Small talk

While heavy duty cooking and refrigeration equipment tends to define a catering facility, chefs and kitchenhands would be lost without those often inconspicuous, but ultimately vital, devices that make food preparation and delivery discernibly easier.

Such items can also provide a tasty revenue stream for dealers and distributors willing to engage with suppliers specialising in this sector, so long as they are prepared to accept that it is competitively priced and recognise the appetite for good quality products that are on trend.

To understand the diversity of kit on offer in this intriguing market segment you only have to glance at how RB Distributors — which regards itself to be the largest wholesaler of smallware and light equipment in the UK — has expanded over the years. New additions to its product range this year have taken the number of items its offers to dealers past the 15,000 mark.

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“2012 has seen the addition of more than 1,000 new lines to the RB Distributors range in continued pursuit of offering customers the widest choice of products and leading brands,” says sales manager Tony Mercer. “RB Distributors has worked tirelessly to keep sourcing the best products at affordable prices and 2012 has seen the company have massive success with new ranges, including the popular Colour by Chef Works clothing range, large additions to the Vogue cookware range and the arrival of the attractive, energy efficient stainless steel Olympia induction chafing dishes.”

RB has also launched a glossy new ‘Chinacraft’ catalogue, bringing together a collection of stylish and practical crockery, cutlery, glassware and display equipment in an A4 publication.

As its brochures will no doubt demonstrate, plenty of brands in this sector are focused on introducing equipment that is lighter, better and more energy efficient than previous models. That can certainly be said of light equipment manufacturer Sammic, which has just unveiled a new line of veg prep machines that feature a smaller footprint but are heavier in production.

“Sammic is a small company with a big heart — we’re easy to deal with and professional in our customer back-up,” insists UK managing director Ian Houldsworth. He says a key challenge for the company is “to become more marketing aggressive; following the trail to success in an ever more price competitive environment.”

For Foodservice Equipment Marketing (FEM), the distributor of brands such as Cambro, Vollrath, Hamilton Beach, Sirman and San Jamar, the emphasis right now is geared firmly towards stepping up its online presence to strengthen dealer sales.

“Our main priority in 2012 is to introduce our new website,” confirms Mark Hogan, marketing manager at FEM. “This will enable our dealers to log-in and order our products online. The website will also be packed with great content and videos from our various suppliers.”

Another distributor of multiple brands, MCS Technical Products, is also vying to provide dealers with the latest kitchen smallware products developed for the professional market. As well as bringing the newest Cooper-Atkins food safety products to the UK, MCS recently launched the CookTek

‘OmeletBuster’, which managing director Steve Snow says is a response to market demand for innovative equipment that saves both time and labour.

“It can cook two to three egg omelettes in 90 seconds,” he says, adding that the majority of CookTek’s products come with a five-year parts and labour warranty, which is also an important consideration for dealers when recommending products to customers.

Over at Mitchell & Cooper, proprietor of Bonzer — a brand best known for its industrial can openers — there is a sharp focus on building channel ties by driving end-user demand and directing leads back to the dealer.

“A dedicated sales person is always on hand to visit customers with a dealer representative to answer any questions, therefore making the sales process as simple as possible,” says managing director, Guy Cooper. “We support our distributors by enabling them to support their customer. This is backed up by an experienced customer service team and a dealer development programme.”

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With the spotlight on energy efficiency growing brighter and food safety regulations appearing to be constantly tightened, many providers are plugged into the need to offer products that tick multiple boxes.

FEM says the new product launches it is managing this year all fit with the direction in which the UK market is headed. “This includes new food blenders from Hamilton Beach, Vollrath colour insulated bowls for food displays, the San Jamar Saf-T Zone allergen chefs’ tool kit and Cambro’s honeycomb glass racks, which can wash and store 20% more glasses than a standard design,” divulges Hogan.

TM Electronics, the temperature measurement device specialist, says it is excited about the main trends affecting food temperature monitoring, particularly in terms of handheld catering thermometers.

