Source: CHEAA-run China Appliance magazine

Disinfection cabinet has been in the spotlight after Li Lanjuan, a member of the high-level expert group of the National Health and Medical Commission and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, pointed out that disinfection cabinet can effectively prevent multiple contagious virus to transmit through tableware. The strong endorsement amid the coronavirus draws all eyes on the long-forgotten product whose last highlight dates all the way back to 17 years ago when China was hard hit by SARS.

As its name suggests, disinfection cabinet, a product designed for virus prevention, finds its position in the outbreak. A number of home appliance makers have donated disinfection cabinets to the hard-hit areas during the outbreak. Canbo, the brand that first invented the product, donated a batch of disinfection cabinets to hospitals in Wuhan and Ezhou of the epicenter Hubei province on February 3 and after that, a second batch to hospitals in Wuhan and Beijing on February 5.

At the same time, consumers pay an increased attention to the product and show strong desire to purchase it. Statistics from show that, disinfection cabinet, dishwasher and vegetable washer saw a 133% surge in combined sales from the outbreak of coronavirus to early February. I also find the low-profile product squeezes itself into the top 30 best-selling large kitchen appliances on

Statistics from market consultancy All View Cloud also lend credence to how the outbreak drives up the sales of disinfection cabinet. From 1-7 week of 2020, online sales of disinfection cabinets surged by 65.72% year-on-year, according to All View Cloud. Yet as of the end of 2019, the sector saw its annual sales down by 2.7% by volume and 10.6% by value, of which online sales only rose by 11.8% by sales volume.

Guan Guangming, Director of Product Planning of Kitchen Appliance Division of Vanward, confirms the positive impact the outbreak has on disinfection cabinet sector. He says, the market demand rises significantly during the outbreak, of which commercial demands from companies and organizations such as schools and banks grow significantly while domestic needs mostly center on installation-free products such as countertop and standalone models.

My interviewee from Robam who prefers not to be named tells me that, Robam’s disinfection cabinets can effectively kill viruses with ozone and ultraviolet covering every corner of the chamber and instantly drying the chamber to prevent secondary pollution. “Disinfection cabinet can play a positive role in food safety of households from this point of view. It helps to combat the outbreak.” She says.

“The outbreak pushes people to look closer at healthcare and develop more awareness of disinfection. We have received an increasing amount of inquiries from our retailers lately, which allows us to see the change directly.” My interviewee from Vatti says, and adds that, the sector is expected to embrace a wave of sales.

My interviewee from Fotile also agrees that, the outbreak drives the public to learn a lot on healthcare and hygiene. After the outbreak, consumers will realize that the risks posed by bacteria and viruses still exist. Healthcare appliances including disinfection cabinet will be an absolute need of many households, and will see continued rise in sales.

The dying sector gets saved

In some way, the outbreak acts as a “lifesaver” for the dying disinfection cabinet sector.

“If the outbreak had not happen”. Many interviewees make this assumption in the interviewee. In fact, if the outbreak had not happen, this year would be the year many kitchen appliance makers start to adjust disinfection cabinet division. The adjustment is actually around “cutting down”. Some even considered to completely give up the category to channel resources on emerging sectors such as dishwasher.

Disinfection cabinet sector posted sales volume of 5.796 million units, down by 1.5% year-on-year and sales value of 5.38 billion Yuan, up by 3.5% year-on-year in 2017; sales volume of 5.51 million units, down by 4.9% year-on-year and sales value of 4.98 billion Yuan, down by 7.5% year-on-year in 2018; sales volume of 5.366 million units, down by 2.7% year-on-year and sales value of 4.45 billion Yuan, down by 10.6% year-on-year in 2019.

The above statistics from All View Cloud explain the move of kitchen appliance makers. Disinfection cabinet sector fell for three consecutive years starting 2017, and the profit margin is limited given the fact that the sales value slid faster than sales volume.

Statistics from China Market Monitor show that, sales value of disinfection cabinets in 2019 were at the same level of 10 years ago (year 2008 and 2009) while the sales volume far less than 10 years ago.

In this context, the dying sector turns the table amid the outbreak.

“The outbreak brings the public’s eyes on disinfection-related appliances, including disinfection cabinet. The product first came into the view of the public amid SARS in 2003 when consumers started to look at the sector out of their needs of healthcare. Now, the coronavirus pushes people to pay more attention to health. This could bring an opportunity for disinfection cabinet sector.” My interviewee from Robam says. The core selling point of the product is perfectly aligned with the current market demand with consumers’ healthcare awareness on the rise. It’s too early to give up the sector.

