Sunday, March 26, 2006

The last good toaster?

Toasters are a "missing middle" casualty. China wiped out all the middle and low end products, replacing them with very inexpensive and (as of two years ago) very unreliable toasters. I call this the "missing middle", because afterwords one ends up with the low end (with a great drop in average price) and the luxury/professional market. Alas, I usually buy in the "middle", so this is a bad outcome for me -- even though it's a good thing for most consumers.

In fact, with toasters, it seemed the "high end" had disappeared as well ( commercial toasters too big for our kitchen). I've visited various specialty stores, and the toasters were all made in China there too. They seemed as flimsy and unpromising as the much cheaper models sold in my neighborhood hardware store.

I figured I'd just have to wait until "made in China" came to mean quality products, just as "made in Japan" is today. Or until some retailer rediscovered the value of a "quality brand". I think brands are going to make a big comeback in the next 12 months, so that's not too long to wait.

Today, however, it occurred to me that Germany, with its protected markets and manufacturing inclination might still have reliable toasters. So I changed my toaster search to include "made in Germany". Which led to this Rowenta toaster.

It's a luxury solution of course, I didn't expect to find the "missing middle" in the export market. The electric motor is silly, and the price is steep -- though in the range of the "made in China" items sold in specialty shops. So, at least on the net, there is still a "Mercedes toaster".

Update 3/31: I struck Zeitgeist. Slate has a review of toasters out now. They found an interesting mid-range option. Some of the brands seemed to be going for "quality" too ...

Update 4/14/07: At least some of the components for some Dualit toasters are made in China, though it's "assembled in England". See the comments for more details, including this excellent comment:
Sorry to burst the bubble but the Dualit (at least the Vario 20293 Chrome) may be "assembled in England" but the parts are from China. Check out wholesale site on the internet to see the product country of origin. I bought one, the timer failed after about 3 months, when I opened up the toaster the timer clearly was labeled "made in China". I think that Dualit is assembling them in the U.K. but is using "globally sourced parts" (the new euphemism for Made in China). Buy a cheaper toaster it'll be made in China too but at least it'll say so on the outside instead of on the inside.
Amazon has complaints about early failures in the Dualit. There may simply be no escape from this trap. Maybe we'll all stop eating toast, or go back to the days of holding bread over an open flame.

Update 11/30/07: It's truly hopeless. Bigeejit writes in comments (emphasis mine):
Interesting post! I'm German, and I'm looking for a toaster not "Made in China". It's a nightmare.

Take a closer look at the parts inside of a toaster! Even it's an European or German brand toaster like a Bosch, Siemens, Krups, Rowenta, Braun, Tefal, Moulinex one... most of them look the same, and they are "Made in China".

I believe most of the toasters are manufactured in the same one Chinese plant. Each brand just gets a different plastic cover slipped over.

Well, I'm not willing to pay a high price for a German brand toaster manufactured in China.

@John Gordon: Rowenta is no longer a German brand since 1988. Today the brand is owned by SEB Group (France), and Rowenta toasters are "Made in China", too. Even the Rowenta toaster you mention.
Update 3/17/09: Professional toasters are still made in the US. From comments (Drawde):
.. There is still a toaster MADE IN THE USA. It's made by Star Mfg in MO, actually their toasters are made in TN.

These are heavy duty restaurant quality units. Our 4 slice weighs about 20 lbs, so keep that in mind in terms of storage, lifting etc.

We have the ST04 model, which I think has been replaced with a newer model designation, but I checked with the rep today and she said they are still made in TN.

They can be repaired even at a restaurant repair facility if need be, you can actually buy parts for them as well! Imagine! Of course the bad news, they are not cheap.

I think the 2 slice model is around $350 and the 4 slice $550 online. We actually picked up ours used on ebay for about $150...
Now I know what i want for my birthday ...

Update 6/25/11: This old post still gets comments. Today a vistor suggested toastercentral.com:
... the place to find and buy vintage and collectible kitchen appliances by Sunbeam, Toastmaster, Dominion, Kenmore, Arvin, Westinghouse, General Electric, Manning-Bowman, Universal and other makers from the Golden Age of chrome and bakelite...
The site appeal is primarily aesthetic, but they had a 1950s toastmaster that looked like it would be excellent. Sold of course.

Update 3/3/2012: Six years later, it all makes sense.

33 comments:

Scott G said...

Thanks for the interesting post. Last week my mother requested a toaster for her birthday, with the caveat that it not be made in China.

