Behind factory lines: Britain’s top catering manufacturers

Such is the volume of catering equipment still built in the UK that a dealer could quite easily construct an entire kitchen using only uk-made kit.

With that in mind, we thought it was about time to celebrate British craftsmanship by highlighting some of the torch bearers for British catering equipment manufacture.

In this special feature, we take a look at what’s happening inside Britain’s catering equipment factories through a series of profiles featuring some of the main players.

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Our list by no means includes everybody that is building kitchen or refrigeration equipment on these shores — so if you work for a manufacturer that is not featured here don’t take it personally! — but we hope it offers a flavour of where the British manufacturing sector is today.

ACTIVE FOOD SYSTEMS

Active Food Systems, owner of the pioneering Synergy grill, was using overseas manufacturing contractors at one point, but all production is now carried out on a single assembly site close to its sales office in Cambridgeshire. The company now builds a 900mm model in addition to its original 450mm unit and is immensely proud that the product — which features a patented burner system that generates higher heat but lower gas consumption — is a “100% British invention and design”.

Justin Cadbury, chairman of Active, says: “We are focused on quality and a key part of our grill design is the new progressive assembly which allows quality checking at multi-level. While sourcing parts from around the UK, we lower our production cost and carbon footprint by localising our assembly and sales operations. This benefit is passed onto the customer in the form of a lower price.”

Place of manufacture: Great Paxton, Cambridgeshire
Factory space: 1,500 square metres
Factory staff: 3 (plus quality checkers)
Output: 400 grills a year

ADANDE

Adande’s patented refrigerated drawer system was the brainchild of founders Ian Wood and George Young, who initially set out to find a way of preventing cold air from falling out of fridges after chefs working on North Sea oil and gas rigs complained of having to throw out large quantities of food. The company manufactures at its HQ in Lowestoft, but has taken advantage of its global appeal to license the technology to partners in selected markets such as India.

Adande is currently re-jigging the Lowestoft plant to double UK production capacity. At present, the plant is producing kit worth between £5m and £10m a year. Chairman, Nigel Bell, says that manufacturing in the UK gives it four big advantages: “Fast turnaround on orders for our customers, the ability to develop and introduce new models, high skills levels with good communication skills in English and high quality and finish standards.”

Place of manufacture: Lowestoft, Suffolk
Factory staff: 20
Value of factory output: £5m-£10m a year

BRITANNIA KITCHEN VENTILATION

With a name like Britannia, the Warwickshire-based kitchen ventilation firm’s roots don’t require much explaining! 100% of the company’s product line is manufactured in the UK, where it boasts a factory full of the latest CNC cutting and folding equipment with ‘night run’ facility, welding equipment and specialist assembly lines all quality controlled to ISO 90001.

Ian Levin, managing director of Britannia, and one of the brand’s founders, says: “We decided to call our company ‘Britannia’ because of the underlying patriotism towards British products and British manufacturers in the UK, especially from catering and ventilation companies we were working with.” Britannia has big plans for its business over the next 12 to 18 months. It intends to grow the number of factory staff and even invest in a new plant.

Place of manufacture: Leamington Spa, Warwickshire
Factory space: 12,000 square feet
Factory staff: 20
Output: In excess of 750 canopy sections per year

BURCO (GDPA)

Part of GDPA — which also builds domestic appliances — Burco manufactures around 70% of the products it supplies in the UK from its plant in Prescot. That figure has risen sharply in the past two years, peaking in 2013 with the launch of a new range of entirely British-built hot water boilers. “We are expecting this figure to continue to rise in the future as we look to repatriate the manufacture of more products back to the UK,” reveals commercial product manager, Diane Ho.

Moving product assembly back to the UK has afforded it greater flexibility, allowing it to provide personalised, individual orders without the need for a substantial minimum quantity. “Manufacturing in the UK gives us greater control over our business, including vitally important aspects such as quality control, enhanced research and dedicated testing programmes.”

Place of manufacture: Prescot, Merseyside
Factory space: 12,000 square feet
Factory staff: 450

CLASSEQ

It might be under the parentage of German warewashing giant Winterhalter, but all of Classeq’s equipment is manufactured in the UK — and always has been. Marketing manager, Anthony Matthews, says that one of the biggest advantages of building British is that it has access to a skilled and reliable workforce without having to concern itself with time differences or filtering messages through translators.

“As such, we are able to guarantee the quality of the product and can honour promises such as next-day delivery across our entire range,” he says. “It also means we can offer a high quality maintenance service without ever worrying about having wait for spare parts to be imported.” Classeq endeavours to source 100% of its internal components from the UK, but where this isn’t possible it buys overseas.

