Induction market moves into the mainstream

With more and more chefs realising the benefit of induction cooking, and pressure on operators to lower their energy costs, the induction equipment market has taken off dramatically in the past couple of years. But where does it go from here? Catering Insight asked a selection of suppliers to gaze into their crystal balls…

How has the induction market evolved over the past 12 months?

Steve Snow, Managing Director, MCS Technical Products: The market continues to grow and the trend has been towards more 3 phase induction, increasing the amount of back-of-house cooking that is being done. The current trend is to design product into front-of-house cabinets or into back-of-house island suites. The reason for induction’s popularity is that it is replacing gas for a number of reasons: reduced energy consumption; less ventilation needed; no need for a gas interlock system to be installed; and significantly reduced heat in kitchens.

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Chris Davies, Business Development Manager, Induced Energy: Induction is now the preferred option when replacing an outdated six burner gas ring and normally conservative old-school chefs are now embracing this clean, economic method of cooking. The payback period from energy-savings can be calculated in months now and not years.

For example, The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh installed two 4-ring Induced Energy hobs to replace traditional gas solid tops and saved over £15,000 on energy costs in the first year — meaning the hobs would pay for themselves in just over nine months. Hot holding has gained in popularity in the past 12 months, especially with the introduction of ceramics working with induction coils. The Induced Energy iPlate is the first full-sized hotplate that is powered by induction.

Barry Hill, Marketing Manager, Falcon Foodservice Equipment: Induction is now a mainstream product, perfect for all kitchens. There has been a huge influx of ‘budget domestic’ style appliances — some priced at under £200. If we are asked about these products and their suitability for a professional kitchen I offer the analogy of using a camping stove to run your kitchen — i.e. you wouldn’t — so why try with that style of induction, potentially putting your kitchen output at risk.

Ron Neville, Managing Director, CHR Foodservice Equipment: The market in induction is expanding very rapidly, with end-users from school meals providers to high-end catering outlets wanting to discuss the benefits of induction — not just efficiencies but controllability and ease of cleaning. The difference we have seen this year is that the induction market is being driven by the demands of the end-user and not by the marketing of the manufacturer. They see the economical as well as the operational benefits.

To what extent is induction technology changing? Is it possible for the concept to evolve any further than it already has?

Chris Davies: The anticipated next phase in induction technology will be induction ovens using individual iron platens, such as the Induced Energy Q oven. This will have a significant role to play in kitchen installations where controlled, safe, focused heat is required for oven cooking as well as on the hob.

Barry Hill: Induction will evolve like any other product category. However, we believe it should be driven by innovation and performance gains, not a race to see who can supply the cheapest product. Induction as a heat source offers great potential for future product development. Falcon, as I’m sure other manufacturers will be doing, is looking at how induction can be applied.

Ron Neville: With more companies coming into the market and the introduction of more computerised controls, we believe the induction market will change, but more on the provision of information to enable the end-user to see not only the cost of their operation but also actual usage time, for example. Induction is slowly being introduced into other cooking mediums such as griddles, contact grills and so on.

Steve Snow: Induction will continue to evolve and move into new market sectors. As for the units themselves, the electronics inside are also evolving and improving. CookTek will be launching its Generation IV units in the next 12 months, which will take CookTec electronics, already recognised as among the best in the market, to a new level.

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The volume of suppliers supplying induction to the UK market appears to be growing year-on-year. What impact is this having on the market?

Barry Hill: As the demand for induction increases and more suppliers enter the market we will naturally see a more competitive environment. Manufacturers of professional catering equipment, such as Falcon, always seek to offer prospective customers best advice. This will range from product selection to menu solutions and service. It is this added value that we offer which sets us apart.

Operators are now demanding this type of service as standard. One of the main challenges manufacturers such as ourselves face will be the continued influx of cheaper ‘semi-domestic’ products and communicating to consumers the differences. We urge all responsible distributors to ensure that their clients are given the appropriate information to enable them to make informed decisions prior to purchase.

