162-year-old German company WMF is changing with the times by doing away with its minimalist look and reaching out to connect emotionally with customers.
The next time you are at a WMF store, take a look at the box its cookware comes in. It is usually that of a pot or pan that is stylishly photographed - clean, and fuss-free. But that is changing. The new boxes will now feature pictures of models using the cookware, giving the packaging a more lifestyle feel to them.
That change may not seem like much to a consumer. After all, a pot is a pot regardless of how the packaging looks, but for the 162-year-old German company, that's just one of the ways that it is changing with the times.
In a recent survey of its customers, the feedback received was that the brand has lost some connection with its customers. Matthias Becker, WMF's president of the consumer division, says: "Consumers felt that we have become very cold, minimalist, and distant."
But Mr Becker is not surprised by that feedback. "Most of our products are made of stainless steel, which itself is not a warm material. Our presentation has always been minimalist, white and bright, hence the cold look. In the past, our communications have always focused on the product and not on the product in use. Honestly, I do find it rather clinical."
But he acknowledges that times are changing, and perceptions are changing too. "People are now more emotional. Cooking is no longer seen as a chore but something to be enjoyed. So we have to move with the times too," he says.
That new packaging? It is meant to show some warmth, "to show people and food", says Mr Becker, who joined the company in 2014. He had previously worked at Procter & Gamble and McDonald's.
WMF's attempt to be warmer and more approachable to its consumers also comes in the form of its new store layouts which were presented at this year's Ambiente, the annual trade fair in Frankfurt for table, kitchen and housewares.
Merchandise will now be grouped into four categories, or four moments as the brand prefers to call them - Preparation, Cooking, Dining and Drinking. "We want to better the consumer experience in each of these moments, to make it easy for them to find the necessary tools in one step," says Mr Becker.
As seen from the WMF exhibition booth at Ambiente, each section will give consumers the chance to try out the products. WMF had a team of in-house chefs giving live demonstrations of how to use its new knives and cookware. At the WMF stores, there will be counters where consumers can do a little chopping of carrots on their own to experience for themselves the sharpness of the knives.
But ultimately, the products are the stars of the brand, with some new products aimed at the Asian market, but which will be made available to all markets. "We want to keep the engines running for our German and European markets, where we have a huge presence. We also want to strengthen our presence in Asia, especially in China where we want to grow our market," he says. He adds it wouldn't be wrong to assume that every German household has at least one item from WMF.
One of the new products presented at Ambiente is the Chinese Chef's Knife, which incorporates WMF's Performance Cut technology but with a slightly different look from the conventional chopper. This new knife comes with a rounded front which supposedly makes it easier to mince and dice food.
And whereas the brand used to have a small selection of woks, that range has grown bigger. Apart from the stainless steel ones, there are now woks of varying sizes made of chrome, aluminium and stainless steel combination, and even cast iron ones.
Mr Becker notes that consumers, particularly those in Asia, are more concerned about food quality. "They want to know how best to preserve nutrients when cooking the food and want to know how to eat healthier," he says.
To meet such demand, WMF has come up with a new frying pan that incorporates its ThermoIndicator display. ThermoIndicator is a strip of special material between the frying pan handle and the outer body that changes colour with temperature. The strip, which has a thermal chrome coating, turns green once the optimal frying temperature has been reached, and turns red when it gets too hot.
While cutlery and cookware are still signature items for the brand, Mr Becker notes that items such as juicers are also getting popular. One of his favourite products is the Mix and Go, a small smoothie maker with a container that can be used on the go. In Germany, about 100,000 pieces were sold last Christmas. "Young people were buying them to give away as presents, and that item brought them into WMF stores which they wouldn't have otherwise done so," says Mr Becker.
As president of the consumer division, his goal is to make WMF the "number one global household goods company". How far he is from his goal depends on how the market is defined. "In the cookware market, we are definitely already there," he says. "But I want to widen the definition of household goods, since our brand stretches further."
Three years ago, WMF started its small domestic appliance range, which includes blenders and toasters. These are not available in Singapore. "Our market share in this area is much smaller compared to cookware and flatware, so there is still much for us to grow," he says.
And how does he plan on being number one in all categories? "By going international. To understand the differences between Western and Asian consumers, and to meet their needs."
He adds: "I hope consumers will see the new WMF as being more emotional, authentic and with a focus on being helpful to consumers rather than just be posh and shiny.
"We want to do this while still keeping to our DNA of producing top quality, German engineered premium products."