British brands such as Jaguar LandRover have caught the imagination of China – it is now the carmaker’s biggest market. But could the same magic happen for a product that doesn’t even exist as a category in China?
William McGrath believes it can. The Chief Executive of Aga Rangemaster aims to boost overseas sales to 50%, after famously declaring the home market to be “a nil-nil draw”. The firm has signed a deal with Chinese kitchenware giant Vatti in a bid to crack that market.
It’s a reciprocal partnership – Aga will distribute Vatti products in Europe too. But it’s a move that anticipates a big change in Chinese culture. The kitchen is rarely the heart of a Chinese home, as it is in the west. Most households use two gas burners, and no oven.
“What gives us some optimism is that the initiative came from Vatti themselves,” says McGrath. “They are looking ahead to what could happen next.
“The chief executive of Vatti was clear that we had to see this in the context of the evolving Chinese home. For the range to become a mainstream product in China, the format of the house and the layout of the kitchen need to change.”
Adapting the range
A growing thirst for western styles – and British products in particular – might speed that change along.
“A combination of style, engineering and genuinely interesting stories has every chance of capturing an international market,” McGrath believes. “We want to play up the heritage, while emphasising that we are a forward-looking brand.”
To that end, the Aga pitched to the Chinese will be distinctively different from the models nestling in Cotswold kitchens.
“We’ve completely redesigned the Rangemaster hob for the Chinese market,” says McGrath. “This model uses Vatti’s burner technology, incorporating a very powerful burner in the centre.
“In fact, we’re so pleased with it that we’re going to launch it in the UK. The China experience is helping to push our expectation of what we could offer to the European market.”
Creating a ‘world cooker’
With a long-established business in the US, Aga Rangemaster is already well-versed in the diverse kitchen needs of different cultures. Its American products reflect the taste for “really chunky knobs, and a big oven – they have a fear of not being able to fit the Thanksgiving turkey in there.”
Other refinements in recent years have made it simpler to export, distribute and install the Aga.
“The new generation of electric Agas are factory finished – they are not constructed in your home,” McGrath explains. “They are all-electric and don’t need a flue. From a consumer’s and a dealer’s point of view, it’s a much simplified product – and it only requires one pallet rather than two.”
The company will be making further efforts to speed the changes that might encourage emerging markets to embrace the kitchen range.
“We’ve been thinking hard about how we get away from being seen as interesting, but niche and geographically defined,” McGrath says. “One example will be our event in a London cookery shop, where we will show 50 different world cuisines being cooked on an Aga. The idea is to highlight the Aga as a world cooker.”
Spreading the word
Further marketing efforts will build on the lifestyle aspect of the Aga and seek to promote word-of-mouth recommendation. This is nothing new in the States, where architect Frank Lloyd Wright and cookery diva Martha Stewart have been among prominent Aga aficionados.
McGrath cites the experience of Britain’s ‘food ambassador’ and Aga demonstrator, James McIntosh, who returned from a Far East trip convinced that the ovens could be used for Chinese cuisine.
“He has made a TV series in China, and will be involved in explaining our product for the local market,” McGrath says. “Hopefully by the autumn we will see the launch of our first Chinese showrooms.”