I never imagined how difficult that would be. It's amazing how almost every major small appliance brand has recently been bought up by a handful of major holding corporations that have moved the production overseas. Just finding out where a toaster is made is a challenge (though cooking.com lists many products and conveniently lists country of origin).

We ended up going with a Dualit Lite, which is still reportedly made in the UK. It's a bit simpler than the toaster you chose, though not much cheaper.

Let's hope this trend towards cheaper, disposable appliances reverses. Not only does it cost consumers more in the long run, but the environmental costs of producing, shipping, and disposing them are also much higher.

John said...

Thanks for the Dualit referral. Apologies for the late posting of your comment, Google's Gmail was filtering comment notifications as spam.

Krista said...

After my husband had one more really bad morning trying to toast his bread in the oven, I was on the same search! I am so devoted to buying outside of China that we have been without a toaster for a few years. I also ended up at Dualit; I am letting my husband pick from the really expensive Vario and the more reasonably priced Lite (he'll pick the Lite, but I'll let him study them first). He thought that the motorized lower and lift feature of the Rowenta was "one more thing to go wrong". Tally Ho.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to burst the bubble but the Dualit (at least the Vario 20293 Chrome) may be "assembled in England" but the parts are from China. Check out wholesale site on the internet to see the product country of origin. I bought one, the timer failed after about 3 months, when I opened up the toaster the timer clearly was labeled "made in China". I think that Dualit is assembling them in the U.K. but is using "globally sourced parts" (the new euphemism for Made in China). Buy a cheaper toaster it'll be made in China too but at least it'll say so on the outside instead of on the inside.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting link to support the "made in China" claim for the Dualit toaster. Go to:http://www.alibaba.com/ then search for the Dualit Vario 20293. You'll find the result quite infomative.

John Gordon said...

Great comments on the Dualit, I updated the original post.

My grandmother had a metal device that would allow one to flip bread over an open flame. Maybe I'll look for on in an antique shop, or make one in my spare time ...

bigeejit said...

Interesting post! I'm German, and I'm looking for a toaster not "Made in China". It's a nightmare.

Take a closer look at the parts inside of a toaster! Even it's an European or German brand toaster like a Bosch, Siemens, Krups, Rowenta, Braun, Tefal, Moulinex one... most of them look the same, and they are "Made in China".

I believe most of the toasters are manufactured in the same one Chinese plant. Each brand just gets a different plastic cover slipped over.

Well, I'm not willing to pay a high price for a German brand toaster manufactured in China.

@John Gordon: Rowenta is no longer a German brand since 1988. Today the brand is owned by SEB Group (France), and Rowenta toasters are "Made in China", too. Even the Rowenta toaster you mentioned looks like all China made toasters. Sorry.

Adrienne said...

I purchased a Rowenta toaster USED at a tag sale in 1989, so who knows how old it really is. The toaster still works, but only recently has been "acting up." I wanted to buy another Rowenta as 20+ years for a lifespan of a toaster is pretty good. Too bad I can't expect the same quality. The customer reviews have been saying that the Rowenta toaster breaks down after 6 months of use.

John Gordon said...

Yes, Rowenta is just another lost brand now. The name is the same, but the product is no longer distinctive.

We'll know that the world economy has recovered when it is again possible to buy a good toaster.

Drawde said...

Hey All! I wish I had seen this sooner but you are all in luck. There is still a toaster MADE IN THE USA. It's made by Star Mfg in MO, actually their toasters are made in TN. http://www.star-mfg.com/Scripts/Product.aspx?cat_id=8&prod_id=STO2 These are heavy duty restaurant quality units. Our 4 slice weighs about 20 lbs, so keep that in mind in terms of storage, lifting etc. We have the ST04 model, which I think has been replaced with a newer model designation, but I checked with the rep today and she said they are still made in TN. They can be repaired even at a restaurant repair facility if need be, you can actually buy parts for them as well! Imagine! Of course the bad news, they are not cheap. I think the 2 slice model is around $350 and the 4 slice $550 online. We actually picked up ours used on ebay for about $150. So it's a tough call for some, given the price point, (I won't start the discussion as to why it costs that much to build a toaster in the US!) but likely your kids will still be using the same toaster someday and you can eat your toast with a clear conscience. Check out these restaurant companies also if your looking for other small electrics still domestically made. Good Luck!

John Gordon said...

I'm going to ask for this for my birthday!

thanks, I added your comment as an update ...

Anonymous said...

Wife bought a Cloer toaster that we were led to believe was German made.

As it said on the box Cloer, Germany.

