For the launch issue of Catering Insight, we asked a number of experts to consult their crystal balls and predict the industry’s path for 2012. Here, Robin McKnight, managing director of CEDA, gives his views on the market landscape.
How would you assess the current state of the catering equipment market in the UK and what is your outlook for 2012?
In the main, I think 2011 was better than most people thought it would be. Most of our members and any of the supplier partners that I speak to seem to be fairly confident that they will keep up their performance from 2011, but I don’t think anybody is forecasting any great advances on that. The only positive note is that the consultant community seems to be very busy, which is always a good bellwether for a year to 18 months ahead, so I think it’s a case of ‘steady as she goes’.
What key factors do you expect to drive and shape the direction of the catering equipment market in 2012?
Economic factors are key in the public sector domain. I think that any of our members who are exclusively dealing in the public sector are rapidly trying to find other markets because inevitably that is going to suffer. Those projects that are in line already will go ahead so there is some movement in that, but I think general day-to-day business will be a struggle. About six months ago there did seem to be a bit of an upturn and operators, certainly the medium chain businesses, seemed to embark on a bit of spend, but I am not sure how sustainable that is.
What are the biggest challenges facing the catering equipment market in 2012?
Staying alive and sustaining margins, while still providing value. I believe the distributors that will do best out of the current situation are the ones that can offer solutions to niche markets and provide genuine solutions in the way of innovative preventative maintenance contracts or perhaps an energy management survey of the kitchen. If you can bolt that sort of thing onto a kitchen design then hopefully your customers will feel it is genuine value because if the equipment costs X but you are going to save them Y with this energy survey then that could represent a good value-for-money proposition.
What opportunities are there for foodservice consultants and equipment providers to offer additional value to their customers in 2012?
The opportunities that they face or that they would want are the same as they are every year and even in recession people are still opening restaurants and building hotels. So I can’t see that there are any particularly new opportunities other than presenting not just a kitchen equipment quotation but wrapping value added products or services around that, which gives their clients a good reason to choose them rather than anyone else.
How do you see the traditional ‘channel’ structure of the catering equipment market developing in 2012 and are the roles of the main intermediaries likely to change in any way?
There won’t be any major changes, but the market has changed quite a lot over the last 10 years in that the line between supplier and distributor has become much more blurred. The supplier-distributor approach to clients has also become more collaborative over those 10 years because clients are savvier now. They won’t accept a cost-plus quote from a distributor and they have got to see real value. For suppliers that are getting their equipment specified with major chains, hopefully distributors can play an integral part in providing project management, installation and other value added services.