Place of manufacture: Hixon, Staffordshire
Factory space: 2,500 square metres
Factory staff: 40

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CLENAWARE SYSTEMS

Clenaware Systems has been designing and manufacturing warewashing equipment for more than 50 years. Since it started in the 1950s, the firm has moved from the very first brush glass cleaning machine to the latest front-loading glasswasher with remote monitoring. Its range is designed and manufactured in Northamptonshire, with only chemicals and water treatment delivered to it as finished items from elsewhere.

“In our opinion there is a big difference between companies that ‘assemble’ in the UK and those that design, manufacture and build,” says managing director Richard Harris. “We build by hand, so there is no automation. We will expand the factory in the coming years to handle increased production.”

Place of manufacture: Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
Factory space: 3,000 square feet
Factory staff: 5
Output: More than 500 machines a year

CRAVEN & CO.

Craven & Co. Ltd is a major UK designer and manufacturer of complete storage and handling solutions for the catering market. Its products are fully welded and are ideal for robust and demanding conditions. The portfolio includes point of sale display units, catering and wire shelving and equipment, catering trolleys, commercial catering sinks and lockers. It is also able to offer bespoke manufacturing solutions to match specific requirements.

“We look to make appropriate investments all the time and will put a robot welding cell in during the next few months,” reveals managing director Angus Milnes. For Milnes, the definition of a British manufacturer is clear: “One that genuinely manufactures in the UK — taking raw materials and converting them into a tangible product, rather than adding a widget and putting a sticker on it,” he comments.

Place of manufacture: Knaresborough, Yorkshire
Factory space: 50,000 square feet
Factory staff: 40
Output: More than a million components per year, ranging from simple wire pins to complicated fabrications

E&R MOFFAT

Moffat makes a range of stainless steel commercial catering equipment that spans everything from standard modular products to totally custom units and servery counters. It churns out thousands of units each year through its Bonnybridge facility. A state-of-the-art laser cutting machine lies at the heart of the operation, while the whole manufacturing set-up is designed to deliver a quality product at great value for money and with minimum environmental impact.

Battling cheap imports and limited government support, including a lack of grants, present challenges for the business, but commercial manager, Gordon McIntosh, says the benefits of building British outweigh these constraints. “Working in the UK gives us stable economic conditions and predictable sources of supply of raw materials,” he says. “It also ensures we have strong links with our UK distributors and customers, so that we are able to deliver excellent service and after-sales support.”

Place of manufacture: Bonnybridge, Scotland
Factory space: 120,000 square feet
Factory staff: 135

FOSTER REFRIGERATOR

Foster has been at its King’s Lynn site since 1968 from which the complete international business is operated, including R&D. All Foster product is manufactured in the UK apart from just a few bought-in low-end items purchased to support the requirements of certain clients. The company endeavours to support the local economy by working with nearby suppliers as much as possible. 51% of components are sourced from within a 35-mile radius of its plant.

During the development of its EcoPro G2 range, more than £4m was invested to bring its processes in line with its energy efficiency targets. “Foster has set a carbon reduction target of 2.5% year on year, which has been exceeded — with a carbon reduction of 14% in 2012/13 gained via the investment in new plant and products and by all the lean concepts employed throughout the business,” says Paul Veried, VP Refrigeration Europe. Foster intends to spend another £1.4m this year expanding its manufacturing facilities.

Place of manufacture: King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Factory space: 24 acre site with 5 plants
Factory investment this year: £1.4m

HOSHIZAKI

Hoshizaki might be a Japanese brand with almost 70 years of history behind it, but one of its best kept secrets is that it operates a significant catering equipment plant in the UK. 80% of the ice machines that it supplies to the European market, including the UK, are manufactured at its premises in Telford. The first Hoshizaki UK manufacturing centre opened in 1994, but five years ago the company moved to a larger site, which greatly increased its manufacturing, office and warehousing capacity.

“If one wants to be regarded as a global manufacturer then the company needs to have a manufacturing plant in strategic locations in the world,” says national sales manager Mike Simmons. “Hoshizaki is pleased to have a UK base to supply products and parts to Europe and other countries.”

Place of manufacture: Telford, Shropshire
Factory space: 6,500 square metres
Factory staff: 96

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IMC

Although IMC is now part of US giant Middleby Corporation, it still operates as a standalone company out of Wrexham in North Wales. It manufactures equipment for the bar and catering sectors, most recently concentrating its efforts on designing food waste solutions, which has culminated in the launch of the WasteStation, WastePro and In Vessel composters. Gary Barnabus, product manager at IMC, says the company has fine-tuned its manufacturing model through years of market experience.

“We produce low volumes of niche products and that takes a stable and committed local workforce that reacts fast to the market and produces small runs of high quality equipment at a sustainable cost,” he says. “IMC have been around since 1906 and people rely on the stability, name and quality that comes with both.”

