202: JennAir Discusses SlimTech and the Impact It Could Have on Refrigeration

Written by Rob Stott

February 20, 2024

Announced late last year, SlimTech looks to be one of the biggest innovations in the refrigeration category in nearly half a century. Why? And how? We sat down with Mario Gonzalez, senior manager of product marketing for the JennAir brand, to dive deep into the new technology and all the impacts it could have on this space.


Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking podcast and real excited today. We were talking about this before we started Mario, but not often there’s true innovation to talk about in the appliance space, and you got that that’s sounds wrong, right? You guys do a lot of great stuff. There’s always innovation that’s coming out of the Whirlpool and JennAir brands and everything going on over there, but some really exciting, it almost feels futuristic what we’re going to be diving into today. So I appreciate you taking the time and joining us on the podcast, Mario Gonzalez, senior manager of product marketing for the JennAir brand joining us today. So we appreciate it, man.

Mario Gonzalez: Thank you. Thank you, Rob. Happy to be here. Happy to share and really excited about what we’ll talk about here.

Rob Stott: Yeah, for sure. And I know, well, squeezing me into your schedule. We were talking about it as well beforehand. I know we all travel a lot, but you’ve been on the road, really getting out there to start this year, 2024. So again, really just appreciate the time, your availability and being able to jump on with us. So let’s dive into you first, before we… I don’t know how often you get the chance to talk about yourself. I’m sure you’re asked regularly about JennAir and things you got going on and this Slimtech technology that we’ll dive into. But tell us who Mario is, a little bit about yourself.

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, I’ve been with Whirlpool for about seven years. I started actually, as a market manager in South Florida. So one of my favorite experiences, I’ll tell you, and not because it’s you here, but it’s the PrimeTime and the show that you guys put on. So man, I’ve been in consumer electronics for a long time, since I was literally 18, 19 years old, where I started working at Best Buy, occasional seasonal. So I’ve loved everything, technology, everything consumer, and then somehow, the path took me into appliances, which it’s a fun, great business. You meet a lot of great people. You try in-product marketing, we’re trying to learn a lot about the consumer, how can we develop innovations and so on, that addresses everything they need. And at the same time, just have a consistent stream of good products, good launches for our trade partners to really hit the market with. So personally, wife and two kids, five and one and a half, boy and girl, which are a handful.

Rob Stott: In the thick of it, man. I’m with you.

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, and there’s enough age separation where the little man, he’s five. He’s a little too much for the one and a half, so I’m waiting for her to catch up a little bit so I don’t have to get in between them. But yeah, family is everything, man and of course, and work in the industries.

Rob Stott: That’s awesome. Well, so we’ve got a six and 3-year-old at home, so I got to ask, because when we brought the three-year-old home when he was an infant, just born. I’m pretty sure, so minus three, he was about three, almost four, probably roughly around the same age. As you’re coming home with a newborn, did they expect it to be a walking, talking baby ready to play with as soon as they got home? Did you have that experience too? Wait a minute, what’s this thing that doesn’t move?

Mario Gonzalez: Oh absolutely. I have to tell my son often, “You realize it’s a baby.”

Rob Stott: Yeah, it’s a baby. Yeah, right.

Mario Gonzalez: She’s not going to wrestle with you or any of that stuff, you’re not there yet.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I could appreciate that for sure. That’s so cool. Well, to your appliance point, what’s exciting too, you mentioned consumer electronics, doesn’t it feel like they’re getting closer and closer to being the same sort of industry? Obviously sold in a lot of the same stores, but just seeing artificial intelligence and the cameras and screens and things showing up on appliances?

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, that was the buzzword for CES, no question. We were following, that’s what everybody was talking about. But yeah, we’re in a really interesting intersection in technology, I think, where a lot of appliance use cases are starting to integrate or originate from other tech, like from a Google Hub or Home or Facebook Hub and things like that. And then you have Matter coming in, and I won’t talk to you about that one today, but that one’s a fun talk for sure, where you’re really looking at, for example, from your phone, can you start some ambient music and start to preheat the oven at the same time because you have a party coming? So it’s a really interesting space where all of it is merging together. So really fun to see what’s coming, for sure.

Rob Stott: Slimtech aside, I know we’re going to deep dive into that. What about appliances right now and that innovation? I mean, you’re coming off of CES, so I feel like, great time to ask you, what is something, and maybe it’s what you just described at a high level, what gets you excited about the innovation in appliances and what you’re seeing?

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, I think it’s tough not to go back to Slimtech because…

Rob Stott: Fair.

