Mix and match

Their presence in the kitchen might not be as conspicuous as a 20-grid combi oven or a giant blast chiller, but food prep products such as planetary mixers and commercial blenders are vital to the smooth running of almost every professional catering operation.

They can also represent a decent source of margin for dealers and distributors capable of keeping pace with the newest technology and understanding where the real opportunities lie.

Conventional planetary mixers, for instance, have changed considerably over the last decade or so, with the introduction of fully guarded and interlocked machines to comply with CE legislation. Gone are the days of having planetary mixers in kitchens with no guards or interlocks in place.

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“Aside from the traditional sectors of the market like school kitchens, canteens and high volume catering kitchens, we are seeing demand increasing in smaller restaurants, grab ‘n’ go outlets, pubs, motorway service operators and sandwich outlets,” reveals Neil Richards, managing director of Metcalfe. “There is a big shift towards ‘fresh’ produce and operators are buying food blenders and mixers in order to produce fresh recipes, such as speciality breads, pizza and pasta dough, salsas and sauces,” he says.

Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager at FEM, which distributes the Hamilton Beach range of food blenders, agrees that operator trends reveal which areas of the market are harvesting the greatest opportunities at the moment.

“Freshly prepared breads and pastries are a popular option demanding premium prices and this is driving a corresponding increase in sales of mixers,” observes Hogan. “People are looking for multi-functional equipment — due to lack of kitchen space, cost and energy savings.”

Blenders are a great example of a food prep product group that has multiple uses in a kitchen and is relied upon heavily by catering staff. And that makes it essential for distributors to be able to convey the right advice when operators are investing in new equipment.

“It is important to check the number of settings available and decide which model best suits the catering facility in question,” suggests Tony Mercer, sales manager of Uropa Distribution. “Lower speeds are suited to light batter mixes and for adding dry or solid ingredients into liquids. Higher speeds are designed for mixtures of a more stiff consistency. The most useful speed is the ‘pulse’ speed, which lets users start and stop the motor in short bursts to give a greater degree of control over the blending process. Considering features like these can be key to making the right purchasing decision,” he adds.

Although their footprint is small in comparison to heavy duty kitchen appliances, dynamic prep products reside at the ‘crisis end’ of the market, which inevitably makes it more fast-paced than other sectors.

The fact that food prep products are much more likely to be a one-off purchase and therefore buyers will use the most immediate channel available to them also drives a different set of behaviour at the supply level.Claire Morton, category products manager for dynamic preparation at Electrolux Professional, agrees that manufacturers need to be extremely reactive these days, noting that internet purchasing is playing an increasing role in the procurement of small equipment replacements.

“At Electrolux Professional we are also looking at more innovative routes to market, such as facilities management catalogues and online warehouses,” she explains. “We will not be ignoring more traditional routes, such as our existing online and offline dealer network, but we want to make sure customers can buy the plug-in products they want when they are needed, from their most convenient routes — instead of just bolt-ons as part of overall kitchen projects.”

One thing that suppliers are keen to emphasise is that dynamic prep and light equipment can make more of a difference to a catering operation than it is given credit for.

Traditionally it has been the sort of equipment that operators just buy from their existing supplier when it breaks, however in this difficult economic climate it is important for caterers to stand out from the crowd, notes Electrolux’s Morton.Small equipment, when used and marketed in the right way, can help open doors for establishments to offer new products and seasonal specials,” she says. “Mixers are increasingly becoming more than just a replacement product, but also a kitchen solution to add value.”

To reinforce this, and keep both dealers and end-users informed, Electrolux has begun putting the spotlight on different products from its dynamic prep range through monthly promotions timed to tie into national awareness weeks or major events. “I think it’s important to be reactive and initiatives like National Baking Week can be a fantastic way for caterers to add value,” says Morton.

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The emphasis on manufacturers to come up with more effective ways to prepare food continues to ensure a steady flow of new product releases in the market. KitchenAid has just introduced its new 6.9 litre Artisan stand mixer, featuring a 1.3 horsepower motor, which quickly and efficiently mixes extra large quantities including up to 3.8kg of bread dough, 3.6kg of mashed potatoes and enough dough for 170 cookies.

Giorgio Baroffio, marketing manager of KitchenAid, calls the appliance one of the company’s “most exciting” UK launches.
“No change has been made to the original mixer’s simplicity and function,” he comments. “The unique planetary mixing action that beats asymmetrically across the bowl to give a faster and more thorough mix, also remains the same.”

Mitchell & Cooper’s Kisag range of professional blenders now features three different offerings, including the powerful ‘50’ model that has a capacity of 200 litres. Later this year, it will unveil the Kisag Hotmix to its range, reveals managing director Guy Cooper.

