Clean machines

It is the one area of the kitchen that the chef never really gets too involved with, but which no commercial catering entity can afford to be without.

Dishwashers might be considered one of the less glamorous pieces of kitchen equipment, but they are a category of products that commands a genuine need for expertise among distributors.

This point is even more pertinent given the rapid transformation taking place in the sector at present, a trend heavily fuelled by the intense competition that exists among specialist manufacturers operating in the space. This includes everyone from established powerhouses such as Meiko, Hobart and Winterhalter right the way through to market newcomers such as Smeg.

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All, however, share the goal of trying to make machines that are more environmentally friendly, easier to use and capable of self-diagnosing problems. Equally, there is a firm emphasis on marketing machines which eliminate the need for manual drying and polishing through water treatment such as osmosis, constant rinse temperatures and correct chemical dosage.

Meiko, for instance, recently ditched water softening and has now begun fitting all its premium front-loading and hood-type glass, dish and utensil washers with its built-in GiO technology instead. “This spells the end for softened water for warewashing,” declares managing director Bill Downie. “Replacing softeners with reverse osmosis will give sparkling clean glassware and dishes and save caterers many hundreds of pounds annually.”

The ability to track new product developments is arguably becoming more difficult for dealers that haven’t nailed their colours to one particular mast, but those which can keep pace will have a much clearer view of where the market is headed. As dishwashers are big users of resources, reducing consumption is having the single biggest impact on the direction of the market.

Mike Butt, managing director of Dawson, which distributes the Comenda brand, says it is a topic that simply can’t be ignored: “Energy, water and chemical usage are certainly on the agenda for most buyers and specifiers now. Long gone are the days where just saying your product is green or energy efficient was enough. Customers are quite rightly now asking for this to be demonstrated in real financial savings supported by working case studies,” he adds.

As running costs increase further and equipment buyers feel the impact in their pockets, there will be an acute need for dealers to distinguish between dishwashing machines and explain how the efficiency benefits can be calculated over the product’s anticipated life-cycle.

Tim Bender, UK product development manager at warewashing giant Hobart UK, claims the lifecycle of a Hobart machine is eight to 10 years versus the industry average of five, and he says the importance of outlining the product’s overall costs cannot be emphasised enough.

“A common mistake for caterers is to save money on the initial outlay of the cost of the machine, but to have to replace it sooner,” he says. “So dealers and distributors need to highlight the ‘life cost’ of a machine and communicate that spending more on the machine can result in greater savings over a longer period of time.”

Bender’s colleague, Stuart Bester, who runs Hobart Independent, the division of the company that sells exclusively through dealers, continues to report strong uptake of its Bar Aid and Ecomax dishwashers. He believes that quality products at accessible price points will always excel in this market.

“I think the market itself is tough, but we are lucky because we have got a good product and it is well-priced, so although there is less spend going on out there we haven’t noticed it,” he says. “We just need to make the dealers more aware of the brand and how we can support them.”

In the wake of rising utility bills, the cost-of-ownership argument is perhaps the one point that all manufacturers are keen to stress. “With rising running costs, offering customers the best value isn’t necessarily the same as offering them the cheapest machine,” notes Winterhalter’s UK managing director Stephen Kinkead. “It’s worth comparing running costs of different models — a more expensive, more efficient machine may well pay for itself in a matter of months compared to a cheaper model,” he says.

Winterhalter’s sister company, Classeq, claims to be seeing real traction with its Eco and Duo models at the moment, which it attributes to the design of low water consumption wash tanks and smart wash filter systems.

Classeq’s sales director, Nick Burridge, says that at the Classeq end of the market price sensitivity is important, but it is finding that end-users are increasingly balancing the cost of dishwashers with the features, benefits and life-span of a machine.

“Classeq ticks all the boxes,” he proclaims. “The machines are competitively priced, yet they are also renowned for their first-class features. They are robust, simple to use, cost-effective and also energy efficient. People also seem really attracted by the ongoing support and complete package that Classeq offers and the fact that we’re a British company too.”

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Stuart Flint, sales director at Electrolux Professional, acknowledges that while the dishwashing market as a whole remains inherently price sensitive, operators are beginning to consider the bigger picture, and that is good news for channel players keen to sell on something more than just price.

“Customers know that they can’t function without a dishwasher and purchasing cheap equipment will only incur more costs throughout the life of the product, while equipment made with higher grade and more efficient components saves end-users money in the long run,” he says.

Hobart’s Bender adds: “The business environment is particularly challenging at the moment so pricing is an important element of the purchasing decision for some operators which are simply looking for the best possible deal. However, every operator has different purchasing requirements and many do take into account the quality and durability and life-cycle costs of the machine rather than just focusing on the price alone.”

It is a view that Adam Banfield, foodservice sales manager at Smeg UK, endorses. He is of the opinion that the industry needs to continue educating the market on features and benefits.

“For a restaurant or a pub, a small saving in the purchase price can be very costly in terms of brand image, quality of the wash and higher running costs over several years, which could result in eroding the amount saved at the time of the initial purchase,” he says.