Place of manufacture: Wrexham, North Wales
Factory space: 80,000 square feet
Factory staff: 84
Output: 5,000 units across 22 product categories

INSTANTA

From its manufacturing facility in Southport, Instanta carries out full production of its water boilers on site. It has departments for sheet-metalwork with a CNC punch-press and press-brakes, as well as TIG welding, electronics assembly, product assembly and testing. The company even has its own onsite machine shop, which produces all the brass and stainless steel components for its boilers.

“We are constantly investing in the latest technology and wherever possible we try to automate various stages in the production process through the utilisation of CNC machining centres, punch-presses, folding equipment, automatic placement in electronics manufacture and mechanical handling equipment,” says national sales manager, Graham Crisp. “However, our products are still ‘hand-made’ as such, and human labour is still very much a critical part of the manufacturing process.”

Place of manufacture: Southport, Merseyside
Factory space: Three units on a 1 acre site
Factory staff: 32

INDUCED ENERGY

Induced Energy produces high-quality induction units from its electronics workshop in Brackley and endeavours to ensure its equipment is as British as possible, with 90% of the components it uses built in the UK. “We only have to buy the glass from France and Germany as there is no UK manufacturer. Similarly, some of the electronic components come from abroad,” says managing director, Rosie Sanders.

Induced Energy’s portfolio now encompasses a mix of single ring, 2 ring and 4 ring hobs, tabletop or drop-in together with its induction ‘keep hot’ system. It is proud of the human skill involved in making its goods. “We are able to control every aspect of production,” says Sanders. “We know which engineer has made which product and this develops a sense of ownership in the finished product. Spare parts are always in stock and lead times are short. We can react to new orders within one to two days.”

Place of manufacture: Brackley, Northamptonshire
Factory staff:
4
Output: 800-1,000 units a year

LINCAT

Lincat operates out of a purpose-built 100,000 square foot factory in Lincoln located less than a mile from the original site where the business was founded in 1971. The current plant was built in 1997 with a further extension added in 2000. The factory is kitted out with sophisticated technology, including laser cutting machines, punch presses, automatic panel benders and robotic welding stations. Assembly takes place in specialist cells to maximise efficiencies and ensure strict quality standards.

The firm manufactures 450 different products in the Lincat range — as well as the FriFri and Q90 lines — so the fluidity of the operation is very much based on harnessing the dedicated assembly cells responsible for specific products. Marketing manager, Rachel Smith, says that one of the biggest strengths of Lincat’s manufacturing model is that customers can have, on almost every occasion, access to the product in as little as 24 hours. “We manufacture to stock, not order, and our stockholding is calculated to ensure we are able to offer rapid delivery to our dealers and customers,” she says.

Place of manufacture: Lincoln, Lincolnshire
Factory space: 100,000 square feet
Factory staff: 100
Output: 50,000 items a year

MECHLINE

Mechline manufactures more than 50% of products in the UK with the rest mainly being component parts which are assembled and tested in the UK. The company’s flagship food waster bio digester, Waste 2O, is manufactured using parts sourced within 50 miles of its Milton Keynes hub, as is drain management system, GreasePak. Full product testing is carried out at the site, too. More than a quarter of Mechline’s employees are directly involved in the manufacturing process and the company has plans to ramp up the operation.

“We are currently in the process of acquiring an additional unit to extend the manufacturing area,” reveals business development director, Ian Cresswell. “In the coming months, we’ll be doubling our manufacturing space to 20,000 square meters.”

Place of manufacture: Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Factory space: 10,000 square metres
Factory staff: 12

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METCALFE

Metcalfe’s business is split 50/50 between UK manufactured products and imported lines, with the half that it makes itself coming from its factory in the heart of Snowdonia, where it has been located since 1953. The food preparation equipment specialist intends to modernise its plant this year by replacing tradition manual lathes and millers in the machine works with CNC machines this year.

“We still rely heavily on human labour to assemble all the machines that we manufacture — we are not quite at the same level of car manufacturing just yet!” says managing director, Neil Richards. He adds that one challenge for the industry is the “big hole” in the skill base of design engineers in the UK. “There is now a realisation of this issue which has prompted investment from government into the education sector to promote the engineering sector,” he says. “Metcalfe has just entered into a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with a local university to help develop the skills of mechanical design engineers.”

Place of manufacture: Gwynedd, North Wales
Factory space: 1,000 square metres
Factory staff: 15

MITCHELL & COOPER

Some 40% of Mitchell & Cooper’s current catalogue is made up of products that are manufactured in the UK, with the vast majority of this figure is built at its premises in Uckfield. The company’s team of skilled technicians produces a selection of hand-crafted equipment, ranging from the iconic Bonzer can opener through to various bar accessories. Featuring the latest welding facilities, most of which has been updated in the last 12 months, the company remains fiercely proud of the lean manufacturing principles it follows.