Mario Gonzalez: There’s two camps, right? There’s a camp of what technology is allowing you to expand the functionality and things like that. So you have cameras inside ovens now, and you’re able to, if you’re in a room somewhere else in the house then you’re able to see what’s in there, you’re able to monitor your food and things like that. That’s pretty cool. So there’s a lot of tech driven innovations, I would say. And then there’s also, and people at CES actually told us this, like human center innovation in a sense. Which is Slimtech, for example, and I’m biased obviously here, Slimtech, for example, allows you to potentially increase your capacity in your refrigerator by up to 25%. So we’re thinking of the consumer here, why would you need 25% more capacity? Because you want to store more things. You want to minimize trips to the grocery store, you want to avoid food waste.

Think about what happens when you’re running out of space and you have something in your refrigerator. What’s the first thing you’re thinking of doing? If it’s old, you’re probably going to throw it away. So that’s kind of how I would say that I’m thinking about it. There’s a lot of tech and that’s going to make it effortless and easier than ever to interact and work with appliances. But then there’s also innovations like Slimtech that it’s about, how do you take the core functionality of an appliance and just make it significantly better.

Rob Stott: Right. Well, hey, perfect segue to be able to dive into. So for those that have heard us mention it a couple of times, Slimtech was announced, I want to say, towards the end of last year. I remember-

Mario Gonzalez: Around middle of November we announced.

Rob Stott: I feel like I saw a lot of coverage of it. Obviously, press release goes out and then, maybe Wall Street, just one of those big pubs covered it and-

Mario Gonzalez: Fast Company, I think.

Rob Stott: … There you go, got the news about it and really started to dive into it. But for those that hadn’t heard, I’m hoping everyone in this space, appliance retailers know what we’re talking about, but give that high level overview before we dive down into it on what Slimtech is.

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, sure. So Slimtech insulation technology, we really believe it is going to be one of the greatest refrigeration technology innovations in the last 50 years. We’re very, very confident in that. So it is a proprietary powder-like material that basically removes the need for foam in your refrigerators. I mean, if you think of your refrigerator, what’s inside, you have foam. That’s how it’s insulated, that’s how it keeps the temperature and so on. So with Slimtech, this material allows you to basically, in a sense, change how you look at refrigeration today. You are able to build a configuration that can deliver up to 25% more capacity. So imagine your 24, 25 Q refrigerator going up to 30, within the same footprint, without changing physical dimensions. Imagine not only, how much more can the consumer store in there, but how much more innovative features you can put in there.

Because now you get into interesting questions about what do I do with that extra space? Can I deliver something unique, something extra to the consumer? And then in a different configuration, you can go up to 50% energy efficiency. So imagine your refrigerator today, let’s call it 300 kilowatts a year, you’re going down to 150.

Rob Stott: Wow.

Mario Gonzalez: And being ultra energy efficient. So Slimtech really opens interesting paths for us to deliver great value propositions to all the consumers. And it doesn’t stop there. There’s benefits in preservation, there is benefits in how fast it cools the refrigerators and what we’re talking about paths to recyclability. So it’s a fully recyclable material. So it opens a lot of really interesting possibilities for us, is what I would say.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no, and I imagine we start to see already, did you guys have a example of it in person with you at CES?

Mario Gonzalez: We did.

Rob Stott: Yeah?

Mario Gonzalez: We did.

Rob Stott: A lot of traffic, I have to imagine, going to that and kind of checking it out. For those that weren’t there, if you’re watching the video version of this, we’ll drop some images over top of it, but is there anything distinctly different when you walk up to it that you could tell like, “Hey, this is a Slimtech refrigerator?”

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, I think the obvious thing is, that it is thinner, right? So that’s what you’re going to, especially when you compare it to a foam refrigerator, you’re immediately going to notice how much thinner the walls, the door, everything is. Because again, that’s what the technology allows us to do, reduce the thickness by up to 66%. So think about that, how significant that is. So you’re going from, let’s say this is your cabinet walls and you’re going down to this. So to put it in perspective, imagine that space gain on all sides, what that means. So that is the most noticeable thing. And then it is a specific metal on metal construction. So you’ll also notice when you go up to it, let’s say you run your hand through it, you touch it, it’s a very robust feel. It’s built with metal, it’s obviously, a strong durable material.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And so right now, obviously, the shape and things like that, looking thinner and things like that, what do you see, what other ways, you mentioned the materials and build like that and new innovations inside. Could this lead to more sizes per se? What other ways could this technology change the refrigeration industry?

