Charcoal champion: Q&A with Josper

When Jestic became the prime importer of Josper six years ago, indoor charcoal ovens were a very new concept to the UK restaurant scene. The supplier base looks considerably different now, though, with a raft of alternative brands vying to muscle in on the action. Catering Insight spoke to jestic’s product director Michael Eyre to find out how the company intends to stop its emerging rivals stealing josper’s crown.

The Josper is regarded as a premium piece of equipment and it’s fair to say that this is reflected in its price. What makes it worth the price tag?

The build quality and materials used are what makes it worth the money. Used properly it can last for many years with very little maintenance. The value a Josper can add to a business is clear to see, there are very few pieces of equipment that can be seen named on a restaurant’s menu — when did you last see ‘carrots gently steamed in our XYZ combi’ on a menu? The name Josper has become synonymous with beautifully cooked, great tasting food.

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How many models exist within the Josper range? And what features separate the Josper from other brands?

Having developed the first ‘Hornos Brasa’ (oven grill) over 45 years ago, Josper can rightly claim the heritage of this unique cooking style is theirs alone. There are currently 19 enclosed models in the range in six different styles and four sizes. There is also an open ‘Parilla’ grill available. They have spent years developing the technology and the Josper is constantly evolving.

New indoor charcoal oven brands continue to enter the UK market. How is Josper responding to the increased competition it is facing?

Whenever someone has a great idea that is a success there will always be someone else who wants to replicate it. Josper has seen competition come and go over the years. There is always room in the market for competition and there will always be others making something similar. It is interesting that in this situation the competition generally focuses on price alone.

Our Jestic response to competition is always the same — we will continue to focus on our core strengths such as our fantastic demonstration kitchen, our unrivalled culinary and field sales support, and the fact that we were the first in the business. Josper may be perceived by some to be expensive but the fact is that overall it represents value for money. I can recall when we introduced the Wood Stone oven to the market and competitors appeared who have subsequently fallen away.

Several indoor charcoal oven brands that have entered the market have made a direct point of illustrating how they stack up against the Josper. What’s your view of this?

We see any form of comparison as flattery. It shows Josper is viewed as the market leader and the benchmark. As we have already said, this is not only about buying an oven, it’s about investing in support and training that will allow the best operators to serve the finest food for many years.

Some of these brands have also announced that their offerings are up to 25% cheaper than the Josper. How concerned are you that this will slow sales of Josper equipment?

The market is growing and whilst we believe we are ahead of the sales curve we are not complacent. We are committed to continuous investment in our company to ensure we have the ability to support Josper from the consultants’ design imagination to the kitchen installation to the chef’s culinary creativity and beyond.

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Have you, or are you, revising your pricing or discount structure to compete more effectively against rival brands offering low prices?

We don’t feel that price is the only consideration, particularly with Josper equipment. We know part of the value of the transaction lies in the support that we offer — before, during and after the sale itself. However, we need to be realistic and recognise that in today’s market the customer has choices. We will continue to work closely with any reseller that specifies Josper with the goal of ensuring that we can reach an understanding that doesn’t disadvantage them versus any like-for-like competition.

Dealers routinely come under pressure from customers to lower or ‘value engineer’ the cost of projects. The possibility that a Josper specified for a project could be replaced with a cheaper alternative seems much more likely now. What is your reaction to that?

To be honest, that has always been the potential situation with any sizeable item of kitchen equipment. Dealers often get bad publicity when a specification is changed but the decision is often out of their hands and we recognise that. Let me throw down this challenge: if any dealer is under pressure to reduce costs in a project and the Josper is under scrutiny, contact us and give us the opportunity to see how we can work together to keep the original specification intact.

Does the fact that Josper is imported from Spain, rather than manufactured in the UK like some of the other indoor charcoal oven brands, leave you at a disadvantage?

We have decades of experience in importing capital equipment from all around the world and have built a very comprehensive, reliable method of forecasting demand and holding the right stock. We have often obtained units directly from the factory in about 10 days because road transport is now so reliable. As the ovens burn charcoal there are no added production considerations to take into account, such as gas type or electrical operation, to complicate manufacturing.

Rival brands have also claimed they are cheaper to run than the Josper. Can you give any indication of the costs involved in running a Josper?

I’m not sure how this claim has come about! The Josper will only burn as much charcoal as you put in it. The amount of charcoal that the oven burns will vary from a small oven to a large oven and from user to user. Some will use the oven at 500°C all day and burn 45kg per day (about £36) and some will use 10kg (about £8) per day in a small oven cooking at 250°C.

The quality of the charcoal used will also affect the running costs. I would say that as a rule the mid-sized Josper, if used at a sensible temperature (300°C-350°C), will use approximately 20kg to 25kg (£16 to £20) of restaurant-grade lump wood charcoal to cook for 10-12 hours. We only recommend Big K lump wood charcoal.

What market share do you believe Josper has of the indoor charcoal oven market in the UK? How do you intend to maintain or grow that share?

I would say that last year we had 85%-90% of the UK enclosed charcoal oven market (Josper is not just for use indoors). Seven years ago that market, as far as we can tell, was zero. Thanks to the work that Jestic and Josper have done together, the UK market now exists and continues to expand. As there are more players in the market I’m sure our market share will steady as a percentage of the rising total but we expect unit sales to increase. Our goal is to sell top quality equipment to great customers who serve fantastic food. Josper’s motto is ‘Passion for Grilling’, which says everything.

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