Q&A: Rational MD Simon Lohse reveals all on Frima integration

Simon Lohse, Rational UK MD, with both of the manufacturer’s main product lines.

Following the full incorporation of the Frima brand into Rational, Catering Insight caught up with UK MD Simon Lohse to give the lowdown on what this means for the manufacturer’s dealer customers, and how this market has reacted to last year’s shake-up of distributor policy:

Why did Rational take the decision to fully integrate Frima under its brand name?
We believe the move means we can better address the needs of the market. We’re a product specialist and a solution provider for many customers. By having all products under one umbrella we can offer customers the appropriate tool for hot food preparation in professional kitchens. A professional kitchen that has both a SelfCookingCenter and a VarioCookingCenter can prepare all the food required for a modern foodservice operation.

What benefits will this bring?
Customers in commercial kitchens seeking a complete thermal cooking solution, backed by excellent customer service, can now use Rational as their single source. Combining the two brands has allowed us to enhance both our customer support, training and so on – and our customer service. It means we can respond more effectively to customer needs.

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Customers can still rely on the expertise of individual VarioCookingCenter and SelfCookingCenter specialists but, when required, they can also tap into support covering a combined solution. More and more operations, from small restaurants to large institutional kitchens, are looking at using a combination of the SelfCookingCenter and the VarioCookingCenter to cover the vast majority of their cooking requirements. That’s because the two appliances can produce more food, using less energy, from a smaller footprint, with excellent results, compared to conventional equipment.

Will anything change for distributors which currently supply both brands?
Dealers that supplied both brands will now enjoy an even better market penetration. Rational is the leading provider in hot food preparation equipment and the VarioCookingCenter and the SelfCookingCenter are both market leaders in their categories. With the two products under the one umbrella brand, dealers will find it easier to offer a commercial kitchen’s complete thermal cooking requirements.In addition, while Frima is a highly respected brand, it does not have the enormous market appeal that the Rational name enjoys. The increased profile will help dealers develop their VarioCookingCenter business.

How have distributors reacted to the Deal loyalty programme introduction?
Our partners are very positive about the new Deal loyalty programme. They recognise the benefits that being a Rational Deal partner can bring, for example extra marketing and sales support. This month (March) we are holding tailor-made dealer training programmes about Deal, to further enhance their product and technical knowledge about both the VarioCookingCenter and SelfCookingCenter. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with our dealers.

What did you discover about your distributor customers by carrying out the bronze/silver/gold Deal grading exercise?
The accreditation process to grade dealers with a bronze, silver or gold Deal badge took place at the end of last year. The different levels recognise the commitment of the dealer to the Rational brand. We hope the Deal will incentivise dealers to aspire to work in partnership with us to achieve the next level.

The Rational badge is now on the VarioCookingCenter.

What benefits has expanding your offices and your new training facility given you?
We recently doubled the capacity of our head office in Luton, including a new Centre of Excellence for training. The expansion includes two purpose-built development kitchens – including a cafe concept, a training kitchen and service workshop. There is a range of SelfCookingCenter and VarioCookingCenter units allowing hands-on training. The new training rooms have full presentation facilities. This investment benefits customers, dealers, planners, consultants, service partners and sales teams. It allows us to offer highly professional training facilities on site. It reflects our continuing commitment to all stakeholders, as we look to help them maximise the business opportunities – in which training plays an integral role.

How is Rational UK performing overall?
Rational globally has exceeded its growth targets for 2017, with particularly strong performance in North America. Rational UK has been dealing with the same difficult trading conditions that many catering equipment companies have faced relating to Brexit and government austerity measures. However, during 2017 we achieved double digit growth and continue to command well over 50% market share.

Which market sectors are flying or falling?
All market sectors are showing volume growth year on year. However, the public sector continues to be challenged by government austerity measures.

What direction is your product development heading in?
The launch of ConnectedCooking reflects the market’s growing recognition of how technology can be used to enhance a kitchen operation. It gives the operator far more visibility and control of their equipment, by allowing users to link their SelfCookingCenter and VarioCookingCenter units to a network, and monitor operation over the internet. For example, chefs can check on overnight cooking processes from home, while managers can check on operational efficiency of multiple units. For servicing or if there are any issues, the manager can authorise Rational’s accredited service engineers to check a unit’s status remotely. Multiple units can be reprogramed, with new recipes or cooking processes from a single computer.

How do you see Rational UK developing, going forwards?
These are incredibly exciting times for Rational UK – we have a whole new opportunity with the VarioCookingCenter and the SelfCookingCenter now under one brand; we have the new facilities at Luton; we have the ConnectedCooking technology, the potential for which is simply enormous; and we have the new Deal for our business partners. All of which will help us to continue to grow the UK business and continue to do what Rational does best – deliver expertise in thermal cooking solutions, with consistent cooking results, for a variety of culinary styles, from a smaller, more efficient and more cost effective footprint.

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