From spies to smartphones: Britain's Aga set for another new chapter

Tue Sep 22, 2015 8:17am EDT
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By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - The sale of oven maker Aga Rangemaster to a U.S. owner with global ambitions caps the transformation of a quintessential English country brand created by some of the biggest names in global design, advertising - and espionage.

The acquisition of Aga for $202 million by Middleby Corporation follows a brief bidding war with U.S. rival Whirlpool for the maker of the colorful cast-iron stoves that can weigh as much as a male polar bear, cost $18,000 and, in older versions, take two days to heat.

The deal, set to be completed this week, marks the latest in a list of premium British brands to fall under foreign ownership in recent years, to the dismay of some business commentators who want to see it kept in British hands.

But the sale to a U.S. company is also testament to the enduring appeal of a product invented in 1922, the year James Joyce's "Ulysses" was published and radio took off.

In Britain, it has become synonymous with aspirational middle-class country living and inspires huge loyalty in owners, including members of the royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron.

It struggled as demand was hit during the global financial crisis, but has recently returned to form with modern, more efficient versions of the cooker, and hopes to build on its heritage by exploiting Middleby's global network.

"The fundamental design of the Aga has always been its virtue but behind the front and the look is now a completely different product," Aga Rangemaster CEO William McGrath told Reuters, before he steps down as part of the sale.

"The design makes it iconic, the radiant heat makes it iconic but how it is delivered is something that has changed from generation to generation, from solid fuel, through oil and gas to electric and now programmable electric."   Continued...

People discuss Aga ovens at the Aga Festival 2015 in London, Britain September 20, 2015.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor