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Fridges are becoming cooler and cooler

It is time for the refrigerator to pull its weight. For decades it has kept food chilled and spat out ice cubes. Now, it is a computer, stereo, telephone, television, water filter and sparkling water dispenser. It’s also about to make a cup of coffee.

The average four-person US household opens the fridge 40 to 60 times a day, according to research from Whirlpool. But consumers say its elephantine presence and central location mean it should do more.

“It’s this giant thing that’s sitting in the middle of your kitchen and all it’s going to do is keep food cold?” says Christien Aristakian, a stay-at-home mother of two in Plantation, Fla. “I always thought it would be awesome if my fridge could do everything.”

Aristakian asked a representative of General Electric for a coffee-making refrigerator during a routine customer-service call about the new GE appliances Ms. Aristakian had purchased in late 2013.

“I could get that coffee maker off of my counter, and I’d have fresh water every time I made coffee,” she says.

About three months later, two GE engineers installed a prototype of a coffee-making refrigerator door on Aristakian’s existing GE Café refrigerator for her to test and critique. For compensation, she got to keep the final product, which will hit stores in the American fall for $3,300.

GE says it already had been considering the idea after noting increasing demand for its hot-water dispenser, which has settings for making tea, cocoa, soup and oatmeal.

“It’s not just about ice and water anymore. There’s a lot more that consumers want that dispenser to do,” says Dan Goldstein, GE’s marketing manager for refrigeration. “People want to use filtered water in more parts of their life.”

The new refrigerators will have a Keurig-branded brewer in the door and operate much the same way as single-serve brewers made by Keurig Green Mountain. A removable module holds a Keurig K-Cup coffee pod, which makes one cup of coffee at a time.

Adding sound

Consumers can also clear their kitchen counters of sound systems, which are increasingly popular as more people relax and entertain in the kitchen. Last year, Whirlpool introduced $3,099 refrigerators equipped with CoolVox, an out-of view, Bluetooth-enabled sound system made by Harman Kardon, a unit of Harman International Industries.

“It really is a convenience, and yes, it’s very different from cooling food,” says Norbert Schmidt, Whirlpool’s general manager of refrigeration for North America. “You spend so much time in the kitchen that consumers see the value of it.”

After introducing sparkling water dispensing refrigerators about two years ago, Samsung Electronics recently expanded the number of models with the capability, which uses an embedded canister from SodaStream International.

“We knew it was a trend moving forward,” says Justin Reinke, Samsung’s director of refrigeration product marketing. “You have this refrigerator in the home, why would you need to go out to buy sparkling water?”

Last year, Samsung upgraded its Wi-Fi connected refrigerator by giving it the ability to make and receive phone calls, play TV shows and mirror applications stored on Samsung smartphones. The fridge, which costs $3,799, also plays Pandora Internet radio through two built-in speakers, takes memos and displays photos on its 8-inch touch screen.

Luxury appliance makers including Sub-Zero Group and BSH Home Appliances’ Thermador brand say their consumers are more focused on sophisticated controls for temperature, humidity and air quality. These consumers also strive to maintain a sleek design aesthetic, which would be disrupted by a refrigerator with elaborate displays and dispensers.

“The affluent, they’ve already been there and done that with the dispenser on the front of the refrigerator,” says Zach Elkin, director of marketing for Thermador, which sells models with dispensers but says they aren’t a popular option. “They want to integrate their appliances and make them disappear.”

Source: WSJ

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