Meet Elba appliances: F&P’s concerted push into the entry-level at Bunnings

By Claire Reilly

Elba may not be a familiar name to retailers and consumers, but Australians are set to see a great deal more from this appliance brand in 2013. The brand was acquired by Fisher & Paykel in 2006, and after flying below the radar for some time — mainly being used as an entry-level brand for builders and specifiers in the commercial space — it is now set to be heavily marketed through warehouse and hardware retail chain, Bunnings.

The brand’s Italian legacy dates back to the 1950s and ’60s, when founder Elio Baggio began producing freestanding cookers for the Italian market. Since then, the brand was sold to De’Longhi (in 1987) and now comes under the ownership of Fisher & Paykel, which is still sourcing ovens and cooktops from Elba’s manufacturing facilities in the Italian town of Borso del Grappa.

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After popping up in the market when it was first acquired by F&P, the Elba brand was retired. But as Fisher & Paykel’s general manager of marketing, Peter Russell, explained, it has come back into Bunnings to address consumer needs at the entry-level price point.

“Elba is a brand that came with our acquisition of the Elba facility at Borso del Grappa in Italy, along with a number of other brands. It is reasonably well-known over in Europe and it was the sub-brand that we utilised in New Zealand prior to the Haier acquisition.

“It fell at that entry-level point — so we made a dotted line through a lot of the portfolio and everything from that level down became Elba by Fisher & Paykel. It allowed us to start to explore a house of brands like Electrolux Home Products do.

“Then Haier came along and said, ‘Look it doesn’t really make sense with the Haier brand for Elba to exist there, so we retired the Elba brand. But we kept it as a commercial brand for developers and house builders to go up against brands like Chef and Simpson.”

Russell said as Fisher & Paykel has moved more towards the premium end of the brand spectrum — “starting to nudge up hard against Bosch, Miele and Smeg” in his words — there is room for it to market a brand in the entry-level segment.

“The 101 of branding is that a brand can’t mean all things to all people, and you can’t stretch it too far,” said Russell. “So what that has meant, as Fisher & Paykel continues to move in that premium direction, that vacates an area behind it. And that’s where Elba sits.

“We’ve actually got a real house of brands now under the F&P brand, and while Haier does laundry, dishwashers and refrigeration, they don’t [have] cooking at this point. But you can imagine when a developer wants to put in cooking appliances, they also want a matching fridge, perhaps a dishwasher and so forth. They want a kitchen. Now Haier can’t do that, but Elba can."

When Bunnings approached Fisher & Paykel seeking to stock F&P product in its warehouses, Russell said the brand was unsure if Bunnings’ “distribution strategy was consistent with where we wanted to take our brand”, offering to rollout the Elba sub-brand instead.

And now F&P is making a concerted effort to drive the name into the consumer mindset, meeting with Bunnings today to work on a strategy to market the brand.

“Part of that is a whole new roll out of product too, so there’s a new logo type being developed and rolling out, and all new products,” said Russell, noting that there will be in the order of 20-to-30 new product SKUs being launched soon.

“Why this renewed vigour and emphasis around it? The answer is because the Haier acquisition has really focused all this upon us. Haier really want Fisher & Paykel to represent the pinnacle of their brand portfolio. It gets all the latest in innovations, it’s the leading light in terms of design, aesthetics and technology. But Haier can’t fill that void behind us, not all of it. Elba needs to be there in terms of cooking and commercial. It’s been there and it’s been bubbling along, but now is the time to turn up the heat.”

According to Russell, the market is about to see “a hell of a lot more” of this Italian brand very soon.

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