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, for example, what we showed at CES was just the door. Then we’re talking about a full built-in refrigerator for KitchenAid brand. So the first launch will be in JennAir brand, but a thinner door is just the first of many possible possibilities. You could think about this as a way to, if you start thinking about just beyond your typical form of how you know refrigeration. Think a drawer that you put in your office and that drawer is actually a refrigerated drawer and you have your drinks there, or think about, even beyond your commonly preserved goods. If you think of skin and beauty care, you think of those goods that require some sort of cooling and some sort of very precise and specific environment. So imagine a drawer in your bedroom, which is your beauty drawer, and you have all your creams and stuff in there.

So it opens up a lot of, I would say, configuration possibilities and unique designs because we can really go after a lot of different use cases. And will we be able to go after different use cases in the future, where this technology will show up where maybe today, or you don’t expect it or it’s simply not there today.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no. You’ve said, CES in particular, I think there’s a couple brands out there that come to mind, but I think of coffee tables that might have a little pocket. But to your point, it’s traditional refrigeration, so they’re thick and it’s bulky and heavy and things like that. So unique to think about the idea that those could be more streamlined looking and just fall into different types of… I mean, we’re almost talking about, think of a side table at a bed. It’s kind of the first thing that comes to mind when you’re describing this, and maybe something that appliance dealers never thought they’d have the opportunity to sell. So that’s a unique thing to think, “Hey, it falls within the category and how can we integrate this into what we’re selling and offering to customers?”

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, exactly. No, it allows us to, and this is how would summarize it, allows us to really think beyond current form of refrigerators as we know it.

Rob Stott: Is there anything in understanding that you can only say so much without having to put the kibosh on us, and some agent shows up at my house here ready to off me for talking about this, but any use case that you can think of that gets you really excited about the possibility of this technology? You mentioned a couple, right? We mentioned side tables and makeup drawers and things like that with a little bit of… What would be your idea? How would you use this technology in your house?

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, I mean, I think, for this technology, before really expanding and going into new spaces, I think we need to rethink the current refrigerator.

Rob Stott: That’s fair.

Mario Gonzalez: And I just can’t help but go back to what we can do within current form. So if you think of a built-in refrigerator or a free standing refrigerator, you increase capacity by 25%. So now I can put maybe an extra drawer or a longer drawer that stores more fresh foods and so on. And because this technology allows you, because it has faster cooling speeds, so up to 30% faster, you’re able to preserve your food fresher longer. Just think about that in itself. Current refrigeration is the base, implement the technology, elevate what that does even higher, and then, move on to the other fun use cases.

Rob Stott: The thing that comes to mind, just you mentioned current form, obviously, wider drawer, more drawers, maybe even. Even just opening a door. And sometimes you have difficulty because of how thick the doors are, and you only got so much space when they close. Like what you can put on a door of a refrigerator, like being able to fit, “Hey, maybe I could fit two cartons of milk in before having to not be able to shut the door.” So that’s wild. You get to rethink the entire interior of that piece.

Mario Gonzalez: And that’s exactly it. And I’ll add that there’s also a big design component here. So I mentioned before that this is essentially, metal construction. So you’re going to have metal interiors. So that means that you have a lot more precision or you have cleaner angles. Think about your refrigerator today, it’s molded plastic interiors, right? So you have your contours on the ends and so on. With this, there’s a lot more precision on basically, how you build the unit. So this really changes how you build refrigerator.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no more awkward corners of having to fit-

Mario Gonzalez: Exactly.

Rob Stott: … A couple of like, what cups of yogurt can I fit under this little thing that’s jutting down, because that’s where some of the construction is.

Mario Gonzalez: So it allows you to really, there’s a very… I think there’s a lot of potential, how I would say it, in all of the interior customization that you are enabling, not just from a purely capacity like I’ve been mentioned on, but design and how it looks and so on.

Rob Stott: Who’d have thunk we’d be talking about the interior of a refrigerator as aesthetically pleasing? But now, that’s what you get to do. Start to think about it that way, that’s crazy.

Mario Gonzalez: Exactly, exactly.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. So you kind of mentioned it, obviously, we’re talking, you represent the JennAir brand, so we’ll start to see this technology introduced with JennAir? Talk about the release timeline for Slimtech.

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, thank you for asking now. So the first launch is going to be in JennAir brand. It’s going to be limited to Slimtech insulation in the door only like we showed at CES with our current column configuration, which, it’s in market today. So it’s going to be a 30-inch column refrigerator, launching in, let’s call it around the June, July timeframe. So in the next events, as you said at the beginning, like KBIS and CES and so on, we’ll get a lot more information out on how that’s going to go out. It is a limited run, so that’ll be the first phase. Then we’re expanding this into a full unit for KitchenAid brand, and that’s coming in next. And then we’re still developing all the cadence and launch plans for all the configurations.

