A study released by manufacturing body EEF and Barclays Bank earlier this year revealed that as the global economic chill begins to thaw, British brands are focusing on overseas growth again.
And while emerging markets like China, Russia and India offer massive long-term potential, the reality is that the developed economies remain the primary destination for UK-built goods — with the US, in particular, out in front as the largest market for British exports.
Where the foodservice equipment market is concerned, developing a product fit for consumption in North America depends on ticking a number of very stringent regulatory boxes, a significant one of which relates to electrical safety standards.
Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of two of the world’s most renowned testing and certification organisations — NSF and VDE Institute — which have established a partnership assisting UK and European manufacturers with access to the lucrative North American market.
NSF is the leading certifier for food hygiene and sanitation certification, but it is now able to offer local electrical certification to UL (for the US) and CSA Standards (for Canada) through its co-operation with the VDE Institute, the Germany-based body responsible for testing and certifying the safety and performance of electrotechnical products, including those used in a commercial kitchen environment.
NSF says clients that have experienced its customer service and testing integrity are happy to place their electrical safety certification in its hands, with many pleased to have an alternative to the other providers of this certification in Europe.
“We are able to complement each other’s core competencies and not compete, which is sometimes an issue when you are establishing a relationship with another testing laboratory or certification body,” explains Sarah Krol, global managing director of product certification at NSF International. “I think that is what makes our relationship unique. Both brands are very well-known in their respective markets and represent credibility and expertise in some real niche areas.”
The alliance covers a wide range of foodservice equipment categories that fall under the Commercial Electric Cooking Appliances (UL 197) and Motor-Operated Commercial Food Preparing Machines (UL 763) standards.
As part of the agreement, VDE is able to offer European manufacturers a local testing service, with the test report then transferred to NSF for listing in the NSF database. Once NSF has issued the listing mark, the product is compliant with the electrical safety requirement for the North American market.
European manufacturers profit from simplified communication, local contacts and short transportation routes for the testing samples, notes Krol.
What is certain is that the electrical certification of appliances among European manufacturers with export ambitions is growing rapidly. Mathias Slabsche, senior project manager of international cooperation and projects at VDE, says you only have to look at its own expansion as evidence of this: “When I started working at the VDE Testing and Certification Institute we had a staff of about 300, now it is more than 500.”
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Slabsche adds that many companies are now seeing the importance of third party certification for internal benchmarking and to make sure they retain knowledge of standards: “The VDE mark is well-known throughout Europe and a lot of companies come to us knowing that with it they can gain easier access to other markets in Europe.”
The catering equipment market occupies a special place in the list of industries that NSF and VDE jointly serve because the complexity of the hardware varies so greatly.
A single fabricated item, like a piece of shelving or a sink, requires a very straightforward assessment against cleanability and hygiene requirements, but something like a large, automated coffee machine with myriad components offers a different technical challenge. Often the pair will need to liaise with dozens of suppliers in order to obtain the necessary parts and materials information for both sanitation and electrical certification.
When all said and done, the truth is that UK manufacturers which are not highly experienced in designing products for the North American market require the correct guidance on the certification process and robust education on standards. “It really is paramount to work with an expert,” concludes Krol.
Certification fuels supplier’s global expansion
For a company that was only founded five years ago, Switzerland-based commercial coffee machine supplier Eversys has quickly gained a presence in many major markets around the world.
The manufacturer, which employs 35 staff, has picked up prestigious customers in countries such as Germany, the UK, South Korea and the US, with expansion into Russia planned for 2014.
Certification has been a key priority for Eversys when plotting its worldwide strategy, particularly in the North American market, where it is already seeing a good level of success. Utilising the certification partnership between NSF and VDE Institute, it has been able to certify its full range of coffee machines for US sale.
It even credits the speed in which it was able to attain certification to UL standards with helping to secure a major orderfrom a global IT vendor. Although the client was able to trial machines prior to certification, Eversys required the certification before it could begin shipping.
Having landed the contract to supply 50 machines before the end of the year, it is now in talks to extend the deal to the customer’s subsidiaries worldwide.
Kamal Bengougam, deputy chief executive of Eversys, agrees that certification has allowed the company to access multiple markets and acquire new prospects.Certification by NSF to electrical and sanitation standards has not only opened it up to the US market, but parts of Asia where the NSF mark is recognised.
He says the level of service the company received during the testing process made it a painless experience. “We approached three different certification companies and only Ann Willems, the project manager at NSF, said she would come and see us straight away,” reveals Bengougam. “The project team delivered what they promised at every single stage.”
Eversys is now using the NSF mark on all company presentations and promotional materials. “It makes people sit up and pay attention because they know it is so rigorous,” he says. “Certification by NSF signals that we are serious and diligent in our approach to manufacture. This is all part of our value proposition to clients.”