The humble microwave is becoming a major force in the appliance retailer’s arsenal. Multiple functions such as grilling and steaming are elevating the microwave from a reheating appliance to a true cooking powerhouse. The extra features mean it may even become the primary cooking appliance in kitchens where space is tight, either in a freestanding or built-in model.

See the best new microwave models on the market

Appliance brands have reported growth in their microwaves sales by closely associated them with major appliances such as ovens and giving them stylish, sleek and consistent appearances across the entire range of built-in kitchen products.

These are all elements to give the mature microwave market a push to improve the function of the appliance without sacrificing the primary reason consumers want a microwave in the first place: convenience.

Breville’s Quick Touch microwave range provides an easy-to-understand interface to help consumers resist the urge to repeatedly blast food at 30 second intervals until it’s reheated enough to eat by using just the start button.

“Found in every kitchen, the microwave is an essential appliance, but it has become one of the most complicated to operate due to the user’s inability to program for specific tasks and foods. As a result, most microwaves are not used to their full potential,” said Breville senior category manager for cooking, Sharon Lenzner.

“With the ability to easily adjust the power level — which is equivalent to heat — to suit the food type, the Quick Touch microwaves solve real food challenges, are simple to use and deliver consistently superior results.”

Breville has enjoyed strong sales from the range which has won several awards in the 12 months since the range was first launched. The brand is refreshing the range this year with the introduction of stainless steel interiors and a new 25-litre capacity compact model.

“At the time of the Quick Touch launch, the microwave category was in desperate need of attention,” Lenzner said.

To give the category the love it had been lacking, Breville invested in a television campaign featuring Heston Blumenthal and the launch was also supported by a roll out of in-store demonstration microwaves and an on-going gift-with-purchase program. Lenzner said these efforts are paying off.

“As a result, Breville is the fastest growing brand in the microwave category, and the Quick Touch is the best-selling model over $300 (all colours combined) with 8.7 per cent value share in this over $300 price segment. Breville now has 9.2 per cent value share of the entire microwave category, and has increased its average selling price by $31 in just 12 months (MAT September 2014).”

Lenzner recommends retailers demonstrate the unique shortcut buttons of the Quick Touch, which include Baked Beans, Popcorn and My Favourite.

“Nothing beats getting hands-on, so invite consumers to use the demonstration units and give these features a go themselves.”

Panasonic is also focused on ease of use, intuitive features and smart technologies to help users make the most of their microwaves.

Panasonic’s new combination steam microwave oven (NN-CS894S) features an intelligent Sensor Cooking option that takes a different approach to programming the microwave. Nicolas Cauzac, Panasonic product marketing manager for microwaves, explains:

“Simply select the type of food you want to cook, rather than inputting a time, power or weight, and the sensor analyses the humidity inside the oven, letting you know the exact moment your food is ready to eat.”

Another focus for Panasonic is on providing health-conscious consumers with quick, easy and nutritious meals, achieved by including multiple cooking methods to allow consumers to prepare a broader range of meals with their microwaves.

“The latest appliance innovation from Panasonic incorporates multiple cooking methods, including a new steam function for healthy, tasty food, as well as convection, grill, microwave and defrost features,” Cauzac said.

“It is essential to clarify with the consumer during the decision process the variety of functions and ease of use offered by today’s microwaves. Highlighting key functions, such as grill, oven or microwave, offers the consumer more options, enabling them to get more out of the product.”

Panasonic has 19 models ranging in capacity from 20 to 44 litres and designed to cater to a variety of needs and budgets. To make the most of the usable space, Panasonic’s flatbed design provides the flexibility to use rectangular or larger dishes, while the overall footprint of the unit is not increased.

Healthy meals and convenient food preparation go hand-in-hand for Sharp microwaves.

“The concept of convenience cooking, which, at the same time, allows easy preparation of healthy food that is packed full of flavour at a reasonable cost, is a continuing trend in the Australian market,” said Mark Beard, national communications and branding manager for Sharp Corporation Australia.

“Sharp has incorporated multiple cooking techniques, such as microwave, grill and steam into one convenient appliance. These benefits also extend inside the microwave with advanced features such as Flatbed and Sensor technologies to make cooking simpler and easier.”

Australians are getting more adventurous in the kitchen and retailers should familiarise themselves with the features which can be used to prepare different meals.

“Sharp’s diverse and convenient microwave range will enable you to showcase a microwave that will best suit an individual’s personal preference,” Beard said. “As purchasing gifts for Christmas can be quite a tedious task, opt for appliances that have been tailored for the Australian market and taste preference. For example, the Australian Developed Menus in every Sharp microwave ensure that all meals cooked are with locally sourced produce and the Australian consumer in mind.”

Mike Lilly, head of home appliances Samsung Electronics Australia, said the microwave category remains flat, but isn’t without opportunity.

“I think the opportunity now lies in the shift in microwaves from what has become very much cash and carry into a more considered purchase,” Lilly said.

When a microwave breaks down people generally look for something similar to replace it, but this is an opportunity for retailers to get that upgrade. For Samsung this opportunity is present in its range of convection microwaves.

“Understanding how people use a microwave is important now in terms of driving to that convection space and that is one of the reasons we are reinforcing our line-up in that area.

“At the moment, microwaves are a low consideration purchase and I think there is a huge opportunity to add value into that by understanding what a customer is looking for, rather than letting them make their own decision without any kind of discussion on the floor.”

Another key feature across the Samsung microwave range is the ceramic enamel interior. Cleaning is a pain point for microwaves, Lilly said. The ceramic enamel interior is designed to be easy to clean, durable and comes with a 10-year warranty for peace of mind.

