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Despite forecasts of a category transformation when silicone emerged in consumer oven cookware in the late 1990s, the material has so far failed to live up to its purported revolutionary potential. Although its cookware presence is still young, a number of factors suggest limited prospects for growth.
When silicone first debuted in global cookware just over 10 years ago, some industry sources predicted the dawn of a new era in oven cookware. Alongside advantages in easy cleaning, light weight, and flexible storage, silicone oven cookware offers manufacturers and consumers more options in terms of colour, shape, and design than traditional cookware materials like metal, ceramic, and glass allow.
Hoping to profit from this optimistic outlook, key players like Groupe SEB, World Kitchen, and IKEA added whole ranges of silicone oven items to their product portfolios (SEB’s Pro-Flex line is but one example).
However, data from Euromonitor International’s home and garden research reveal that silicone has failed to live up to expectations in the cookware category. More than ten years after its debut, silicone accounts for a mere 2% of global cookware value sales. Click to Tweet! Metal and ceramic continue to lead, with 80% and 12% shares respectively. Click to Tweet! Indeed, silicone holds no more than 5% of any single country’s cookware value sales.
One reason for silicone’s lacklustre performance in cookware in developed countries is that consumers have proven a steadfast preference for traditional materials. Interest in silicone’s lightweight and pliable nature failed to weaken the loyalty many consumers show to more ‘cumbersome’ options. Companies like Le Creuset, known for its weighty cast-iron cookware, continue to profit from the prevailing cookware mentality that ‘sturdier’ means ‘higher quality’.
Even for consumers who do not believe that heavier is better, a mass move to silicone has been somewhat precluded by advances in non-stick metal cookware, which provide similar advantages in lighter-weight and easy cleaning while pandering to consumers’ well-rooted loyalties to metal.
Silicone occupies an even smaller place in most emerging markets, accounting for less than 1% of all cookware sales in Russia, China, and India in 2011. In these countries, silicone faces limited growth prospects due to the general preference for stove top over oven cooking – a preference that greatly limits future growth for a material almost exclusively used for baking.
Silicone’s relatively small role in the global oven cookware market is unlikely to change over the next five to ten years. This, however, does not spell doom for silicone in the larger homewares market, as the material is growing increasingly popular in the kitchenware categories of some countries. While its future in homewares may not be over, rumours of its radical reformation of cookware were clearly overstated.