Battle brewing in UK water boiler market

Although there hasn’t been any real seismic changes in the competitive landscape in recent years, there is a feeling in the commercial water boiler sector that the majority of business is now concentrated into the hands of the main, established players.

The sector certainly seems to be benefitting from the general recovery in economic conditions taking place, with the releasing of end-user purse strings helping to drive orders.

Recent advances in technology and improved manufacturing techniques have combined with an ever increasing consumer demand for speciality teas and other hot beverages to make the utilisation of a commercial water boiler essential for operators working aross the industry.

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One area that has certainly got suppliers excited, and seems certain to shape the future of the sector, is the widespread introduction of filtration to many auto-fill boilers.

Diane Ho, commercial product manager at Glen Dimplex Professional Appliances, owner of the Burco boiler brand, calls filtration “one of the biggest” developments in the market in recent years. She says that as well as enhancing the life of the appliance by maintaining the internal parts, auto-fill technology removes the contaminant in the water to provide a better looking and tasting beverage.

Last autumn, Burco Commercial, announced the Auto-fill filtration range, strengthening its offering in the market. Manufactured in the UK, and fitted with the latest in-built filtration systems, the range offers the “optimum flexibility” for operators, according to Ho.

She adds: “For operators in hard water areas, the introduction of filtration has had positive implications for the end-customer, who is able to enjoy a better hot beverage while also allowing operators to maintain cost-saving measures by extending the life of the actual appliance.”

Lincat’s managing director, Nick McDonald, agrees that beverage quality is the driving force behind water boiler investment. It introduced built-in filtration across its range of automatic water boilers several years ago and he says caterers were quick to see the benefits in terms of enhanced water quality and reduced scale build-up. 

“This innovation produced a sharp increase in sales and it is no surprise that a number of competitors have now followed suit,” says McDonald.

Instanta also sees an upward trend in the market, with national sales manager, Graham Crisp, reporting that its business has witnessed double-digit growth over the duration of the last 12 months, an impressive feat in any circumstances.

“Growth has come from the replacement of old machines as well as customers buying from us for the first time,” he says. “In terms of where our machines are ending up at end-user level, then there has been a significant increase in uptake from the coffee shop and point of use (POU) markets.”

Instanta has also seen a “small but noticeable” increase in sales of its combined hot water and steam machines. Crisp says this trend isn’t actually as odd as it might sound.

“It might seem strange given the growth in the market for espresso machines but if you are a traditional cafe that is just interested in producing frothy milk for adding to coffee then our machines are an excellent solution,” he says.

Gary Rose, managing director of British catering equipment manufacturer Parry, is pleased that the water boiler market is displaying signs of stability at the moment. He notes that irrespective of the bigger economic picture, operators keen to save time will always require beverage facilities that can provide instant hot water.

“Due to the season, we are experiencing an increase in sales of our LPG water boilers but in general terms we do feel that the market does tend to be driven by replacement sales but also consumers looking for quality and price,” he comments.

Parry has evolved its portfolio in recent years, taking advantage of new technology to produce self-diagnostic boilers, generate new designs and offer one-year parts and labour and two-year parts warranty on its AWB3 and AWB6 3Kw and 6Kw electric models.

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The recent explosion in speciality hot beverages following the high street coffee shop boom would also appear to have aided the water boiler market’s cause, with more operators paying close attention to their particular offering. “In doing so, the quality of the equipment being used has been scrutinised, while new technological developments and features has seen major advancements in the water boiler market,” says Burco’s Ho.

“In addition to the benefits of filtration, a trend for more technologically advanced appliances with greater capabilities, ease of use and enhanced versatility when it comes to the range of drinks an appliance can produce are shaping the sector,” she adds.

The water boiler sector continues to be a keenly contested affair from a price perspective, with brands paying close to attention to one another’s movements.

“Being comparatively low cost commercial catering equipment, it is surprising how price sensitive the water boiler market is,” says Ho at Burco. “The recent saturation of the market by cheaper, low quality foreign imports and significant improvements in manufacturing techniques has maintained the purchase price at a relativity static level, with operators instead looking for specific models to suit their individual requirements for the most competitive price.”

She insists this requirement for a full range of products in varying sizes and capabilities is one reason why Burco manufactures a comprehensive assortment of water boilers, capable of meeting an establishment’s individual business needs.

Instanta’s Crisp admits you can never escape the price issue, but suggests it is more pertinent in some areas than others and can quickly change. He says the public sector is particularly price sensitive at the moment, a quirk that can be largely linked to the budget cuts taking place.

“As with all of our customers we are encouraging them to look at the whole life cost of their equipment. In the long run, it is far better to spend an extra £40-£50 on a machine that is going to last 50% longer. Buying the cheapest option is a false economy, as it often is, and we would urge customers to stretch their budget as far as they can if it means getting a better, longer lasting piece of equipment, be it a boiler or any other item for that matter.”

Instanta is currently in the process of adding four new models to its portfolio. The firm says it is too early to reveal what they are yet, but it is certainly keen to build on key lines already in its offering, including the 1501F, a compact model with upgraded electronics, LCD read out and basic fault diagnostics that it has used to gain traction with buyers on a budget.

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Lincat, meanwhile, is less clandestine about its forthcoming launch plans. It intends to roll out a new version of its push button EB3F, the EB3F/PBM, which is able to dispense metered volumes of water. 

“It enables users to programme up to three fill volumes, to suit different sized cups or mugs,” explains Nick McDonald. “It’s ideal therefore for busy establishments, since you can simply push the button and release. The new boiler will then deliver exactly the right quantity of premium quality hot water, allowing you to get on with another task.”

With replacement sales in good stead and new models being introduced with extra functionality, the commercial water boiler market is undoubtedly reaching temperature.

Specifying water boilers: What really matters?

The old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ is never truer than when it comes to something as crucial as a water boiler. Used regularly throughout the day by caterers and relied upon during peak hours, the reality is that any product which isn’t up to the job will soon get found out.

When it comes to specifying water boilers, there are some obvious recommendations that dealers should make, but also some that are less self-evident. Build quality, country of origin, reliability and availability of spare parts would be the essential ones. A less obvious one, says Instanta’s national sales manager Graham Crisp, is filtration.

“Filtration plays an important part in improving the taste of a beverage but not all filtration is the same. Some machines have built-in filtration but the quality varies. For example, there are machines that have filters that need changing after 3,000 litres whereas the filters on our machines are good for up to 13,500 litres.

“So although the rival machine might be cheaper to buy, it will get through as many as four filters for every one of ours and, of course, there is the labour cost involved in the service visits required to change the filter. This is a good reason why the person responsible for the cost of maintaining the equipment should be involved in the purchasing decision.”

Gary Rose at Parry believes there are several priorities when it comes to specification. “Apart from quality and price, we understand that after-sales plays an important part but also depending on the function the boiler is required for, the rapid draw off and output of the unit is also most important when specifying units.”

Burco prides itself on manufacturing robust equipment and Diane Ho argues that there is a massive value attached to the actual construction of the product.

“As with the purchase of any commercial catering appliance, thought should not only be given to the features included but also to the reliability and build quality,” she comments, adding that its confidence in the water boilers it manufactures is reflected by a full and comprehensive three-year parts and one-year labour warranty on all models.

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