LG Electronics has also paid attention to making its microwaves easy to clean. The stainless steel interior with grease removal coating inside LG’s 32-Litre Stainless Steel Convection Oven With Grill (MC8289UR, RRP $579) means clean-up is fuss-free. The corners have also been rounded to be easily wiped down. It also features a humidity sensor that automatically measures vapour and adjusts cooking time and power levels during the cooking process.

At the top of the LG range is the Lightwave Oven (MA3281T RRP $999). This four-in-one appliance features microwave, grill, steam and convection cooking technology. It also features an easy to use control panel and an Infraspeed Heater to ensure food is crispy on the surface and juicy on the inside.

Electrolux — which markets microwave ovens under the Electrolux and Westinghouse brands — has named its new range Inspiration, a nod to foodies on their pursuit of dinner perfection.

“The new Electrolux Inspiration microwaves transform the kitchen from its former utilitarian room into a design space which is the hub of family action and home entertainment,” said Mark Kampmann, category manager for food preparation at Electrolux Home Products.

“But, in addition to their design, the latest microwave ovens have features and customer benefits that reflect evolving lifestyle trends. For instance, it is possible now for a time-poor working couple living in a small apartment to use their microwave oven as a primary cooking appliance.”

The new Electrolux Inspiration microwave ovens include a built-in model (EMB2527BA, RRP $949) and a freestanding model (EMF2527BA, RRP $699) with seven cooking modes, including basic microwave, grill, combination grill and microwave; defrost by weight; cook by weight; and automatic cooking.

Electrolux describes the microwave category as an “adjacency”, which is one of the many areas the brand plans to target as it extends its focus from its core competency of major appliances. Small domestic appliances (under the Electrolux brand), hot water systems (Kelvinator) and barbecues (Electrolux and now BeefEater) are also being targeted as growth areas for the Swedish company.

“The new Electrolux Inspiration microwave oven models reflect the growing trend to integrate these appliances into overall kitchen design and are an extension of the ‘family’ of the Electrolux Inspiration range of kitchen appliances including built-in ovens,” Kampmann said.

Bosch and Siemens have experienced strong growth in the microwaves from a close association with its major cooking appliances.

“The market share of both the Bosch and Siemens brands has seen remarkable growth over the last six months due to increased sales in the microwave category. This growth can be attributed to the ‘follow-on effect’ of in-store purchases made in conjunction with major appliance purchases such as ovens,” said Monica McCormack, BSH product manager, consumer.

Compact built-in microwaves are proving to be popular as apartment living increases. “As space becomes increasingly expensive, the continued trend towards built-in appliances as opposed to freestanding is gaining momentum. By removing appliances from the kitchen bench, space for other household provisions can be maximised.

“Consumers are also looking to add a more premium aesthetic to their kitchen, which is why built-in appliances are so popular today,” McCormack said.

McCormack said the most prominent microwave feature available in the market today is inverter technology, which enables true power level selection to ensure a premium cooking experience.

“Traditionally, microwaves selected to operate at 50 per cent power level still functioned at 1,000 watts but only 50 per cent of the time. With invertor technology, microwaves can operate at a true 500-watt power level, 100 per cent of the time, producing well balanced, perfectly prepared goods.”

Smeg has also embraced the built-in microwave as a member of its appliance ‘family’.

“Smeg recognised the polarisation of the microwave oven sector several years ago; that there was a sector that would only ever use the microwave for rewarming food and yet another growing sector that wanted an appliance that did a lot more than just reheat.  The fact that the aesthetics of the latter are design-linked to the rest of the kitchen’s appliances has been integral to the success of the category,” said national marketing manager Jim Kalotheos.

“Multi-tasking compact ovens have superseded the basic microwave, with Smeg reporting significant growth in sales of its range of microwave ovens in its 45-centimetre high format.  These ovens are design-matched to Smeg’s full size multifunction ovens along with cooktops and rangehoods.”

It’s the styling and multiple functions that elevate Smeg’s microwaves to the status of “true cooking appliance”. Consumers can choose between a combination of microwave and grill or microwave with convection oven and grill. There is a choice of finishes, including stainless steel, Stopsol Silver glass and stainless steel, or black glass and stainless steel. These compact built-in models have the dimensions to fit into a bank of wall ovens, possibly alongside a built-in coffee machine or steam oven.

Miele’s Generation 6000 Microwaves and Speed Ovens are designed to match its built-in appliances, which were launched globally towards the end of 2013.

“This year, Miele has continued to experience strong growth of microwave oven sales,” said Thorsten Kissel, product manager — food and beverage preparation. “Customers not only appreciate the quality and speed of food preparation but also the sleek design, colour options and the possibility of a range of installation combinations with other appliances in the Miele Generation 6000 range.”

Miele’s Generation 6000 integrated microwaves and speed ovens offer design flexibility with the option to be installed above or below the bench and are available in a number of finishes including Miele’s signature CleanSteel finish, Brilliant White, Obsidian Black and Mink. Miele’s intelligent ventilation technology releases vapours via the front frame so no additional venting at the rear is required.

“Miele’s incredibly versatile speed ovens and microwaves are the ideal solution for time-poor customers. Offering the convenience of fast food preparation, as well as a second oven cavity, these speed ovens and microwaves also feature a range of easy-to-use automatic cooking, reheating and defrosting programs, and are excellent for thawing, heating and cooking frozen or fresh foods to save valuable time,” Kissel said.