British manufacturers play to their strengths

What constitutes a true British manufacturer?

It’s a question that sounds straightforward but rarely produces the answers you might expect, especially in the catering equipment sector.

There is an argument that a British manufacturer is somebody whose business, traditions and infrastructure are entirely based and rooted in the UK: a UK factory, UK-based R&D, 100% UK ownership. But it’s not always that simple in a landscape shaped by globalisation and consolidation.

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Some of the largest producers of British-built catering equipment employ hundreds of local people and generate huge sums for the economy, yet the nature of the business means they are owned by groups outside of the UK. Does that make them any less of a British catering equipment maker? One could argue absolutely not.

For Ian Levin, managing director of Britannia Kitchen Ventilation, ownership structure and parent company location doesn’t come into it. It’s all about where the factory is based and what takes place inside it. “A British manufacturer is someone who manufactures a product in the UK, rather than an assembly line of components purchased from outside of the UK,” he reasons.

Anthony Matthews, marketing manager at Classeq, agrees. He says: “A true British manufacturer has its plants and head office in the UK, creating jobs for the UK market. It will always attempt to source its components from other British companies wherever possible. And through global exports it will help to encourage investment and growth in the UK economy.”

Most British manufacturers remain proud of their contributions to the local economy as employers and, if they are involved in exports, the wealth they generate for the nation on that front.

Paul Veried, VP Refrigeration Europe at Foster, says actions will always speak louder than words. “Being a British manufacturer means working, developing and investing in the UK and not shipping in finished goods or part assembly from lower cost countries like China,” he says. “It means investing in the UK 100% and believing the business can compete with competitors from outside the UK.”

It might be impossible for British catering manufacturers to contend with the labour and production costs associated with their counterparts in the Far East, but they have learned to leverage other distinct advantages that home-grown manufacturing brings.

Geographic proximity to customers, the ability to build to order and achieve short lead times, and wider availability of parts all count for a lot in today’s market. British brands also argue that they enjoy greater control and flexibility over the product and delivery, employ highly skilled workers and are more responsive to customer needs.

“Being a British manufacturer with a predominately British supply chain gives us the flexibility and speed of reaction to customers’ lead times that is essential to maintaining our competitive advantage,” says Gary Rose, MD of Parry, which has been building catering equipment in the UK for more than 60 years. “The other significant advantage is the ability to closely control and monitor our supply chain quality with the convenience of close communications without language and time-zone barriers.”

With far greater environmental awareness among customers these days, there is also something to be said for the reduced transportation, shipping and packaging costs that come from sourcing closer to home.

Neil Richards, managing director of Metcalfe, is a huge advocate of British manufacturing: “I am very passionate about UK manufacturing and I believe — along with many economists and business leaders — that manufacturing is the greatest value-creating enterprise in any economy. It creates economic wealth and prosperity, jobs and opportunity. It also provides innovation and skills which are a vital part of any growing economy.

“Therefore, by purchasing and supporting British-made products, the catering equipment distributor network will be supporting and backing investment, education, skills, innovation, value and prosperity generation in our economy. Choosing to support products made in the Far East, for example, will add none of this support to the UK economy.”

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Being a British manufacturer isn’t without its frustrations, though. There is an ongoing call from the sector for greater governmental support, while some express their despair at competing with cheaper and inferior imports that are perceived to be the same because of their appearance.

Higher costs of development, labour, testing and multiple certifications, as well as compliance in terms of health and safety also create their own demands from a financial perspective.

Some onlookers, meanwhile, suggest that the recent austere times have led many restaurants to turn their back on quality British-built products for lower priced imports, even though the products in question may have limited lifespan and application.

Justin Cadbury, chairman of Active Food Systems, which makes the award-winning Synergy Grill, says the hardest thing about being a British manufacturer is quite simply the apathy of historic buyers who don’t necessarily appreciate that they have got access to quality, reliable equipment on their doorstep. “It is rather like the drinker at the pub ordering ‘same again’ without thinking there is a better solution,” he says.

All in all, though, Britain’s most established catering equipment manufacturers continue to display their resilience, and with the foodservice sector predicted to grow by at least 3% this year, factory output — that all-important barometer of productivity — is poised to move in the right direction.

BEHIND FACTORY LINES: Click here for our guide to some of the leading brands manufacturing catering equipment in Great Britain today.

UK brands spread export focus

Exports are an important source of revenue for many British catering equipment manufacturers and if a new report into the UK manufacturing sector is anything to go by then there are a wide range of strategies that companies can adopt to take advantage of escalating demand in emerging markets.

While the developed economies remain the top destinations for UK manufactured exports, a joint report from manufacturers’ organisation EEF and Barclays suggests companies are adapting their efforts to take advantage of growth opportunities spanning every continent.

The study shows that some manufacturers looking for future growth are becoming more strategic in their pursuit of new customers by proactively targeting markets rather than reacting to potential opportunities. Others are building greater resilience by expanding the number and range of markets they sell to.

There are, additionally, a whole range of requirements on management and challenges to rise to in order not just to secure one order but to build sustained relationships with overseas customers. While this process can take time to deliver results, it is these efforts that will help to sustain a stronger and more balanced recovery for the UK. However, the report also highlights that while companies are making use of government support, and rate it highly when they use it, there is continued lack of awareness of the breadth of expertise and help available.

Lee Hopley, chief economist at EEF said: “There are no hard and fast rules about the best way to enter new markets. But what is clear is that it demands considerable time and commitment. However, those companies who generate results are ultimately rewarded with better performance and a diverse and resilient customer base. If we are to double our exports by 2020 then we simply have to get more and more companies exporting, helped by a government-led crusade highlighting the benefits of UKTI.”

Developed economies remain the top destination for UK goods, with the US the largest market. However, the increasing importance of emerging markets is highlighted by the fact that China has moved from being the UK’s 11th largest market seven years ago to 7th last year with Russia and India (12th and 14th respectively) likely to enter the top 10 in the next few years.

While the Eurozone remained the top destination for market involvement in 2013, almost two-thirds of companies were planning to increase their involvement in Asia, just over half in the Middle East and just over one-third in both Africa and South America.

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