Chennai: In a city where new cooking gas connections are almost impossible to get, and where delays in gas cylinder deliveries are common, the sales of a gadget, known as the induction cooker, have risen rapidly over the last few months.
In the middle of May, Indian Oil Corp., Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd instructed their distributors to stop issuing new liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, connections in Chennai and other parts of India. The companies had claimed that, in the face of the liquidity crunch, they were making losses on each cylinder. In the interim, a wait list of almost 250,000 consumers has emerged.
Fuel saver: RealTime Systems MD P. Rajasekhar using an I-Stove. The induction cooker is emerging as an eco-friendly alternative to gas stoves. Photograph: RA Chandru / Mint
Petroleum secretary R.S. Pandey on Tuesday said new LPG connections would be available on demand and the waiting list would be wiped out in 60 days.
Meanwhile, the induction cooker has proven a popular, more ecologically friendly alternative. Massive banners in the city’s shopping districts scream out the advantages of the induction cooker as a replacement for LPG stoves.
Raj, a manager at the appliance store K. Ramanathan and Co. in Mylapore and who goes only by one name, has seen both consumer awareness and sales shoot up in the last couple of months.
“There’s been almost no advertising, but people come in here knowing exactly what they’re looking for,” he says. “Every week now, we sell 15-20 induction cookers. We see plenty of people who have just moved to the city, who can’t get a gas connection at all.”
Induction cookers use a magnetic field to form a closed circuit with a vessel, which in turn heats the vessel placed on the cooking surface. They can attain efficiency levels of up to 80%, compared with less than 50% for the traditional gas stoves.
Raj pulls out one of his hottest selling models, a nifty Time Link device with a sleek, matte-black ceramic surface, and pre-programmed settings for soup, stir fry and milk. The Time Link model is priced at Rs3,300; most models, Raj says, cost between Rs3,000 and Rs4,000.
The induction cooker is still largely a product imported from China, but as demand has risen and promises to climb further, a few Indian manufacturers have also begun to enter into the supply side of the equation.
RealTime Systems, ordinarily a Chennai-based manufacturer of testing equipment, started producing its I-Stove brand of cookers a year and a half ago, but its managing director, P. Rajasekhar, says the boom has only just begun.
“Really, until now, there has been no replacement for gas, so when the supply of LPG drops, as now, you can’t exactly go back to coal or wood,” Rajasekhar says. “But, the electric induction cooker is the perfect replacement.”
Rajasekhar won’t reveal how many I-Stoves he sells every month, but another source in the company, who wished to remain unnamed, says that sales have touched around 70,000 units per month across the country.
RealTime Systems has found a market for both household and commercial induction cookers.
“Many restaurants and caterers have started to opt for this mode of cooking because it saves on gas costs,” he says. “We even have an induction cooker designed exclusively to cook dosas!”
Rajasekhar is quick to list a few added advantages of this cooking technique. “Induction stoves use less oil because they can distribute heat better,” he says. “Also, they are better suited to Indian cooking than microwave ovens. Indian cooking is interactive—you can’t just put stuff in a microwave, sit back, and pull it out when it’s done.”
M. Saleem, one of I-Stove’s many retailers in Chennai, still sees considerable scope for a growth in awareness on the part of the buying public. “Many people haven’t considered this as a viable alternative as yet,” he says. “But when they do, the induction cooker will become a big hit. It may even become as much of a phenomenon as the electric rice cooker.”
PTI contributed to this story.