Rob Stott: So no pressure. Are we going to see one of these at Primetime? Any chance?

Mario Gonzalez: Hopefully, I don’t sign up for too much here, but it will be there.

Rob Stott: No, that’s all right. Excited to get up close with it ’cause I didn’t have the chance this year to be at CES, and I know our team will certainly be at KBIS, getting up close with it. So excited to kind of see it in person and the opportunities there. But you also mentioned too, the run, the limited run makes me think about internally for Whirlpool and the JennAir brand, construction wise and manufacturing, does this have a big impact for you guys? I know, if I remember right, there was talk about the plants being either built or reinvested, reconfigured, some of the Whirlpool style. So talk about that a little bit. How does this innovate the way you guys are making appliances?

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, I mean, I can’t give too much away here, but think about any innovations, it takes time to bring the concept into a finished product, but for Slimtech specifically, it really required a different way completely in how refrigerators are manufactured. So there are enough challenges within that already. So that’s why we did invest in a proprietary manufacturing process in our ROL Ohio factory. So that’s where these are going to come out of. I mean, I can’t put it differently or better than that. It’s really, it’s a new way to manufacture refrigerators with the best innovation in the category, I think, in the last 50 years.

Rob Stott: Yeah. No, hey, that’s plenty, right? We get it. So that’s awesome to see that. It’s cool that we have a partner that’s thinking that way, right? Thinking about new ways of creating these product that create, I’m sure, a better experience for the manufacturers as well to put these products together, but then ultimately, the retailer that has to sell, and then the consumer that gets the benefits of installing these products in their homes and realizing the value of something like Slimtech. So it’s cool to see. I mean, it already feels like a futuristic technology, but kind of the opportunities down the road too. This continues to advance and it’s not like this is an end game. So it’ll be interesting to see how this… The reaction to it has already been phenomenal. So once it gets into market, the response there, but then too, where does it go from here? So it’ll be kind of an interesting story to follow.

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, no, I think internally, I mean we’re extremely excited. I think you saw it in the announcements, that we have been working on this for quite a bit. So we are thrilled that we were finally able to announce it and have products in market here very soon. And it’s great to see that.

Rob Stott: That was a knock on wood, by the way, if you’re just listening.

Mario Gonzalez: That was a knock on wood.

Rob Stott: I’ll amplify the noise on that so you can hear it.

Mario Gonzalez: And of course, the reception from press, from trade partners has been phenomenal, so just really thrilled and can’t wait to get this out there.

Rob Stott: From the retailer’s perspective, obviously, being up on the technology and understanding it, you guys got resources galore that they can lean into learn about and obviously see it. But how about for positioning to the customer? Is there a certain customer, this makes sense for? Obviously, Jennair, kind of a step up brand, so you might have that customer in mind, but how do you position the Slimtech technology or the products that’ll ultimately roll out with this? Is there anything they have to do differently as they think about it and talk to their customers?

Mario Gonzalez: No, no, not at all. I mean, it’s going to be, in terms of function, it is refrigeration as you know it today, but with elevated performance. So you are going to, the way that I’m thinking about this is, you are going to, as a sales associate, as a trade partner, you’re going to have more to talk about with this technology. You’re going to have more exciting value propositions to offer to the consumer. Now, in terms of consumer target, I think back to the first part of the question, JennAir, of course, is Whirlpool Corporation’s luxury brand. So initially, obviously, that’s our consumer target, the luxury consumer that’s doing column pairings and they’re doing a huge remodel of an entire kitchen and so on. But we’re not going to stop there. The eventual plan is to really roll this technology out through the category to all the different consumers.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome, man. Well, like I said, I’ll knock on wood too, so we’ll be excited to see it at primetime and get this product out in the market as well. But hey, we appreciate you taking the time and diving into it with us. And like I said a couple minutes ago, just look forward to continuing to see this story evolve and progress here over the coming months and years.

Mario Gonzalez: Awesome, man. No, thank you for having me on. And thank you for the excitement on this. I’ll definitely sign up for Primetime, so we’ll see you there.

Rob Stott: We’ll see you. Hey, we’ll have a whole podcast set up there, so maybe we’ll have you on there and do a little follow-up, see what the reaction’s like onsite in Vegas there in just a few weeks.

Mario Gonzalez: Yeah, fantastic. We’ll do it for sure.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Appreciate it.

Mario Gonzalez: All right, thank you.

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