We have had it in the house now for about a week and I was looking for the clean out tray on the bottom and noticed the little label Made in China.

Is nothing sacred.

Made in Germany was the only reason I let the thing in the house.

Below is a pic of the item.
http://www.everythingkitchens.com/images/products/detail/cloer_2_slice_toaster_5053519_detail.gif

Anonymous said...

I returned the new toaster I bought at sears everything they have is junk I guess I'm waiting for a us company to try making toasters again my old 1990 toaster got put back to work hope it keeps going

Anonymous said...

Kim D said...

I smiled as I read these posts. I thought I was alone in my search for a good quality toaster made in the USA. I've ordered toasters online because the products claim to be made in the USA. But once they arrive, they have a made in China label on them. It's very frustrating. I'm not overly picky. I just want a good, quality toaster that isn't made of cheap plastic. If it comes from China, it's junk. I'd have more success buying a used toaster that was made in America than a new one made in China. The search continues....

Anonymous said...

My Oster 6330 just went up in smoke after four months of ownership. The Oster brand is now part of Sunbeam with in turn is part of the Jarden family of brands, for which Jarden has eliminated essentially all domestic (USA) production.

The electrics inside the Oster (probably of Zhejiang origin) toaster were truly frightening--apparently salvaged metals and very poor quality at that.

I am going to buy either a Star-Holman T2 or a Hobart toaster. Hobart is now part of Illinois Tool Works though and I believe more and more Hobart stuff is being made in China. So it's almost definitely going to be a Star.

$413 is a lot for a two-slot toaster, but it's better than $50 three or four times (my record in the last ten years) and the money will get recycled in the domestic economy.

Anonymous said...

When I had time I looked for weeks to find a toaster "Made in USA". I thought I found it in the Waring WCT704 I found online. After ordering and waiting 3 weeks, ugh!, it arrived today and the box said.......... "made in china"! :-( Not to mention the outer packaging had a hole in the box the size of a golf ball. I was willing to pay more for USA and what I thought was light weight commercial unit. I'm sending it back and having the family use the overn broiler, sigh!
Kelly, Santa Cruz CA

bird said...

i have a whole class of university students searching for a toaster as well as a few other things that are not made in china. No LUCK

Leslie said...

Killer when overseas products don't work like you want them to. I'm looking for a new juicer and I was wondering, do you know if Juiceman Juicers are made in China? Are they low quality?

Anonymous said...

I started looking a few weeks ago for a new toaster as our's was acting up (an Oster) bought several years ago when I thought they were an american made company. Yah right. Now much wiser, and much more frustrated as I realize there are no american made toasters in your local retail stores. I can not believe, actually yes I can our country has sold out to China and that is why we are in the sorry state we are in today NO jobs for our own because we want'ed cheap products, and now we have them. When the big guys in Washington wake up and bring manufacturing back here and Americans start demanding American made products maybe we can save our country. Now i'll get off my soap box, sorry. I know i'm preaching to the choir.

Denise Spooner said...

Have you guys considered toastercentral.com? They buy, repair, and sell old toasters. Most are classics, such as the Automatic Toastmaster of the mid-20th century, which featured an automatic lowering of the bread when you dropped in to the toaster slot. (My family had one my parents purchased in the 1960s and it was still going strong in the mid-1980s!) Almost all, if not all, that toastercentral sells are American-made. They're not cheap, but they're not as expensive as the 400+ commercial toasters some of you have bought.

JGF said...

Thanks Denise! I added your referral to the post. I liked a 1950s toastmaster there.

Chris said...

Leslie, if you are looking for a quality juicer made in america, go to championjuicer.com - or just google champion juicers. My folks had one for like 20 years and they still make em like they used to - and for a very reasonable price too (compare it with the omega masticating juicers that are made in Korea).

Anonymous said...

FANTASTIC NEWS- THERE IS A USA MADE TOASTER!!!!!!!! I found this one in my (also very long search) - it is a wide slot toaster available at http://www.toastercentral.com/tron.htm. This is a cool website of a guy in NY who refurbishes vintage toasters; he recently got an exclusive contract to sell a 2 slot toaster made by Hobart. Hobart and Star were two companies that I found out about in my search for American made toasters, and their styles may work for some, but they basically sell to restaurants, so their toasters are huge and/or not home-style designs. However they apparently are now making a 2-slot toaster and selling them through the above website! I can't wait to share this as there are tons of blogs with folks who couldn't find an American made toaster. Apparently there was a period of several years where there really weren't any (except those two commercial toaster companies above!). Yay!!!!!!!!!! I'm hoping that he'll get flooded with orders and that this will motivate an American manufacturer to jump back here from China OR Hobart can keep making tons of these commercial toasters!

