Animation by Victoria Pizzo, Photography ’19.

The evolution of OXO’s vegetable peeler

by Jonathan Vatner · Apr. 19, 2023

If you’ve been poking around kitchens long enough, you’ve probably encountered a cheap metal peeler rusting in a cutlery drawer. You might even know the frustration of applying that peeler to an apple or a potato. Its sharp-edged, narrow handle is hard to hold, and it slips when your hands are wet. And when the blade is dull, it won’t grab onto the peel.

That old peeler became effectively obsolete after Sam and Betsey Farber founded OXO in 1990. Betsey was struggling with peeling apples because of her arthritis, and Sam envisioned a better solution. Together they designed a peeler with a wide, comfortable rubber handle. It was the beginning of OXO’s Good Grips line.

The old-school metal peeler next to a range of prototypes for the first OXO peeler.

The company, now owned by consumer-products conglomerate Helen of Troy, produces countless tools for the kitchen and beyond: salad spinners, food storage containers, brushes and dusters, and measuring cups, to name a few. Their original peeler is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

“We’re pretty perfectionist when it comes to making products perfect.”
—Shannon Ballantyne

The iconic peeler has undergone a few updates since its debut, most recently in 2020. OXO streamlined the handle, strengthened its connection to the head, and lengthened the blade to make peeling larger vegetables easier. Improvements in manufacturing techniques have produced a sharper, more durable blade.

Shannon Ballantyne, Home Products Development ’09, an associate director of product development, is one of many FIT alumni at OXO. In her decade at the company, she has refined kitchen gadgets like the peeler and graters, developed grilling implements, and launched a line of camping equipment in partnership with outdoor recreation retailer REI.

Shannon Ballantyne.

Ballantyne works with an engineer to update each product. The engineer sets up a precise tooling process that produces consistent quality, and she makes sure the product stays true to OXO’s universal design ethos.

Both engineer and product manager get involved with OXO’s obsessive testing.

“We’re pretty perfectionist when it comes to making products perfect,” Ballantyne says. “We try to get there with all things.”

The engineer sets up mechanical tests to mimic a gadget’s wear and tear over its lifetime, and Ballantyne ensures that it’s easy to use for a broad range of people. While testing graters, she zested hundreds of lemons and limes, reaching the point where she knew how a grating surface would perform just by running a finger over it.

Both OXO’s new and updated products take two-plus years to develop, and that care pays off in overwhelmingly positive online reviews—which is one reason Ballantyne loves her job. She also loves that the work is hands-on, collaborative, and creative, and that she’s helping create products she would want anyway.

“OXO is the gold standard for kitchen products,” she says. “It’s been really awesome to be part of that.”