Interview with a stove manufacturer in China
On a recent visit to China, Alliance staff met with Huiyang Shen and Rongmei Mo, owners of Shengzhou Stove Manufacturer (SSM), a family-owned, private stove manufacturer business. Founded in 1979, SSM was one of the first stove companies in the Chinese market. Today, SSM has successfully grown into a powerhouse manufacturer that supplies major international stove companies such as Ecozoom, Burn, Envirofit, and Biolite. We had a chance to speak with them about the clean cooking sector and how they have adapted to the many changes as the market moves forward:
On SSM’s foray into clean and efficient stove production
Mr. Shen (CEO, Head of Technology and Design): “After taking over the family manufacturing business in 1995, we began production of clean and efficient cookstoves soon after.
We’ve learned that we have to develop culturally-appropriate technologies and solutions so that we can make the right products for the consumers who will be using them. This is something we experienced first-hand when we attended the Alliance’s Clean Cooking Forum back in 2013 in Cambodia and again when we traveled to the Forum in Ghana in 2015. It’s incredibly useful for us to talk with others in the sector and to see the markets in person, and we continue to use lessons we’ve learned from both Forums.”
Mrs. Shen (COO, Head of Sales and Marketing Management): “Prior to attending the Forums and working with the Alliance, we hadn’t considered the larger impacts of cookstoves on people’s lives, particularly in regards to the indoor air quality. In Africa, we were shocked to see the three-stone, very traditional stoves, which makes our work feel very meaningful and impactful.”
On country-specific stove innovation
Mr. Shen: “This year, we had a new manufacturing client based in Haiti. He told me the stoves he saw on the market didn’t last very long and that he wanted to extend the lifespan of his stoves. After talking with me about the designs of his current stove model, he went back to Haiti and changed the combustion chamber of his stove to my recommended suggestions and now he says his stoves have a lifespan of close to two years, more than double before. The client also said that they have stoves with ceramic chambers, but after only 4-5 uses, the ceramic would crack. He noticed that SSM’s stoves do not have these problems, so I shared my recipe for how to make that type of ceramic, which I was happy to do.”
On changes in marketing strategy over the years
Mrs. Shen: “The number one thing I have noticed is the price change over time. A few years ago, everyone was coming to us for only high-end, low-emission stoves. Now, we produce high-efficiency stoves less than $10 tailored for the developing world, where the requirement is a low price but still offering a high-efficiency stove.”
On cookstove design
Mr. Shen: “Through a partnership we developed early on, one of the products we created I was very proud of. It was a stove that has ceramic as the center of the stove. That was a game changing technology for us and helped us get to where we are today.
We are committed to keeping up the good work. What we are trying to do is to bring the production cost down by scaling up production and using standardized machines. The ceramic material as the center of the stove is key. It is very cost effective. The down side is that it doesn’t necessarily look fancy and it can be heavy. But the good news is that it’s affordable, it has a longer lifetime, and it does not cause as much harm to the environment.”