“The Hotmix will enable chefs to utilise their time more efficiently with precise temperature control, and allows a wide selection of foods to be mixed and cooked simultaneously, mixing the contents of the bowl steadily and uniformly at the exact speed selected so that faultless preparation is assured every time,” he says.

Over at Uropa, meanwhile, the company has just added the Waring GF422 industrial blender to its latest trade catalogue. The four-litre appliance boasts a durable stainless steel blade, making it ideal for volume blending in schools, hospitals and contract catering environments.

“With an ultra heavy-duty 3.75HP commercial motor, the GF422 can blend large quantities for longer, and its variable speed controls precisely manage the RPM, thereby perfectly controlling the consistency,” insists Mercer. “Speeds range from 1,700 RPM to 18,000 RPM, and a pulsing feature operates at a set speed to chop and mix ingredients.”

In the world of commercial prep, the finer details count for as much as the price, and that is something that distributors would do well to remember when a customer comes calling for a replacement.

And if recent product launches are anything to go by, the dynamic prep market in the UK looks set to remain as vibrant as its name suggests.

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Point of differentiation

The commercial mixer and blender sector can be a daunting place for buyers that don’t know exactly what they are looking for. It is therefore vital for dealers to guide their customers towards models that will meet their specific catering needs, rather than the one that just offers the lowest base price.

Claire Morton, category products manager for dynamic preparation at Electrolux Professional, says that without knowing precisely what the caterer wants the kit for, it is hard to select the most appropriate solution.

“Many mixers, including Electrolux’s, will offer a host of benefits ranging from electronic speed variation, which enables the right speed for each application, to easy cleaning and safety features,” she says. “However, the biggest differentiators from brand to brand are when you consider the requirements of specific sectors. We offer two ranges of planetary mixers, one of which is specifically designed for bakery and pastry mixing. With models up to 40 litres in size, it includes stronger motors than the standard range and a reinforced structure which ensures less movement, however strong the mix. The heavy duty structure and feet, combined with a powerful motor and improved transmission, is what sets bakery mixers apart from standard planetary mixers.”

One recent innovation from Electrolux is a small but significant change to its Bermixer stick blenders. Having previously sold the motor and stick separately, it now offers the combined stick blender as one product. “Unlike many other products on the market there is no need for any special tool to separate parts, and instant blade ejection ensures the same level of safety, but it makes it a far easier product to buy and use,” says Morton.

Oldham-based Linda Lewis Kitchens supplies planetary mixers in 10, 20 and 30 litre variants, but the company’s managing director, Linda Lewis, admits that being able to demonstrate clear differentiation within the sector remains a challenge for every provider.

“There are many planetary mixers on the market today that appear to be the same,” she notes. “This is because there are only a few factories that manufacture the bodies of the mixer. We have gone to great lengths in the initial development of our mixers to ensure that we use the best gear boxes and motors available to ensure a long and reliable service for the user.”

Guy Cooper, managing director of Mitchell & Cooper, says that when buying light equipment, caterers should be encouraged not to scrimp on cost. “Buying products intended for the consumer market which are a cheap option is a false economy as they are not designed to cope with the rigours of the catering kitchen,” he says.

“The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is so true, especially when referring to equipment that is essential for ensuring that your operation runs smoothly. Quality equipment eradicates downtime and therefore saves money in the long run!”

Cheap imports just don’t cut it

Mixers and blenders are really put through their paces in commercial kitchens but industry figureheads warn that the market still faces an issue with machines being sold into the UK that just aren’t up to the job.

Neil Richards, managing director of Gwynedd-based food prep equipment manufacturer Metcalfe, says that the sale of low-price, inferior mixers and blenders made in the Far East is an issue that affects the market, the dealers and their customers.

He says machines that fall into this bracket often contain sub-standard components, such as nylon gears and inferior motors. “Many of these mixers and blenders will have CE stickers on them but are not supported by the correct documentation and will not have all the required safety features or interlocks required to make them compliant with the CE standard,” he says.

Metcalfe insists that dealers need to be confident that they can specify equipment that is designed to cope with the demands of a commercial kitchen, as well as being safe to use. End-users, meanwhile, need to understand that they can’t buy cheap products and expect them to deliver time after time and include good service and back-up in the price.

Metcalfe has added two new models to its line-up this year, including the Hotmix PRO range of thermal blenders and the SP50 planetary action table top mixer.

“The SP50 is a heavy duty commercial mixer designed for use in harsh foodservice environments, unlike other smaller five litre mixers which are adapted domestic machines,” says Richards. “Needless to say, if you are not buying mixers designed for foodservice then they won’t last too long. When it comes to food mixers, you really do get what you pay for.”

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