going forwards, how will the induction hob evolve to even better meet the needs of aspiring and ambitious cooks? Think outside the square because industry experts claim there will be less reliance on the traditional hob colours and formats. Already we have seen the introduction of induction hobs in white and silver, as well as the traditional black zones, and there are individual induction zones that can be installed directly into the worktop. On top of that, we have also seen future kitchen concepts from Whirlpool and Beko, combining induction hob with the worktop and social media – so there is no visible hob at all, but you can have online recipes to hand incorporated into the worktop.

Neil Austin of Whirlpool says: “The future is where the size of shape is not an issue. Induction zones will be invisibly integrated into the worktop so you will be able to place pans onto the surface and cook anywhere on the surface.” And Timm Spann of Teka agrees: “The next big influencer will be solid surfaces with generators fixed under them so that the hob integrates seamlessly with the work surface. This minimalist approach will be the next natural evolution of induction hobs, mirroring this design trend in overall kitchen design and will help keep sales healthy.”

 This feature first appeared in Kitchens & Bathrooms News May 2015 issue