“By being a British manufacturer, we are able to control short lead times, we are able to be flexible and accommodating to our customers’ needs and we are able to give that all-important personal touch,” says managing director Guy Cooper.
Place of manufacture: Uckfield, Sussex

Factory space: 30,000 square feet
Factory staff:
12
Output: 250,000 units a year

PARRY CATERING EQUIPMENT

From its site in the Midlands, Parry produces gas catering products ranging up to 56kW and electrical catering products ranging from 0.05 to 12kW. The company operates a lean manufacturing business, adopting a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating non-value added activities through continuous improvement processes. Using equipment such as an Amada 20T punch press and boasting a skilled workforce, Parry works to a flexible production plan.

“The catering division operates a hybrid stocking policy that ensures we can guarantee our customers supply of any catalogue product within five working days and the majority of our catering products straight from finished goods stock,” explains managing director Gary Rose.

Place of manufacture: Draycott, Derbyshire
Factory space: 50,000 square feet
Factory staff: 50
Output: 22,000 production units a year and a further 23,000 parts

PRECISION REFRIGERATION

Nick Williams, MD of Precision, insists that manufacturing in the UK isn’t as expensive as it’s often made out to be, especially when you have the upside of being able to offer attractive order turnaround times, fast delivery and the ability to customise. Precision’s site in Norfolk features metal punching and bending machinery, polyurethane injection equipment with moulds, and refrigeration charging and testing equipment.

“Business is increasing rapidly and we have a very broad product range, which makes automation tricky,” he says. “We have automated metal punching and bending machinery and will continue to invest in this type of equipment as we grow. However, the majority of our production process requires human labour.” He adds that the firm is always working to develop energy-saving models while retaining convenience of use: “For example, our new energy efficient blast chiller freezer sets new standards in the market by coping with up to 40kg of product while still operating from a 13 amp socket.”

Place of manufacture: Thetford, Norfolk
Factory space: 40,000 square feet
Factory staff: 30
Output: 3,000 units a year

TFSE PRODUCTS

TFSE recently relocated to larger premises in Twickenham and when it takes over another unit next door, which it plans to do, its production area will span 10,000 square feet. The move has been augmented by an investment in new machinery to aid the production of the company’s heated and refrigerated food display counters, including its new range of rear counter modules. Devish Patel, managing director of TFSE, said the plant now features a CNC metalworking machine, which along with the improved facilities and extra space has strengthened its proposition.

“The CNC machine is one of only a handful of such machines in the UK and facilitates high-speed cutting and forming, giving us faster production and more consistent product quality,” explains Patel. “It is ideal for the production of pre-formed metal panels and means that we are now able to offer metal modular cabinetry that will be the perfect choice for caterers who use our food display products.” The company produced more than 120 of its cafe counter deli fridges last year and hopes to increase this by 30% a year as it grows export sales.

Place of manufacture: Twickenham, Middlesex
Factory space: 10,000 square feet
Factory staff: 8 but will double to 16 due to site expansion
Output: More than 120 cafe counter deli fridges a year

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VICTOR MANUFACTURING

Victor Manufacturing operates a main site in Bradford, which comprises both office space and manufacturing facilities, but there will be a re-jig in the coming months as it recently purchased an additional site a short distance away. It plans to relocate some of its manufacturing capability within the next few months in order to optimise the new set-up.

“Most of our output is based around metal fabrication,” explains marketing and communications manager, Peter Brewin. “We have a large fully automated laser cutting machine, backed up by four sophisticated press brake folding machines, as well as welding and polishing equipment. Assembly is carried out in self-sufficient cells.” Victor recently made it onto the London Stock Exchange’s list of ‘1,000 companies to inspire Britain’. Victor was singled out for its “substantial revenue growth” during the last four years, ongoing investment in personnel and its performance versus competitors. Turnover last year reached almost £7m.

Place of manufacture: Bradford, Yorkshire
Factory space: 70,000 square feet
Factory staff: 45

WILLIAMS REFRIGERATION

Around 90% of Williams’ UK sales originate from its factory in Norfolk, with just a small percentage of product coming via its specialist bespoke front-of-house range which, although designed in the UK, is built at its plant China. Williams’ heritage remains firmly rooted to UK manufacture, with its group head office, R&D and marketing teams based alongside its UK manufacturing facilities.

“Williams is unique in UK manufacture, being the only company to produce cabinets, counters and modular refrigeration products under the ‘same roof’ — all of which are accredited to international ISO standards for quality, safety and environmental management,” insists sales and marketing director, Malcolm Harling. Through its Greenlogic initiative, the company is committed to reducing its environmental footprint and recently achieved zero to landfill on waste. “We hold the environment accreditation ISO 14001 for the design, manufacture, installation and servicing of refrigeration products. 98% of every product we manufacture is recyclable,” comments Harling.

Place of manufacture: King’s Lynn, Norfolk
Factory space: 100,000 square metres (collective figure)

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