The combi oven market is a very crowded beast, with new models of these multifunctional appliances being introduced all the time. While the variety of units and features can assist dealers in supplying operators precisely the functions they require, is the vastness of choice resulting in information overload? We asked manufacturers to cut through the noise to give distributors the essentials.
Market leader Rational reports that distributors tend to ask about a combi’s footprint and its sustainability credentials. UK MD Simon Lohse detailed: “When specifying combi ovens for installation, dealers should take into account the number of meals planned, the energy types required and the space availability.
“As kitchen preparation space is usually at a premium, it is important to choose equipment that will be of most benefit. With the Rational unit, instead of using numerous cooking appliances, chefs can now cook everything in just 1metre2 of space and in a single cooking appliance, replacing up to 50% of standard appliances and reducing the kitchen footprint by at least 30%.”
Furthermore, he emphasised that dealers receive support from their Rational regional sales manager, including the provision of CookingLive demonstrations, while end user staff also receive free training on an installed unit.
At Tunbridge Wells-based supplier rexmartins, in addition to its own range of commercial kitchen products, it is also the sole UK distributor of the Bake Off and Best For range of combi ovens. MD Wayne Phillips detailed: “Easy-to-use control panels and a high quality manufactured product tend to be the main attributes dealers are looking for. Bake Off and Best For combi ovens have a touch screen vision control panel, which reacts to the heat of your hand, akin to a smartphone, rather than the more traditional pressure sensors which can wear out over time.”
He urged: “Dealers need to consider the after sales service. Suppliers can offer the most premium sales experience, but a top-notch after sales service is vital to ensure the dealer can continue to trade the products with ease. Dealers should also assess how easy it is for them to communicate with the factory or supplier.”
Over at Welbilt, it is reporting increasing dealer enquiries regarding the water filtration in its Convotherm 4 units. The manufacturer works closely with Brita and has developed a FilterCare system in these ovens.
UK and Ireland sales director Steve Hemsil has noted that aside from the technical innovations and multi functional features which are usually discussed between the dealer and end user, distributors should also take note of innovations such as the disappearing door function. He detailed: “This was initially designed to suit the requirements within marine catering operations, where the galleys were narrow and having a large door opening outwards was impractical. We soon realised that actually this feature could be put to good use within commercial catering kitchens – especially within kitchens with limited space.”
Furthermore he advised: “It is essential that the dealer provides the end user with more detail on how costs can be reduced over the lifetime of a combi oven, rather than just focusing on the purchase price. The dealer should also first establish the end user’s requirements and expectations from the combi oven, asking the correct questions and having in-depth discussions to gather an accurate picture of what they would like, and what they actually require, as the two can often differ.”
The first thing that dealers usually ask Blue Seal is how its combi ovens compare to a Rational, according to area sales manager Donald Harvey. “Then dealers will start to ask about functions and they usually start to discuss price. Instead of being wowed with the capabilities and the clever interfaces, dealers should look at more practical things like increased yield of roast meat due to less shrinkage.”
He believes: “There is definitely room out there for a simple, easy to use combi steamer. In my experience in talking to end users, they generally use less than 25% of the features that are incorporated into the modern units.
“Dealers should ask what operators are actually going to be using it for, who is going to be using it and is a combi steamer the most appropriate unit for their concept. If it’s just for is baking pies and pastry, then a convection oven would be all they need.”
For Czech Republic brand Retigo, while dealers are well-versed in asking about features relating to user interface, cooking results and efficient operation, marketing and sales director Marcel Vičan emphasised: “The majority of dealers are educated about combi ovens’ capabilities. But they are mostly not chefs/operators so they should not forget the benefits required by chefs.
“A good example is an automatic cleaning. If overlooked there is a big chance the customer will not be happy. Another overlooked area might be cost of ownership. The buying price is only a part of the investment. Reliability, consumables and spare parts cost comprise a large part of the return on investment.”
He added: “In general combi ovens should be specified to perform with maximum efficiency, saving costs and operation times. Lots of functions and complicated main screens can bring the opposite results nowadays. A combi oven is a big investment for the customer so it should match their needs and provide the requested value.”
Over at Electrolux Professional UK, regional training and demonstration manager Stuart Flint reports that dealer enquiries mostly relate to the practical side of the equipment such as whether the combis will fit in the space available and energy and water usage. He further continued: “Perhaps surprisingly, there is less of a focus on the actual performance and productivity of the oven, and that’s a great shame given that a combi’s greatest strength is probably its functionality. Getting to know how different models will work in specific environments will help dealers to make sure the ovens they’re recommending will be right for that specific outlet.”
Flint encouraged dealers to take more notice of the differences between models. “In our experience, the customer doesn’t always need the oven they request, so understanding how the oven is going to be used – and what it will be used for – is key to getting your recommendation right and helping your customer to make an informed decision.”
