Frestec ‘Libra’ Line Refrigerators

New visual design fires up fridge sales in China

Frestec – part of Hong Leong Asia, from Singapore – manufactures fridges, freezers and other home appliances. State-owned until 2004, the company’s share of China’s refrigeration market had shrunk from 13% to 5%. Suffering from a residual lack of innovation, the firm approached PDD’s Hong Kong studio to help reverse the trend, by improving the appeal of its new line of refrigerators.

Although the quality of the refrigerators was high, the visual design and the marketing approach were not convincing consumers. We needed to improve the brand values through colour, materials and finish (CMF) and develop an effective brand language that would communicate the quality and value of Frestec’s products.

Frestec wanted its new “Libra” series to comprise two refrigerators with three doors, one with two doors, one with multiple doors and one ‘side-by-side’ product. However, the company’s state sector heritage slowed down the flow of vital data and materials, meaning that we had four months to complete the design, rather than 12 months.

To help overcome the timing issues and bridge the gap between a commercial and state-run approach, we placed two Mandarin-speaking designers on-site with Frestec’s R&D staff in Henan province. The designers worked closely with the in-house team to understand – and then resolve – any manufacturing limitations. This approach improved communications and built trust with the local employees, and impressed senior managers throughout Frestec and Hong Leong.

Working alongside another marketing firm, PDD elicited feedback on CMF preferences from over 3000 people within the target market. Interestingly, 40% of participants wanted their refrigerator in the kitchen while over 30% wanted it in the living room, matching the rest of their household furniture. The research also revealed that 40% of respondents use Haier fridges and that this brand, together with Siemens, were the preferred choices for the next refrigerator purchase.

To understand why these brands were so appealing, we conducted a semiotic analysis of Haier and Siemen’s product in China and discovered a strong European – particularly German – influence on Haier’s style, while Siemens used clean, straight lines and subdued details to express high quality. To echo some of these influences within the Frestec designs, PDD’s team of international designers included two from Germany.

The new, harmonious design, first applied to the Libra line, has been well received by consumers. Frestec expects that the higher brand quality and value generated by the new design will help to turn up the heat on its refrigerator sales. And with a sound working relationship now established, PDD will be contributing to Frestec’s product development road map for the next wave of projects.

"Frestec has achieved a very good outcome, from concept to final design, despite the short period of time for the project. We really appreciate PDD’s engagement with the senior management team of Hong Leong Asia."

James Ng, President of Frestec