Enterprises step up efforts to capitalize on the opportunity

Capitalizing on this opportunity, kitchen appliance makers actively step up efforts in promotion.

It is learned that, coronavirus is sensitive to high temperature and can be killed after exposed to 56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, according to the Guidelines on the Novel Coronavirus-Infected Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment (Trial Version 3). Disinfection cabinet makers use high-temperature disinfection as a strong selling point.

In fact, keeping at 56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes does not meet even the entry level. The term “high-temperature” in disinfection cabinet industry starts from 100 degrees Celsius, as I learn from Guan Guangming. Disinfection cabinets on the market are labeled as one star or two stars. One-star product shall meet the high-temperature disinfection requirement of keeping at 100 degrees Celsius or plus for at least 15 minutes, while two-star product shall be able to keep at 120 degrees Celsius or plus for at least 15 minutes.

Considering high-temperature infrared disinfection is not friendly for some materials, many high-end models on the market offer dual modes to disinfect tableware at either high-temperature or low-temperature. Vanward’s disinfection cabinet uses both zone and ultraviolet to disinfect the upper chamber. This, coupled with heating the quartz tube at 80 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, allows it to disinfect milk bottle, bamboo tableware and plastic tableware. The lower chamber uses 130 degrees Celsius infrared ray to disinfect tableware made of porcelain, stainless steel and glass. Both modes meet the “56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes” requirement.

I find that, household countertop disinfection cabinets and standalone disinfection cabinets are mostly priced at hundreds RMB with high-temperature disinfection as the main selling point on China’s mainstream e-commerce platforms, while high-end built-in models charged at more than a thousand RMB with sales not as good as the former due to the installation issue.

Could the sector rise to the top again?

As a category invented locally, disinfection cabinet coupled with range hood and gas stove is often considered a package of large kitchen appliances. The penetration of disinfection cabinet is not as high as the other two of the package, but much higher than dishwasher.

However, dishwasher, as an upcoming star of kitchen appliances, is squeezing out disinfection cabinet. My interviewee from Robam points out that, consumers mostly prefer dishwashers over disinfection cabinets in recent years when they have to choose between the two to fit into a small kitchen. But he points out that, the demographics of the two products are actually different. Dishwasher buyers are mostly those in pursuit of convenience while disinfection cabinet buyers have a high awareness of disinfection and healthcare.

Despite that, there have been more factors behind the gloominess of disinfection cabinet market.

The technological upgrade of the sector has been slow since the product was developed in the late 1980s. The mainstream disinfection technologies are still infrared ray, ozone and ultraviolet, which all have drawbacks. To address the issue, Vatti has started to apply ultraviolet C disinfection technology to its products two years ago. “The UV disinfection lights sold out very fast amid the outbreak, which shows the public’s growing awareness of disinfection and their trust in UV disinfection.” My interviewee from Vatti adds that, UVC disinfection is stronger than UVA and UVB and can be used to disinfect medical equipment. It is stronger, cleaner and faster (reaching one-star level in five minutes and two-star level in 60 minutes). The fast-disinfection mode can deliver one-star level disinfection in five minutes, and can be handily used to disinfect tableware before use.

Consumer education on this product is not sufficient. Many consumers believe dishwasher can replace the role of disinfection cabinet. Guan Guangming points out that, dishwashers on the market boasts bacteria removal function, but it has not reached the level disinfection cabinet does. Consumers have a misunderstanding on “disinfection” and have been given little information on that by enterprises.

We don’t know how the outbreak would eventually change the sector. But now, mainstream enterprises have started to readjust their deployment on it.

“We plan to scale up production to accommodate the changes and reposition this product to capitalize on the opportunity.” Guan Guagnming adds that, Vanward will continue to expand its commercial and household business of disinfection cabinets and roll out more targeted products for niche markets.

My interviewee from Robam reveals that, Robam is going to develop models that target different viruses and demographic-specific models. She says, Robam will put more efforts to improve the disinfection performance and efficiency of products.

As consumers’ healthcare awareness grows amid the outbreak, enterprises start to eye fields beyond tableware disinfection. My interviewee from Vatti says, “disinfection products should expand portfolio from tableware to more things. Vatti will not limit the application scenarios of disinfection products into traditional kitchen. We’re going to center around home scenarios and develop more products to meet the consumers’ healthcare needs.”