According to German-headquartered MKN, it has noticed that important features for dealers are automatic cleaning systems, ventilation and energy saving capabilities. The manufacturer believes it can meet these needs with the SpaceCombi Junior or SpaceCombi Compact available in a single phase option with the possibility to locate the appliance outside a ventilation hood, built into a server or completely on its own with MKN’s MagicHood, which has been developed for front of house installations.
Marketing manager Anja Halbauer feels that dealers need to further consider water treatment. “Irrespective of calcium treatment systems, operators leave ovens on constantly and they create scale so this must be brought to a client’s attention. Dealers also overlook the fact that the MKN combi steamer comes with the FlexiRack capacity system. This smart cooking chamber concept utilises the whole cooking chamber optimally.
“We offer a range of models to suit all different demands, from top of the range programmable versions to more basic models with a more manual operation.”
Elsewhere, Unox UK’s marketing and media manager Kate Brooman explained: “An important thing for dealers to remember to check would be the warranty. For example, Unox Cheftop and Bakertop Mind.Maps combi ovens can have a warranty of up to 4 years if they are connected to the internet. The internet connection is a feature that may be overlooked but that brings many benefits to the end user in terms of sending recipes remotely, monitoring oven usage data, remote service diagnostics and the extended warranty period. This helps clients to get a faster return on their investment.”
German brand Küppersbusch revealed that its intermediate sized ConvectAir+ 116 is its bestselling combi, as its 16-tray capacity seems to suit many applications. CEO Marc-Oliver Schneider commented: “More dealers are now focusing on combi steamers with a hybrid steam system, but it is still not as present in their minds as it should be. The option to integrate two steam systems into one unit enriches possibilities.
“The Küppersbusch Hybrid Steam System combines two whole steam systems in a single appliance. It ideally combines the advantages of generating fresh steam in the oven with those provided by an additional steam generator. The hybrid system only activates the steam generator for selected cooking modes, so dealers should remember this in order to get the best result for their customers.”
He added: “Dealers should have in mind that sometimes a gas version is much more efficient than an electric powered combi steamer. Küppersbusch offers its ConvectAir+ combi steamers with our efficient gas blower technology.”
Middleby UK supplies Hounö-brand combis and has found that dealers enquire most about efficiency and size, depending on site. Sales director Kenny Smith said: “Although energy usage is asked about, distributors often forget to ask about total cost of ownership. There is an upfront cost for an item but not looking at lifetime costs and passing on this information to their customers is doing them a disservice. Hounö ovens come with a 4 year warranty with an annual service at 12 months, 24 months and 36 months free of charge.”
On the subject of operability, he added: “People are still often frightened of technology, although they use it every day with their mobile phones. Hounö ovens use an Android system, working exactly like a phone. So we say they are the easiest to use combi ovens in the market.”
British manufacturer Lincat supplies Opus-badged Rational combis to the UK market. Development chef Paul Hickman detailed: “A key question for many dealers is whether the combi has an in-built steam generator or separate steam injection system. In-built steam generators produce steam more efficiently than a steam injection system and so use less water. All Lincat Opus Combi Steamers are equipped with an in-built generator and incorporate ClimaPlus Control technology.
“Dealers are also interested in how to deliver maximum output from a minimum of floor space. This is where it’s worth considering an Opus Combi-Duo – two counter top combi steamers stacked one on top of the other.”
Baron importer Universal Foodservice Equipment’s portfolio has grown steadily year on year and now encompasses Optimus, Slimline and Horizon models with multi combinations of features from high tech ‘intuitive’ touch pad controls to simple manual units in both gas and electric, with boiler and without. Sales director Tony Aris commented: “Many dealers are surprised at the range available from Baron. They usually ask about price, specification and footprint, but they should note that our Professional level ovens come with a built in Type A air gap as standard. This allows normal pipework to be used instead of a gulley and tundish, which can be expensive to install.
“Also, we have WRAS approvals for our range which guarantees the ovens can be installed anywhere in the UK.”
First Choice Group training division Combico UK is heavily involved in educating dealer staff and engineers on the functions and operation of combi ovens.
According to technical training manager Martin Dagnall: “The most common information request we receive concerns cleaning the ovens; the cleaning functions that the ovens have (built-in) as well as the cost of cleaning them. Of similar interest is the cost of maintaining a combi oven, with regards to its range of features and specification (size, energy output etc). The most important thing people need to consider is the installation requirements of a combi oven.”
However, he cautioned: “Something that tends to get overlooked and which dealers really need to pay more attention to is the cooking library (and its associated functions) of a combi oven. Most units will get used and treated as a just as a steamer or convection oven but their capabilities run much deeper than that.
“Most modern combis look very complicated but when you know how to use the full functions properly, you’ll find they are very easy to understand and user friendly.”