Ron Neville: With more and more companies producing induction units, this will serve to drive the price down, making it more affordable to a larger number of caterers, particularly with school meals where, with prices as they are at the moment, it is still difficult to give a reasonable payback against investment.

There are a number of different systems around from sliding induction to multipoint that can be used in differing operations offering differing power inputs. We need to ensure that the market understands the different options and give the end-user enough information for them to be able to make an informed decision.

Steve Snow: The number of manufacturers hasn’t increased, but the number of distributors has, with a lot of OEM products. There are actually fewer than 10 manufacturers of induction operating in the UK market, but the number of companies claiming to have product is about 38.

The main difference between brands is the best and most reliable manufacturers are standing by their products with free extended warranties. Three companies are giving five-year parts and labour warranties on their product. Basically, potential buyers should be looking at those companies who can offer that sort of guarantee along with strong after-sales care to the product.

Chris Davies: With many companies now offering induction, the danger is that the market becomes saturated and confusing. Buyers have more choice but need to consider many factors when choosing induction, the main one being after-sales service. Very few companies are dedicated solely to induction technology. One such company is Induced Energy, the only British manufacturer of a range of induction hobs and hotplates who build the engines and write the software as well as offering a personal after-sales service and two-year warranty on all their products. You can buy a cheap hob online, but you get what you pay for.

What are the main opportunities and challenges that you see for the induction market in 2014?

Ron Neville: The challenge we see for the manufacturing market is making high quality induction units that are value for money and fit for purpose to enable the end-user to get a better and quicker return on investment.

Steve Snow: As induction evolves, more chains will turn to the benefits it offers. New products will be created, such as CookTek’s chrome induction plancha 3 phase 14kW unit, the first of its kind on the market, and induction holding systems such as CookTek’s Incogneeto buffet holding system, where temperatures are held so tight we can prolong the life of food in chafing dishes. Chefs should be looking at the controllability of different brands and the power they can get into the pan.

Chris Davies: The main opportunity for the induction market is to take advantage of the steep rise in energy prices and to show how vast savings can be made by switching to induction. The old challenge of convincing chefs of the benefits of induction seems to have been won and companies such as ours have seen a significant increase in business over the past few months.

Barry Hill: Now, more than ever, there is a huge focus on energy efficiency within professional kitchens. Induction products offer so many benefits in energy savings that they can only become even more popular in the coming months and years.

A market sector in transition

It wasn’t all that long ago that the induction cooking equipment market was the domain of a select few vendors committed to supplying a technology that hadn’t yet become mainstream.

But as operators have come to see the tangible benefits, and prices have made induction more accessible, the market place has grown incredibly competitive.

“Historically, induction was either very expensive at the top end of the market or extremely cheap at the other end, but we are seeing an emergence of a more solid middle ground,” observes Rachel Smith, marketing manager at Lincat. “It’s an area where we are soon to be expanding our own range, with additional countertop units and new models within the Silverlink 600 range.”

As Smith also points out, induction was previously a market dominated by imports, but now UK manufacturers are producing their own induction equipment.

Catering equipment wholesaler RB Distributors has got into the induction market through its Buffalo brand. Sales manager, Tony Mercer, says that sectors which were once never considered as induction buyers are now just as likely to adopt the technology.

“The introduction of small portable units means they are now a great choice for smaller establishments, such as guest houses and small cafes, as well as an option for those outlets looking for an additional unit that can be utilised during busy periods without taking up vital storage space,” he says.

Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager at FEM, which distributes Vollrath induction, says that as well as the technology becoming more affordable and reliable, many units now come with additional safety features.

“Vollrath has included several features to protect and prolong the life of the induction hob including overheat protection, empty pan and auto pan detection,” he says. “And, essential for induction hobs, is small article detection, which prevents the hob heating watches or jewellery accidentally dropped or left on the surface.”

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