Living in this modern times tends to render us too familiar with the technologies around. By merely plugging into a socket and with just the switch of a button, we enjoy the benefits of prolonged food shelf lives with the refrigerator, cooler air with air conditioning system, and convenient food preparation with the food processor. We tend to forget that these appliances have not always there. They were once mere ideas and imaginations drafted to sketches and blueprints. Someone saw the potential of the idea and turned these drawings into prototypes, developed and then launched them to the public. One of us got wind of it, that’s why it ended up in our homes.
“If you see a turtle on top of a fence, you can conclude that it got help getting there.” How did one kitchen appliance go from an imagination to reality? We’ll look into the story of La Machine.
What is the La Machine?
The La Machine is a food processor introduced by Moulinex in the late 1970s. To understand the history of this machine (or of anything else), we have to begin looking at the circumstances surrounding its conception, development, and launch.
The Beginnings of Moulinex
Moulinex is a French company known today as one of the popular brands of kitchen appliances. Its history dates back to the 1920s when its founder, Jean Mantelet, started a small business for the agriculture market, initially manufacturing hand pumps and spraying equipment. By 1926, Mantelet veered towards the domestic appliances market which led to the founding of Moulinex’ predecessor, Manufacture d’Emboutissage de Bagnolet in 1929. By 1932, he would develop its first product: a hand operated vegetable mill, known as the “moulin” which would later give company its name.
An Interesting Legend
Mantelet is a self-proclaimed ladies’ man — that is, in a business point of view. He claims that he has always wanted to sell something that women could use. Legend has it that his venture into the domestic appliance market was inspired by his wife. A “lumpy puree she served him” once for a meal opened his eyes to the need for kitchen a device which would peel and prepare vegetables with less effort. This led to the development of the the Moulinette “moulin à légumes” or vegetable mill. The success of the mill convinced Mantelet that he and his company should continue with low-end, mass-market products.
Ford’s Assembly Line and Electric Appliance
Mantelet continued with mass-market manufacturing of innovative domestic appliances; and by 1953, his company had more than 90 patents for various products although most of them were manually operated kitchen devices. Three years later, Mantelet launched its electric coffee mill, the Moulinex, at a price less than half of those in the market. The company’s low price and a catchy slogan, “Moulinex Libère la Femme!” (Moulinex liberates women), captured the hearts of French housewives and ensured the company’s spot as a manufacturer of affordable kitchen gadgets.
Moulinex and the Domestic Appliance Mass Market
The company also ventured into domestic appliance markets abroad such as when the vegetable mill was introduced in the United States in 1933. By 1956, it was a well established manufacturer of home appliances in France and countries abroad. Riding on the success of the coffee mill, Mantelet changed the company’s name to “Moulinex” in 1957. The company also improved its product lines, while remaining true to Mantelet’s cherished mass-market, low-price category. By 1962, Moulinex had become the premier French-based electric home appliance manufacturer.
The 1960s and Food Processors
Something about France inspires kitchen appliances. Was it because they were cooking more that led them to devise ways to relieve the drudgery of repetitive, tedious kitchen tasks? Perhaps. But one thing is for sure, it was the desire to make light of kitchen work for caterers led a catering company salesman, Pierre Verdun, to propose a device to aid his clients. It was similar, though less technologically impressive, from the food processors we know today. He introduced a bowl with a revolving blade in the base, which would reduce the time spent on repetitive chopping, mixing, and shredding. This was the beginning of the Robot-Coupe, a company which started manufacturing food processors for professional kitchens. In 1971, a smaller unit called the Magimix was developed for the home kitchen.
Carl G. Sontheimer, an engineer from Connecticut, went on a tour with his wife in Europe. While attending a food show, the Magimix caught his attention. He bought the distribution rights for America and decided to develop the device. After more than a year of modifications and improvement, he launched Cuisinart (a combination of “cuisine” and “art”) to the market. Cuisinart would dominate the food processor market in the years to come, paving the way for Magimix in Europe, as well.
The Birth of La Machine: A Cheaper Food Processor
The company’s commitment to stay true to its slogan to “liberate women” paired with Mantelet’s positive outlook to take advantage of electricity to do so has led to the development of more electric powered kitchen appliances. With the rise of the food processor to fame in the US, Moulinex introduced a device to the country that can also chop and shred, dubbing it “La Machine.” Initially manufactured in France and later on by Regal Ware Inc. in the US, it was positioned to rival the the rising kitchen superstar, Cuisinart. Its competitive advantage lay in its lower price, which was offered up to half the price of other brands. The company’s strategy was to manufacture products in quantity and sell them at a narrow profit margin to keep their prices low.
Moulinex continued to dominate the French market with its products. However, La Machine’s belated introduction to the U.S. market, a couple of years later than the Cuisinart, was not as successful as they had hoped. Nonetheless, the La Machine continued to occupy more and more kitchens and Moulinex kept developing the device, later on launching new models.
La Machine met with a bit of trouble in the 1980s. Regal Appliance Inc. announced the voluntary recall of 1.4 million bowl covers for certain Moulinex and Moulinex Regal La Machine food processors, which may present a laceration hazard. The models included in the recall were manufactured from 1980 to June 8, 1984: the LM2 (La Machine II), LM3 (La Machine III), LM5 (La Machine V), and the JC Penney model 8330.
Later on, the food processor market opened a new niche with the introduction of the mini processor, Oskar. Regal later on introduced two smaller-sized La Machine models to compete with the Little Oskar. In keeping with their commitment to low price domestic appliances, both models retailed at significantly lower prices than other mini food processors.