For the launch issue of Catering Insight, we asked a number of experts to consult their crystal balls and predict the market’s path for 2012. In the first of four interviews featuring senior figureheads in the industry, we get the views of David Bentley, Chairman, Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI) & Design Partner, The Russell Partnership.
How would you assess the current state of the catering equipment market in the UK and what is your outlook for 2012?
Our take on the current market place is that there is money and projects around, but clients are challenging the manufacturers with that money by asking for better value — they want them to work harder for their money, offer longer warranties, more training and things like that. We obviously have that small, little sports day that is happening over on the east of London which is going to put the cat among the pigeons with regard to people trying to do projects this summer. The summers are always problematic anyway, as schools and colleges tend to book their year in advance, which makes for quite a challenging time because other people want stuff doing too. The Games will make things a little bit more pressing for some of the installation and manufacturing guys.
What key factors do you expect to drive and shape the direction of the catering equipment market in 2012?
There are two massive ones, which would be green and eco. Our clients are certainly looking for a reduced carbon footprint, not only in the operation of the equipment but also the production of it and what happens to it before it gets delivered to their back door. The eco running of equipment is going to play a massive part, with electrical and water services going up in cost and more penalties being put on companies which fail to deliver on a carbon reduction. Economic factors mean budget restrictions will be imposed in some cases as well, so I am sure we will see either companies moving into non-trading positions or being bought out.
What are the biggest challenges facing the catering equipment market in 2012?
One of the biggest challenges the equipment industry has got as a whole is main contractors in the building market because we are seeing a lot of value engineering at the moment that isn’t necessarily value engineering — it is changing specifications for the betterment of profit. We work very closely with clients to make sure that when they walk into a kitchen it is what they want rather than something we have just dreamt up. They are spending the money so it is about making sure the specifications are adhered to really.
What opportunities are there for foodservice consultants and equipment providers to offer additional value to their customers in 2012? I think it is about providing the same service and the same role but for a lesser price and with more value added into it, which a lot of us have been doing for the past 18 months or two years anyway. The client is asking for a reduction or saying ‘I will come and use you but what else can you give me other than what I have asked for?’ For example, if we provide them with services A, B and C, they would also look for D but at no extra cost, knowing that there is somebody else round the corner that will happily do that work.
How do you see the traditional ‘channel’ structure of the catering equipment market developing in 2012 and are the roles of the main intermediaries likely to change in any way?
I think something will happen with this issue around main contractors altering specifications or fiddling with specifications that have spent a year or two years in development with a lot of cost to them. Whereas the main contractor might appoint the kitchen house or distributor at the moment, I can see a move towards the end client appointing them instead. It is what used to happen historically before the main contractors started rolling it into their fees. Clients are a bit more educated than they were three or four years ago and they have now twigged to the fact that main contractors charge them 12% and actually don’t do anything for that money.