“Reliability and durability is naturally a factor of the purchase price. Purchasers need to take into consideration that the cost of machine downtime to a busy commercial business can be expensive, particularly in the case of recurrent failure. This can result in a negative impact on the quality of cleanliness, hygiene and appearance of the items being used by their customers.”

The difficulties end-users face in choosing equipment best-suited to their businesses — and telling one brand apart from another — certainly isn’t lost on the warewashing channel. Unsurprisingly, it is prompting calls from some corners of the market for greater transparency.

Given that dishwashers are among the hardest working pieces of equipment in a commercial kitchen, Meiko’s Bill Downie suggests caterers — and the distributors supplying the machines — need to have accurate figures for energy, water and chemical consumption to hand.

He says that some suppliers are guilty of ‘greenwashing’ the market with boastful and inaccurate claims about energy efficiency, which only serves to confuse the market. Downie cites the example of an unnamed competitor which he says “lays claim to impressive energy savings” for a pass-through machine that competes with its own DV80.2 model.

“The claim is that drain heat recovery — at an extra cost of £870 list — and an integrated exhaust hood reduces the connected load to 9.5kW,” he says. “But the Meiko DV80.2 with integrated exhaust hood — but without drain heat recovery — features a lower 8.3kW connected load. Why pay in the region of £870 for a feature that will cost an additional £210 a year in energy costs to run? [Based on four hours a day and energy at 12p per kW/hr]. The competitor’s machine also features a wash tank almost twice as large — does this mean increased energy for water heating, increased water consumption and detergent consumption?”

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Somerset-based DC Products is another dishwashing manufacturer that advises distributors to choose the brands they align themselves with carefully. Bob Wood, director at the company, says they need to spend time understanding how the exact functionality of each model might benefit certain customer types.

“The product needs to be easy to use by a wide range of staff — avoid overly complicated machines,” he counsels. “For service-based distributors it needs to be simple to install, quick to commission and easy to work on. Any unnecessary time spent installing and commissioning the machine can mean lost revenue.

“Check that spare parts are reasonably priced and accessible — next day delivery as a minimum — and any service charges are within the realms of reality. And make sure you are comparing like for like. On the outside dishwashers can look very similar but look under the hood and there can be a world of disparity.”

Rival supplier Maidaid-Halcyon, which has been operating in the market for almost 40 years — during which time it claims to have sold more than 90,000 units — agrees that with increasing focus on energy efficiency and cost management, there is no room for error when it comes to specifying commercial dishwasher systems.

“My main advice would be to find out exactly what the end-user wants from a machine, and not simply to sell on price,” says sales director Julian Lambert. “It is much more beneficial to get it right the first time, rather than spending more time trying to sort it out later. Indeed, there is a machine for every need, but not every machine suits all needs; so it is just finding out which one is right.”

In summary, it would seem success in the dishwasher market during 2012 boils down to giving customers a reliable product that does the job without breaking the bank. “In today’s environment, value for money is always at the top of the list,” agrees Dawson’s Mike Butt. “We are striving to give a class-leading product at a price that demonstrates real value for money.”

Battling to be the best

Budgetary constraints are a huge factor in the sale and selection of commercial dishwashers, but capital outlay isn’t the only criteria that determines which machines are purchased or specified for a project.

Features and functionality ultimately have an even bigger part to play in the buying process and this is inspiring manufacturers to stoke their R&D engines as they search for new attributes to help them stand out from the crowd.

Winterhalter’s UK boss, Stephen Kinkead, says the manufacturer has developed “several” product innovations recently, including the incorporation of heat exchangers into compact undercounter units to reduce energy consumption.

“We have also launched our RoMatik XS, and ultra-compact reverse osmosis (RO) water treatment system that is so small it can be laid on top of an undercounter warewasher,” he says. “RO is recognised as the best system to ensure the best cleaning results, whatever the hardness of the water.”

Advances in heat pumps and heat recovery systems have featured heavily on Comenda’s agenda of late too, according to Dawson boss Mike Butt. This, he says, has led to a “real step change” in energy recovery. “New innovations on the way include further significant water savings and built-in energy and water monitoring systems,” Butt reveals.

Over at Electrolux Professional, the development of the company’s Green Spirit range has been central in its strategy for communicating an energy efficient message.

Sales director, Stuart Flint, says this includes key functions, such as its unique Ideal Wash System (IWS), which purportedly saves as much as 30% in water consumption by eliminating the need to completely drain all wash tanks.

“The IWS typically drains 15 litres per hour of dirty water, topping it up with clean water on a predefined basis ensuring that the dishwasher can operate all day,” he says.

Flint also points to the company’s Wash Safe Control as a mechanism that is helping to guarantee the rinse quality in dishwashers. “The control light turns green to confirm a constant rinsing temperature of 84°C, ensuring the perfect hygienic conditions which all operators demand,” he says.

Smeg, a comparative newcomer to the commercial dishwashing scene having recently appointed Nelson as the exclusive UK distributor for its dishwashers, says its primary focus is on reducing wasted energy through drain water via its Drain Heat Recovery (DHR) technology.

It increases the incoming mains water by up to 20°C, explains foodservice sales manager Adam Banfield. “DHR is currently available throughout our whole range of GreenLine equipment, which includes glasswashers, dishwashers and pass-through models,” he says.

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