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Milan, Italy

Gold, always believe in your soul, you’ve got the power to know, you’re indestructible.

(Gold, Spandau Ballet, 1983)

Vittorio Smeg
Smeg CEO Vittorio Bertazzoni with the new mixer.

The invite gave away only one detail: Smeg would be unveiling a toaster. The family-owned Italian brand started by Vittorio Bertazzoni the elder in 1947 was branching out of its major appliances core competency, built around the oven, and into the highly competitive world of small domestic appliances. The full story is far more ambitious.

At Dolce & Gabbana Gold, a restaurant in Milan that is such a throwback to days gone by that stylish men in Armani suits can still smoke at the bar, CEO Vittorio Bertazzoni the younger (grandson), hosted global media representatives, dealer partners and the sartorially elegant design set to reveal a near-complete range of 1950s inspired smalls.

There are two toasters, two kettles, a blender and a mixer. A coffee machine is in the pipeline. The range will be available in the vivid colours made famous by Smeg’s range of FAB fridges. There’s baby blue, understated pink, bright red, traditional black and white, and a stainless steel so vivid that it acts as a mirror.

Bertazzoni calls this new venture “my baby”. It’s a project that he’s been working intimately on for three years, he tells me, and one that is set to blur the lines between major and small domestic appliance. In Australia, at least, few suppliers can offer a complete range of both major kitchen appliances and smalls. De’Longhi springs to mind as the closest to this ideal, though their wonderful and deserved success in small appliances is yet to replicated in the majors. This is a brave new world for Smeg.

Unlike Smeg’s ovens, cookers, dishwashers and hobs, this small appliance range is not and will not be manufactured in Italy. Due to the financial practicalities of small appliance manufacturing, the products will be assembled in China. Much like the successful designed-locally, Sino-manufactured dichotomy perfected by Breville, the brainstorming behind Smeg smalls will be confined to Italy but the actual grunt work will be off-shored.

Bertazzoni tells me the range will be in Europe in July and in Australia in “around September”. He says it’s “a natural extension of the FAB 50s range” and is very confident it will appeal to Australian consumers.

A coffee machine is definitely planned, presumedly a manual, and a rock solid source told me a Nespresso-style capsule system, perhaps with Nespresso itself, was investigated and abandoned.

Where will consumers go to purchase these appliances? Smeg has been entertaining Narta dealers in and around northern Italy this week and representatives of Bing Lee, E&S Trading and Betta Home Living were spotted at the launch. David Jones and Myer are a must, one source said, though it was important to carefully manage how this range was presented to the market.

A glimpse at the sales data for some of Smeg’s new categories shows that around 330,000 food processors were sold in the 12 months to February 2014, a decline of 5 per cent year-on-year. During this time, the value of the category declined by $1.7 million to $42.4 million. The average sales price is $129.

In kitchen machines there has been significant growth: unit sales are up 18 per cent to just under 158,000 for the same period. Value growth hasn’t been as strong, only up 2 per cent $45.1 million. The average sales price is $285.

It’s difficult to know exactly how much of these markets Smeg is targeting, but there is a sense that a couple of suppliers have had the premium smalls market to themselves for too long. Smeg plans on shaking this market up with products at the height of style and heretofore unclear technology. There was no official presentation outlining specific product features – a study of the toasters at the launch reveals there are no ‘Lift and Look’ or ‘A Bit More’ buttons on the display models – not that this means there won’t be something groundbreaking on the actual to-market models.

It’s fair to say this launch has raised as many questions as the original invite, more so perhaps. What is not a mystery, however, is that Smeg is coming in to shake up the premium end of the smalls category in Australia by Christmas and there will be plenty of consumers with Smeg already in their home liable to having their heads turned.