Source: CHEAA-run China Appliance

Steamed food booms in popularity with its advantage in retaining nutrition when consumers are increasingly concerned with nutrition and health aside from taste. Growing in market share at a steady pace, this sector becomes a rising star of kitchen appliance industry, with built-in steam ovens accounting for more than 90% of the market and all-in-one models expanding fast.

Electric steam oven sector grow with strong momentum

The surging sector is regarded as a dark horse of the sluggish kitchen appliance market. In the first quarter of 2019, electric steam ovens (including all-in-one models with steaming functionality) posted online sales volume of 0.111 million units and value of 348.306 million Yuan, a year-on-year growth of 82% and 71% respectively, and in-store sales volume of 33,000 units and sales value of 182.61 million Yuan, a year-on-year fall of 6% and 5% respectively, according to All View Cloud. The sector is expected to maintain its momentum and further expand at online channels.

It is learned that most of the market growth comes from all-in-one models with steaming functionality. Zhao Zhangning, Senior Director of Product Management Department of Cookware Division of Greater China region of BSH China, points out that, the market size of single-function electric steam ovens was going down in 2018 while all-in-one models integrated with steaming functionality grew excitingly. Statistics from China Market Monitor lends credence to his words. It shows that, sales of single-function electric steam ovens fell by 6.4% year-on-year to 0.458 billion Yuan in the first quarter of 2019, of which in-store sales dropped by 10%.

Consumers’ pursuit of healthiness is what lies behind the boom. Steaming, a traditional way of cooking in Chinese cuisine, keeps the original flavor of food perfectly with little salt or oil added thus is particularly favored by the Chinese. In this context, electric steam ovens rise fast with simple, easy-to-use operations that you cannot find with traditional cookware.

A number of kitchen appliance makers capitalize this opportunity to stretch themselves in this field, hoping to get a slice of the pie. Our interviewee from Whirlpool says, “there are 112 brands on the market as of the first quarter of 2019, according to All View Cloud. Kitchen appliance makers have been stepping up their investments in the R&D of steam ovens and are actively expanding, which presents an enabling environment for the development of the sector.” He points out that, the sector is expected to keep growing at a fast pace in five years to come.

Though the number of players grows fast, the sector shows a pattern of high market concentration particularly in the category of electric steam ovens with single functionality where top 5 brands take a combined market share of around 95% as we learn from multiple sources. As to all-in-one models, the offline industry concentration is higher than online with top 5 brands accounting for 81% and 65% respectively.

Domestic brands take the lead

Domestic brands have an upper hand in the market. Our interviewee from Fotile explains that, “Domestic brands are no less than foreign brands in terms of technology, even beyond the latter in particular ones. More importantly, they know Chinese consumers and Chinese cuisine better.” Speaking of the leading position of domestic brands by market share, Tang Lijuan, head of electric steam oven division of Robam, offers her view, “The sector is still in a primary stage where brands with mature products on the market are limited and the leading players are Robam, Fotile, Siemens and Midea.”

Domestic brands are more favored by Chinese consumers largely thanks to their accurate understanding of consumer needs. “To stand strong in Chinese market, you have to have a deep insight into Chinese culinary culture and habits. For example, Chinese people believe one of the critical elements that make great steaming food is non-stop steam throughout the cooking process. Yet many steam ovens from foreign brands fall short of this requirement with inadequate steam supply or on-and-off supply. ” Tang Lijuan adds that, “With a deeper understanding of the market needs, Chinese brands have an advantage in the development of Chinese style steam ovens, which allow them to win the heart of consumers easily.”

Not to be outdone, foreign brands are also stepping up efforts in local study. Zhao Zhangning from BSH points out that, traditional Chinese steaming requires a lot of cooking experience regarding the duration and degree of heating, temperature control and condensed water issue. He says, “We take all of these into consideration and develop products with time-setting function, accurate temperature control, auto menu and condensed water control.” As we learn from Zhang Wei from AEG, the company develops targeted Chinese menu after thorough study of the culinary culture in different regions of China to offer consumers best cooking experience.

Product upgrading is going on

Strong steam, high temperature and accurate temperature control are some of the pain points industry players are looking at currently.

Mainstream enterprises are devoted to improving steam temperature which currently maintains at 100℃ at most. Fotile has been iterating its steam generation technology since the rollout of its first batch of built-in steam ovens in 2009, and stands strong in the sector with mature technology, and products with strong reliability and durability. It is learned that Fotile raises the highest cooking temperature of steam ovens to 110℃ with its twin steam generation technology. On top of that, its special designs such as heating film, top water tank and smart menu allow users to cook comfortably and conveniently while raise the bar of the industry at the same time by making no condensed water droplet, nonstop steam supply and smart operation commonly recognized.

Whirlpool resolves the pain with the hot air cooking procedure of its imported W11 which, aside from high temperature, allows accurate temperature control with a food probe that monitors food temperature in real time.

AEG has a different approach. Its low temperature vacuum steamer highlights low-temperature cooking technology which could keep the nutrition and moisture of food at the maximum. Plus, the brand also boasts its accurate temperature control with a sensor probe that keeps track of the temperature of food at the core.

To avoid condensed water droplets, enterprises have been making efforts too. Robam creatively develops its no-condensed-water technology. Plus, it cooperates with a national key lab of the Food Academy of Jiangnan University to find the best cooking temperature and timeline for various food, and applies the results to its products to make original Chinese flavor, according to Tang Lijuan.

Electric steam ovens will be more popular and diversified in 2019, our interviewee from Fotile says. There will be more functionalities and product models introduced to the market and the interactive experience including smart operation will be improved.

With a strong momentum to grow, the sector faces challenges too, such as low penetration rate, consumers’ lacking of perception, and the industry’s lacking of unified standards and regulations. This requires industry players’ joint efforts to address down the road.