‘Second’ freezers, refrigerators riding high on COVID wave

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Compact freezers and refrigerators are gaining popularity amid the spread of the novel coronavirus as bulk-food-buying consumers hanker for additional freezing and cooling units.

Consumer electronics manufacturers are competing to offer these appliances, which are referred to as “second” freezers or refrigerators, with a wider variety of designs and functions as people buying more food to cook and eat at home often prefer to place their additional units outside the kitchen.

Hitachi, Ltd. teamed up with a furniture company in spring to launch a small refrigerator with 10 color options, including dark green and brick.

Since the refrigerator radiates heat from the bottom, it can be placed flush against the wall, like furniture. Two units can be installed side by side or stacked vertically.

Hitachi said that the common desire among consumers to place their second refrigerators outside the kitchen is why it designed the appliance to fit in a living room or bedroom. “We hope customers will choose their favorite color, one that matches with their furniture or floor,” a representative said.

Earlier this year, Sharp Corp. introduced a small frost-free freezer that comes with a fan installed inside. The freezer is also equipped with a feature that allows it to be used as a refrigerator, and the unit’s door can be opened from both the left and the right, making it an easy fit for many different setups.

In the April to June period, domestic shipments of Sharp’s small-size freezer rose five fold over the same period last year. According to results of a survey by the company of consumers who purchased the freezer, consumers bought the item to store “frozen food sent from municipalities under the government’s furusato nozei hometown tax system” or “fish I caught.”

“Chest-type” small freezers with lids on top have been the norm, but these days small front-opening freezers, which allow people to easily scan what’s inside, have gained popularity.

Aqua, a brand under China’s Haier Group, offers a small freezer that has been receiving high marks thanks to its slim, 36-cm-wide figure. The Haier Group has also launched a product that allows uses to set the temperature of its two freezing spaces separately.

According to the Japan Electrical Manufacturers’ Association, a trade group for home appliance manufacturers, domestic shipments of home freezers totaled 442,000 units in fiscal 2021, nearly double the number two years ago.

Growth in the small-freezers market has largely been driven by a greater demand for easy-to-prepare frozen foods amid the pandemic.

According to a survey by the Japan Frozen Food Association, domestic shipments of frozen foods for household use hit a record-high of ¥391.9 billion in 2021.

However, in terms of energy-saving performance, small refrigerators often consume more power per unit of storage than large, high-performance units. Makiko Tanaka, a writer specializing in home appliances, said, “Consumers are advised to check annual electricity costs for small appliances.”