How air fryers got so hot

Trendy new appliances come and go, but this one is not just a bunch of hot air.
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· 4 min read

Sales of air fryers boomed during the pandemic, and today, frozen food brands are developing products specifically for the device while social media influencers outdo themselves finding more to cook with it. This is Part 1 of a series.

Your pasta maker misses you. Your juicer, too. They’ve formed a support group with your spiralizer down in the basement. Where, they wonder, did the love go?

Some trendy kitchen appliances that seem like must-haves because they’ll make us healthier, hipper, or more dazzling hosts, end up having limited functionality or are daunting to use or clean. We put them on the wedding registry, but by the time we’re writing the thank-you notes, we’re over them.

But the air fryer, which promises the crispiness of deep frying without all the fat, has settled in on the kitchen counter—and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon:

  • US consumers spent $958 million on air fryers in 2022, a 51.3% increase from 2019, when they spent $633 million, according to data from Circana (formerly NPD Group).
  • Air fryers were in 36% of households in 2020, which Joe Derochowski, VP and home industry advisor at Circana, told Retail Brew he expects to increase when he updates the research next month.

“In terms of household penetration,” air fryers are “now getting in the ballpark of toaster ovens and single-serve coffee makers,” Derochowski said. He added that an appliance like the air fryer that promised crispy food was bound to catch on.

“Crunchy was always one of the top mouthfeels that people want,” Derochowski said.

So how did appliance brands help the air fryer trend get cooking? And with consumers less homebound than at the height of the pandemic, can the appliance stay relevant rather than going the way of the electric can opener?

Intensive air unit: Evan Dash is co-founder and CEO of StoreBound, which includes the namesake Dash brand, which introduced its first air fryer in 2017. Since then it has sold 2.9 million units, and YoY sales “at least doubled” every year except 2022, when growth was less dramatic as more consumers returned to out-of-home activities, Dash told Retail Brew.

Consumers’ relationships with other small appliances, apparently, can be more like hookups than something serious.

“Things like a pasta maker oftentimes are used one to three times and then put into the closet,” Dash told Retail Brew. “It’s more of a novelty, and [then] people realize that, ‘Hey, this is really a lot of work,’ and they have a difficult cleanup.”

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While sales of trendy small appliances like juicers and breadmakers tend to be “very cyclical,” with spurts of growth and decline, Dash said the air fryer has become “more of an everyday basic that won’t go through the big peaks and valleys that some of those other cyclical businesses go through.”

Why it will have staying power, Dash said, is that many consumers are using it multiple—sometimes four or more—times a week and it’s “very easy to clean.”

Fry all means necessary: At Cuisinart, which also introduced its first air fryer in 2017, sales dipped in 2022 from the spikes during the pandemic, but still were above pre-pandemic levels, according to Christine Kapp, director of media and insights at Cuisinart.

“It’s a growing category for us,” Kapp told Retail Brew.

Cuisinart has focused on including the air-fryer feature in appliances with multiple functions, namely gleaming stainless steel air-fryer toaster ovens (and a microwave oven that also air fries).

Kapp said the aesthetics and versatility of the products help Cuisinart claim coveted counter space.

“It’s an addition to their kitchen countertop that looks nice that they don’t put away,” Kapp said.

One way that Instant Brands, which helped fuel another appliance craze with its Instant Pot and debuted air fryers in 2019, keeps consumers engaged with its products is by showing them more ways to use them.

An Instant Brands recipe app includes hundreds of recipes for its air fryers.

“We’re continuing to add content and show consumers everything that they can do with their appliances,” Kathy Clark, senior marketing director at Instant Brands, told us.

Air apparent: Cuisinart’s Kapp said that when her work comes up at a party, and she says the air fryer is her favorite Cuisinart product, the reaction is revealing.

“All of a sudden, everyone starts talking and getting so excited,” Kapp said. “Like, ‘Oh I just bought an air fryer and I made this and this,’ or ‘I didn’t know I could do this.’ It brings people together.”

And it told Kapp that the appliance is not just a fad.

“Air fryers are here to stay,” Kapp said. “They’re part of consumers’ lives.”

Next time: We’ll meet social media influencers whose air-fryer recipes helped make them famous, and spurred interest in the appliance.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.