“Modern food safety practices require a more sophisticated approach to traceability — there’s a growing expectation that temperature monitoring should be more directly integrated with quality and logistics systems,” remarks MD Tom Sensier.

He insists TME has responded to this challenge with the development of new products, such as the MM7000, which he claims is at the “forefront” of intelligent handheld temperature monitoring. Additionally, Sensier says TME’s ‘Thermometer for Life’ scheme, which pledges that customers will never have to pay more than £35 to repair or replace any monitor over £95 that breaks outside of warranty.

“It is designed to challenge the wasteful and expensive throw-away attitude towards light catering equipment — especially food thermometers — which we believe has been allowed to dictate the market for much too long,” says Sensier.

Kitchenware specialist Grunwerg has more than 3,500 products in its catalogue, covering most smallware categories as well as a wide range of table and barware. Developments in the front-of-house space have been dominating its agenda this year, reveals Hannah Lane, marketing executive at the Sheffield-based outfit.

“We have seen a strong trend towards table presentation, hence the launch of the Commichef Sur La Table range,” she says. “It comprises different products including a range of stainless steel miniatures, bamboo serving boards and platters, slate serving platters and table presentation products. Natural products have proved very popular, with bamboo and slate selling well.”

Nevilles, which distributes a huge variety of smallware and is known for the Genware family of catering products, agrees that innovation in terms of tableware shapes and materials is one of the most prominent market trends.

It has launched a slew of new products this year, with wooden food platters and stainless steel serving buckets the sorts of items capable of giving food presentation a lift.

“Key priorities for us will be new product development, highlighting growth areas within our ranges so that we can help our distributors to grow,” says managing director Andrew Neville. “Distributors benefit from specifying and selling Genware products through good margin retention, pricing banding that improves as turnover grows, and service levels that support tight stockholding, freeing up cash within their businesses.”

RB Distributors’ priorities this year, meanwhile, relate to both its product scope and services offering. Sales chief, Tony Mercer, explains: “System improvements to online ordering functionality, stock monitoring and regular trade promotions have already proved successful. Our buying team listens closely to market feedback before searching for reliable and reputable manufacturers to supply a product range with consistent excellence and attractive commercial value.”

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Signature FSE has seen success in the market with heavy duty cooking suite and induction brands, but it also presides over a substantial light equipment portfolio. Director, Paula Sherlock, says that matching appropriate cookware to induction hob technology is one of the themes characterising its area of the market.

Three of the brands it offers — Revol, Staub and Demeyere — all now offer products which are compatible with induction and this is an issue that she says dealers need to be switched onto.

“Thanks to unique materials and technologies, cooking on induction with Demeyere cookware is faster, even more easily regulated and even more economical than with other cookware on the market which has been ‘adapted’ for use on induction and not specifically ‘developed’ for induction,” says Sherlock.

Signature will also be releasing a range of new professional knives from the Zwilling Group and launching culinary porcelain specialist Revol’s new ‘Revolution’ range, which is based on the first technical ceramic that is 100% non-porous and compatible with all heat sources including induction.

It is clear that the smallwares market is driven by an inherent need to innovate and this is a point illustrated by Cooper at Mitchell & Cooper, who notes that many buyers are looking for a product that meets a certain criteria but often only find a number of products that tick a few boxes but not all. He says the company strives to bridge this gap by either amending an existing product or designing one from scratch that it can then release to the open market.

“For example, we have extended our portioner range by adding to the tube length,” he says. “We did this for an export customer and we are now launching it in the UK. We have also made amendments to our can opener, making it easy to clean. This has now given us the opportunity to work with many environmental health organisations and opened more doors, again leading to the possibility of future product development.”

Innovations such as these reflect why product development at manufacturer level continues to change the face of this sprawling market sector. The smallwares market in the UK might remain relatively understated, but the speed at which it evolves is testimony to its significance to the professional catering fraternity.

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