Theatre came to Kingsgrove, southern Sydney, yesterday when Omega Appliances, part of the Shriro family, unveiled the next cooking brand to join an already crowded fray: Neil Perry Kitchen.
The presentation was more like a play than a press conference; with a stellar cast including Shriro CEO Mike Westrup, national sales and marketing manager Craig Handley, celebrity chef and primo uomo Neil Perry and, in a cameo appearance, South Australian Harvey Norman proprietor Nick Karasoulis.
The genre lurched from thriller (just what was this new mystery necessitating retailers flying in from all parts?) to mystery (how exactly will this new brand work?) to romance (there is a lot of love between the Omega Brand and Brand Perry), with a healthy dose of absurd comedy thrown in as well.
Craig Handley delivered the opening monologue, explaining that since Shriro purchased Hagemeyer, it has both added and dispensed with various appliance brands. Smeg and De Dietrich at the high end have been let go – to a standalone Smeg and Eurolinx Australia (via Grey’s Online) respectively. Meanwhile, Robinhood has been added and the existing Shriro brand Everdure has been incorporated.
These comings and goings resulted in Shriro having Everdure in the hardware channel, Omega just above entry level and Blanco in the mid-market – and nothing at the premium end. With the lid lifted on this problem, it was time to raise the curtain on the solution.
“You’re all here because we see you as some of the most important people in the Australian appliance industry,” Handley said. “You are very important customers for us. You are the people that we wanted to make aware of this project that we have been working on first.”
The VIPs in attendance included Harvey Norman’s Cara Sherman, Craig Sidley, Chris Borserio, Steve Lewis and Paul Jurd, plus the aforementioned Karasoulis; along with Tanya Mudge from Narta and Sam Zalan from Winning Appliances.
Handley went on to explain that Omega has spent the past 18 months developing a clear identity for its brand. Affordable yet reliable, he said, Omega is “for cooks, not chefs”, with a target age of 29-to-39 years; most likely a first home buyer.
“We understand that cooking is not [their] favourite thing in the world,” is how Handley explained it, acknowledging that this standpoint is quite different from most other cooking brands. Justifying this branding, Handley said Omega has around 6 per cent market share in retail and 9-10 per cent through commercial channels – “that’s about 25,000 built ovens per year”, he said.
And here is the problem-cum-opportunity for Omega – the character arc of this play – these home cooks don’t stay content or cash-conscious forever. Families are born, promotions are won and aspirations rise and suddenly the Omega oven is no longer serving them as well as it once did. These customers return to the market to purchase Smeg, Miele, Siemens or, if they have had stock options, Gaggenau.
“It is a big part of the market that we definitely don’t talk to or cater to with the Omega brand,” Handley said. “We call them ‘the aspiring home chefs’, the people that are really passionate about cooking, the people with a desire to create restaurant quality meals in their own home.
“They are inspired by celebrity chefs, by reality TV shows and by cooking shows; they buy cookbooks and probably shop at providores and to get specialty ingredients – they are really passionate about cooking, and are often driven by health, as well as flavour and cooking amazing meals at home – they are different from Omega customers: it is a market that we don’t cater to.”
Enter Stage Right! The Star of the Show! Neil Perry!
“Neil owns seven restaurants, is a regular on TV, has written numerous cookbooks and is Australia’s most influential figure in food,” is how Handley introduced the great man, who, and I am being serious here, opened another restaurant last night at the same time his eponymous cooking brand was unveiled.
“I sometimes get a bit confused about the words ‘celebrity chef’,” Perry said.
“I’ve got 600 staff and these seven brilliant restaurants. For me, it’s really about working in the food industry with a lot of fantastic young people – that is the bedrock of how fantastic our restaurants are and I hope that is the reason Mike and Craig came to us – we really understand what cooking is all about because we are immersed in it every day.”
Perry said that after cooking all day in a commercial kitchen he is deflated by the domestic cooking experience. When he met with with Mike Westrup at the start of this project, he said the focus should be on creating commercial style cooking appliances for the domestic setting; with technology and stylish user interfaces a secondary consideration. Perry said home cooking should involve more power and greater control and then he actually said he wants to “titillate the home cook and get them excited”.
Unlike Tetsuya Wakuda and Electrolux, Ariston and Gary Mehigan, and Matt Moran and LG; this new high-end Omega range actually has Neil’s name on the marque. The brand will be Neil Perry Kitchen, with ‘by Omega’ also somewhere on the appliance – that’s one of the many things still to be completely finalised – this is essentially an incomplete script – though Handley did give us the Cliff notes:
The first batch of products will be arriving sometime in middle of 2014 and will include three built-in cookers in 60-, 75- and 90-centimetre options, with pyrolytic and non-pyrolytic variations in all sizes. These ovens will have three elements, main, top and bottom, with individual power control over each element. There will be multizone induction and a wok burner with more than 25 megajoules of power.
No final decision has yet been made on freestanding cookers; while there was a ‘no’ to refrigeration and dishwashing. Handley said he would love to be able to release an indoor gas-powered charcoal barbecue, similar to one Perry uses at Rockpool Bar and Grill.
Appliance Retailer understands that it will be sold under the pro forma system, similar to Miele’s Chartered Agency model, and will be backed by a considerable marketing investment when the time comes.
All these appliances will be Italian made, leveraging off Omega’s strong historical contacts:
“We have dealt with, over the years, some of the world’s best manufacturers of appliances,” Handely said. “Brands that many of you would have heard of, like Bertazzoni, Smeg and Meneghetti. Bertazzoni has a 100-year history of making appliances in Italy and Smeg and Meneghetti have very good reputations.”
Everything about the performance up to this point was Shakesperean, though when the audience was permitted questions, a Beckett-esque absurdity descended.
“How long is the agreement for?” asked Nick Karasoulis, resulting in much mirth from his fellow retailers and compliments from this journalist for asking a good question. Normally at these mixed trade and media events, the questions are nowhere near as pointed and often there are none at all.
Neil Perry prevaricated in answering, saying that he only goes into business with serious people and that he doesn’t get “involved with fly-by-nighters'”. Perry referenced his 16 years and counting with Qantas as evidence of this ethos.
Sources close to the agreement told Appliance Retailer afterwards that it is open-ended. Having the Neil Perry name on the brand brings with it enormous might – “it is definitely saleable”, said one retailer in attendance – but also some hesitancy: what exactly happens if you support Neil Perry Kitchen and then the brand fades away?
“We go into it with an open mind; we want not only to succeed but to grow and prosper,” Perry said.
“From a retailer’s perspective, [it is] very exciting: a brand that has already got credibility, now with Neil’s name to it – fantastic,” replied Karasoulis.
Neil Perry Kitchen is the name of this new play. For sheer ambition alone it is worth Five Stars.