Whitford’s New Tetran® Coating Targets Expanding Rice Cooker Market
Date: 19th October 2018
Although rice has long been associated with the diets of the 3.7 billion people who live in Asia, in recent years the grain’s popularity has grown to where there is literally no continent where it is not a significant dietary staple. Its attraction ranges from its affordability for the poorest populations to the health consciousness of the more affluent.
In 2017, U.S. sales of rice cookers grew to $234.6 million, according to HomeWorld Business’s Annual Housewares Census, an increase of 24% versus year-earlier sales.
In addition to the attraction of rice’s health benefits, the Census reported: “An important aspect of continuing sales growth of rice cookers is marketing the many new features and benefits now offered on products available at a host of leading retailers.”
While the number of units sold rose by just 6%, according to the Census, a significant movement toward more expensive units, with a host of high-tech features, drove the 24% increase in sales revenues. Those features included LCD control panels, automatic and extended keep-warm settings, reheating cycle and delay timers.
Rice Cookers’ Multiple Functions
Once considered small kitchen appliances for only one style of food, rice cookers are being repositioned by manufacturers as multifunction units capable of preparing a variety of foods. This has helped the category attract a growing number of consumers, particularly those who are looking to establish more healthy diets. Today, rice cookers are advertised by home goods retailers for cooking everything from soup to stew, using them to steam vegetables or better control sticky porridge, even for keeping key dinner elements warm while the rest of the meal is being prepared.
Cooking rice, however, has its challenges. The three major varieties – white, brown and wild rice – are each acidic, which eats away at the coatings that provide the release designed to keep the cooked grain from sticking. Successfully addressing this problem gives a coating manufacturer a significant leg up with the market. Enter the new Tetran® coating from Whitford Worldwide, the manufacturer of the world’s most extensive line of fluoropolymer coatings.
“Our core competence is that Whitford spends 5-8% of our total sales in research and development, which is very rare in our industry,” says Philip Wong, Asia Pacific marketing manager for Whitford Worldwide.
Wong was hired in 1992 to set up and run Whitford’s Hong Kong office. By 1998, the company had penetrated the rice cooker market in China. Wong saw Whitford’s constant innovations in coatings as a principal reason. “Every two to three years, we developed new products to meet market needs. That’s how we create opportunities for ourselves, instead of simply waiting for those opportunities to develop.”
New Tetran® Coating
Due to the corrosiveness of rice, Whitford scientists needed to create a coating that would last a good deal longer, especially in meeting the demands of Asian consumers, who use their cookers multiple times each week; for some, multiple times each day. Tetran improves the lifespan of the coating’s release effectiveness significantly as compared to that of conventional nonstick coatings being tested. The new coating is also water-white in solution, as well as when cured, permitting greater latitude for the use of bright colors. Additionally, the smoother, higher-gloss surface of Tetran provides a brighter, more attractive appearance.
The sellable properties of the Tetran coating bode well for opportunities in his territory, Wong says. “Whitford’s business in Asia certainly ties in with what is going on elsewhere, since a large portion of our business is with manufacturers exporting their finished product to the rest of the world.”
Expanding High-End Market in China
Concurrent with the expanding worldwide rice cooker market, there is a dramatic shift in the buying trends occurring in China itself. While China has been the center of rice cooker manufacturing for decades, the country’s vast domestic market had been tied to low-end models. However, as China’s economy has blossomed, that era is coming to an end. Presently, the path forward to higher-end product sales seeks to take advantage of China’s long-established dining culture.
“The rice cooker has always played a significant role in the small electric market segment in China,” Wong says. “More than 60% of Chinese people consume rice daily.”
According to the most recent market statistics, sales of rice cookers in China reached 51.15 million units in 2017, almost evenly divided between online purchases (25.7 million) and retail store sales (25.45 million). This reflects domestic Chinese buying habits shifting from traditional retail sales to online purchases, indicating a growing level of buyer sophistication for the Chinese economy’s rising middle class. At the same time, consumer savings are substantial as a result of these shifting buying habits. Despite the near identical number of units being sold, online sales were RMB$6.03 billion ($880 million) versus RMB$11.07 ($1.62 billion) sold at traditional outlet stores, the disparity due to the significantly lower prices for online purchases.
With the Whitford tests showing Tetran has more extended release properties than conventional rice cooker coating systems, the company began a pilot program for the new coating with three major manufacturers serving the Chinese market, where all three have introduced induction-heating pressure cookers into the high-end market.
“Whitford is making significant progress with our coating systems at each of these companies and the addition of Tetran is making us even more competitive,” Wong says. “We foresee a bright future in our partnership with key domestic Chinese brands. Even at times when the worldwide market economy has not been stable, and/or the marketing mix is getting very complex and confused, Whitford’s business in Asia remains promising.”
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