SA’s air fryer boom

As sales of air fryers continue to boom in South Africa, with many households now buying a second one, all of which has had a major effect on cooking habits, reports

Pick n Pay reports that sales of air fryers have trebled since January this year. “They are so popular now that we are now selling more air fryers in a month than what we sold over two years previously,” a spokesperson said.

Pick n Pay notes that more customers are now buying a second air fryer, and use smaller air fryers for cooking multiple dishes at the same time. The most popular options for consumers are in the three to eight litre category.

Walmart-owned Massmart says air fryer unit sales at its Game and Makro stores have more than trebled from 2021 to 2022.

“We believe that customers enjoy this small appliance as an alternative for convenient and healthier cooking,” says Katherine Madley, vice president of group marketing for Massmart. Checkers says it is still seeing strong demand for bigger, family-sized air fryer units (6-8 litres) at more affordable price points under R2 000.

The brisk sales of air fryers – which can range in price from R900 to R6 000 – come even as consumers come under increased financial pressure amid rising interest rates and high inflation.

Last year, the air fryer was the number one appliance in shopping baskets in Black Friday sales, at a time when cash-strapped South Africans mostly used the bargains on offer to stock up on essential food items, toilet paper and other household items.

In response to the ever-growing appetite, Woolworths says it is adding more cooking instructions to prepare meals in air fryers.

Food and consumer expert Callie Maritz, whose company Cakebread works closely with international companies, believes the market will soon see entire food aisles dedicated to air fryer food products in South Africa in coming years. This trend is already gaining traction in Europe.

This holds especially true for frozen foods, where he says vegetarian and vegan producers are ramping up production of products tailored specifically for air fryers.  

Why are air fryers so popular?

The Covid-19 pandemic, Maritz argues, played an important role in popularising the use of air fryers around the world. People who traditionally don’t cook at home were forced to prepare their own food during lockdowns.

A big selling point is the shortened time to cook meals – a key consideration amid SA’s record levels of power outages.

In addition, a sharp surge in sunflower and canola oil prices last year in response to the Ukraine war added to the popularity of air fryers, which require much less oil than deep frying.

Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of wheat and sunflower oils, and the war initially triggered an explosion in prices as supplies to the global market were disrupted. The price of a bottle of sunflower oil in South Africa doubled in the year to July.

A typical air fryer, which simulates deep frying by circulating hot air around the food, requires just one tablespoon of oil. In April last year, News24 reported that at the time that meant that the oil for an air fryer meal could cost only 60c – compared to almost R30 for the oil required for deep frying the same meal.

The reduced use of oil also appeals to health-conscious consumers.

There’s no way air fryers will replace conventional frying any time soon. Even with the push by consumers for healthier alternatives, there are certain foods that simply taste better deep fried.  

Fighting back against air fryers

Using this argument, sunflower oil producers, big losers in the shift towards air fryers, are now starting to fight back.

Popular brand Sunfoil, owned by the Willowton Group, has launched an ad campaign aimed at reminding its customers that samoosas, koeksisters or amagwinya and latkes are best served deep fried.

With advertising agency DUKE, Sunfoil launched an ad campaign which shows “caricature-style illustrations of aunties from different cultures set against patterned backgrounds that feature traditional delicacies”. The ads were followed by content videos that added animation and voice to the illustrations.

The campaign, which has been aired on road billboards, as well as on the internet, allows “each Auntie” to tell a story of “their traditions and much-loved foods, while also telling the world exactly how they felt about air fryers”, says Sunfoil.

In taking on cooking oil’s “stiffest competitor – the air fryer”, Sunfoil and Duke decided to use “South African aunties” who are the “most vocal supporters of traditional foods and flavours”.

“We wanted to reignite love for the Sunfoil brand amidst everyday working South Africans, going beyond price so that the product really stood out in the category,” explains Ishvar Hurbans, brand manager at The Willowton Group.

Brand strategist Jeremy Sampson says the ad campaign is clever and aims to connect Sunfoil with different segments of the community.

He says right now it appears technology in the form of the air fryer is the main competition for sunflower oil brands in SA and that Sunfoil is “fighting back as it were against technology”.

“I know in the upper income groups – probably everyone has an air fryer by now, but the lower income groups definitely do not, and they are the ones that are going to be using use sunflower oil, and this who they are aiming (these ads) at.”….. Read the full article here

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