U.S. Bidders Line Up for British Icon and Its $25,000 Stoves

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An employee tests a door plate for an AGA range cooker at the company's plant in Telford, U.K.

An employee tests a door plate for an AGA range cooker at the company's plant in Telford, U.K.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

A 93-year-old brand of stove most commonly associated with British country living has become the unlikely center of a takeover tussle between two U.S. appliances giants.

The Aga, an iron-clad cooker costing as much as 16,000 pounds ($25,000), is produced by Aga Rangemaster Plc, which said Tuesday it received a bid proposal from Whirlpool Inc., countering an agreed 129 million-pound offer from Middleby Corp.

The bidders are tussling for control of a brand that has come a long way since the days when its purpose was just as much to heat rural country cottages as it was to do the cooking. Although still keeping their traditional sturdy appearance, the stoves have been equipped with technology that has made them a popular addition to the modern kitchen. Owners include U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and actress Sharon Stone.

“It’s an aspirational brand, that’s its key appeal,” said Matthew McEachran, an analyst at N+1 Singer. “Aga ovens are no longer less efficient than rivals.”

Much about the Aga hasn’t changed since it was invented by Swedish Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gustaf Dalen in 1922. Weighing at least 400 kilograms, the cookers are constructed by pouring molten iron into moulds at a factory in Coalbrookdale, the cradle of England’s industrial revolution.

What has changed is the gadgetry inside. Originally designed to radiate heat all day, the multiple ovens within an Aga can now be controlled individually. In some models, owners can also use a smartphone to turn compartments on or off.

Becoming part of a larger company would give the brand the resources needed to further that innovation and penetrate new markets -- something it has struggled to do as pension liabilities have thwarted Aga Rangemaster’s growth ambitions.

Premium Products

That’s where Middleby and Whirlpool come in. Middleby plans to put Aga alongside its Viking ovens, saying the brand fits its strategy of expanding globally, and will strengthen its position as a leader in premium products. First it will have to fight off Whirlpool, which said Tuesday that it approached the Aga board regarding a possible offer.

Aga shares rose 14 percent to 209.75 pence at 4:23 p.m. in London, exceeding Middleby’s 185 pence cash offer.

Big appliance makers such as LG Electronics, Electrolux and Samsung have rolled out smaller lines of so-called ultra-luxury appliances to capture sales and higher profit margins as growth in established markets like Europe and North America has stagnated. Electrolux’s Molteni brand of bespoke ovens -- which the company dubs “the Rolls Royce of world-class cooking” -- can reach 200,000 euros ($225,000).

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