Jack O said...

Hi, I was looking for a decent toaster in the uk and it seemed impossible after reading your page until I found Rowlett Rutland which still manufactures toasters here. They seem pretty decent and I have one on the way, you can see their catalogue on the below webpage.

http://www.rowlettrutland.co.uk/household.htm

GavinR said...

Thought I'd keep this long running post going a little longer. My badly made chinese toaster is in terminal decline and I'm also looking for one made in the developed world. I'm thinking about getting a Graef. They are apparently made in Germany and the illustrations on their website (http://www.graef.co.uk/) suggest that there is a certain Tuetonic solidity about them. Can anyone vouch for this brand?

NancyL said...

Toasters seem to be the canary in the coal mine in many ways. A few years ago I saw a toaster at Target with plates that would toast in a pattern and felt certain that the Romans would have had patterned toast as a prelude to the fall.

Since then I too have found ToasterCentral, but I can't convince my husband that a $200 Toastmaster from the 50s is a good idea. Perhaps in contrast to the new $285 Polytron it will seem more appealing... my 2 year old Chinese Cuisinart is erratic at best and dysfunctional often. It has not broken yet, but it's only a matter of months I suspect.

VALERIE FRANCESCATO said...

I have been searching for a toaster for my office - we're a green company that is very interested in being socially responsible, and buying products that are made in the USA. So glad to have found this blog! Not sure if the boss will go for the Star toaster at $532, but it's great to have the option. Thanks for all the great info!

Anonymous said...

Hi there have been searching for months for a relable non-Chinese toaster here in the UK.
Slowly but surely i have been driving my partner crazy as i spend hours bent over my lap-top in a dogged search for my holy grail.
Firstly i was attracted to the Dualit,then found out that they are assembled here but parts made in the far east.Then i come across the Rowlett,made in Britain,superb craftmanship but so expensive.Suddenly the Graef came into my line of sight,could this mean my search was over?Made in Germany,Tuetonic efficiency,built to last all came into my head.Just a few more hours research and i was satisfied,i placed my order,my partner sobbed with relief and now we wait with bated breath.Wish me luck fellow toaster fiends....Keith H

Anonymous said...

A lot of people are comparing todays products that are Made in China, to the products of the 60s, 70s, and 80's that were Made in Japan.
This is a failed and faulty comparison.
Goods made in Japan have always been of the utmost quality, it was just that most western countries, us here in Australia included, were a little, lets say biased, against the japanese.
Probably remnants of the WW2 way of thinking.
Yet who here still has 30-40 year old Olympus or Canon cameras still working?
30-40 Year old Pioneer or Sony amplifier/Hi-Fi units?
The Datsun Motor company made some of the cheapest cars worldwide in the 60s and 70s. No doubt seen as "Jap Crap" by a lot of white westerners.
Yet here in Oz, 40 odd years later, Datsuns still abound in original, functioning condition, while European, US and our own aussie made cars seemed to have just rust away or have had catastrophic mechanical failure.
Do yourself a favour, learn a little japanese or find a contact in Japan, and buy as many of your needed appliances, tools, goods etc. from the japanese domestic market.
They still make plenty of good gear, but globalization and the international exchange rate has soured the exportation of goods for Japan.

Anonymous said...

You are so right about the quality of toasters today. My son just moved into an apartment and is in need of small kitchen appliances. I happened upon a beautiful chrome Sunbeam (automatic 4 slice model T-75)toaster for $5.00 at our local Goodwill store. Not a scratch on it and it works great.
I am keeping it and he can have my crappy Chinese toaster!

Porge4 said...

This is in response to one of the Anonymous comments:
The writer stated that Japan has always made high quality products. Having grown up in the early years (30-40's) I can tell you that statement is not true. I can clearly remember that when something was found in stores during the earlier years "made in Japan" brought laughter. Today to the credit of Japan they make high quality products.

Unknown said...

I searched for an american made toaster for a long time and have just bought a beautiful refirbished 1940s Sunbeam. I have found that if I want a quality product made in the USA I have to do a bit of time traveling.

How much would a quality toaster really cost if it was made in the USA by US workers that were paid a living wage and the earnings of the CEO and the investors were not the priority? I would really like to know. Untill then I will continue to time travel shop to find american made products.

Cas de groot said...

I am Australian and we make a few good quality toasters, birko, Roband and Woodson. All commercial quality though.