How do you track the energy consumption of a commercial cooking suite, especially in an industry where the absence of any recognised benchmarking enables every supplier and manufacturer to claim they possess the greenest kit available to the market?
It’s a question that CHR Equipment got so fed up of asking that it decided to take the situation into its own hands and develop a cooking suite to fit with its beliefs about reducing the amount of energy required to run a commercial kitchen.
Paul Neville, sales director of CHR Equipment, can remember the exact moment that prompted the Preston-based organisation to begin taking the issue seriously. “It all started about three or four years ago, and the customer was Cadbury World,” he recalls. “We were sat with the general manager, Gerrard Baldwin, and he said to us, ‘what can we do to ensure that we tick the boxes for a greener Cadbury World?’ It was at that point that we became interested, full-heartedly, in efficiency.”
The company made it a mission to develop a suite that could both track and improve energy utilisation for operators desperate to bring their running costs down. Just as importantly, CHR set out to get the product made in the UK.
That decision led it to the door of Promart, the Prescot-based manufacturer of food and beverage servery counters and specialist stainless steel catering fabrication.
The result of that partnership is the launch of the Eco-Chef range, which is bespoke manufactured by Promart but includes individual appliances, such as combi ovens and grills, that CHR provides from the core supply base it works with as a distributor.
Neville insists the company is extremely proud of the fact that manufacturing takes place in the UK, claiming that in terms of cost it is no more expensive than getting the suites made abroad. “The advantage it gives us is that by building locally we have much more flexibility with what we can do with the product and the type of finishes that we can use. The build quality of the product is higher because we are able to influence how the units are built specifically for each site, rather than having a standard product base that others build for them.”
The prospect of a distributor stepping into manufacturing territory is rarely going to sit comfortably with a supplier, which is why one of the very first steps CHR took was to outline its plans to key partners and explain where they fitted into the equation.
“We informed all of our current supply chain of our intentions and our purpose, and what we were going to do,” explains Neville. “What we didn’t want to do was to offend and upset the good relationships that we currently have with some very good suppliers that we work with.”
Out of the kitchens constructed so far, CHR has used appliances from five of its main catering equipment suppliers, only venturing outside its core supply base to source induction hobs from a Swiss manufacturer.
The real USP of the CE-approved Eco-Chef range, however, is that each suite contains a built-in smart metre that monitors and records exactly how much energy is used. The software can measure everything from current loads and lighting levels to ventilation levels, water consumption and wastage, providing the user with a 360-degree view of how their suite is behaving.
It is the factual data that is collected from this process that allows CHR to categorically state where and how the operator can make savings. In instances where an Eco-Chef is replacing an incumbent suite, CHR will carry out an energy assessment of the existing range using the CIBSE guide for energy efficiency in commercial kitchens. This can then be compared with the running costs of the new suite to determine the scale of the saving.
CHR intends to take this a step further next month by introducing a facility that allows all the energy data from the suite to be viewed and tracked online in real-time. Phase two of its strategy also involves being able to measure individual appliances connected to the suite, rather than just the total load.
If ever there was an example of how new technology has the potential to change cooking habits in a busy commercial kitchen, this is it.
“We are even working on a magnetic component at the moment that will tell us, for instance, how many times the induction pan has hit the actual unit. However, I think the key point of online monitoring is simply so that we can capture misuse of wasted energy. If an operator has got a breakfast service on, does it really need access to five ovens, six induction hobs and a couple of fryers? Or does it just need a plancha and a grill to be on? It is about tailoring it towards what the client needs to be doing at a specific time.”
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At the moment, CHR has got six Eco-Chefs out in the field, with a further two units going into a Lancashire country hotel this month, bringing CHR close to the 10 suites that it aimed to produce in its first 12 months of launching the range. Next year it hopes to expand the number to 20.
CHR insists that in sites where the Eco-Chef has been installed so far, substantial savings have been made. Neville says: “When we set out to do this it was specifically not to show a cost reduction because the cost of energy for gas is anywhere from 3p to 8p and the cost of electricity can range from 4p to 15p. It was about reducing the energy use, not specifically making a cash donation back into the business. What we are actually finding is that in all of the jobs that have gone in we are saving a minimum of £250 net a month.”
So where does this foray into the world of own-brand production leave CHR’s core catering equipment distribution business? Does it mean CHR will attempt to lead with the Eco-Chef on every job it tenders for?
Neville says not. “Our business differentiates quite substantially because we essentially have two causes. We have what can be called tendered work, which we bid for with the main contractors and which is obviously driven by the consultancy market. That drives a specification through and we have no wish to alter that specification. We, as the distributor, are put in a position of ensuring that our clients have knowledge. And what we do have at the moment is a product that we can wholeheartedly show our customers the quality of, and explain what it costs to run and potentially what savings are going to be made from using it.”
The concept of smart metering is something that is gaining momentum in the foodservice market as operators seek more accountability and transparency with the way their kitchens operate. While this trend would, on the surface, appear to threaten some of the competitive difference that CHR appears to have carved out for itself, Neville actually welcomes it.
“Every kitchen should be sub-metered,” he says. “And every manufacturer should have to publish the data. If they did, I think we would see a lot of products taken off the market tomorrow because they waste energy. The problem that remains is you sell a cheap product, but in effect you don’t — not in the long run, you sell a very expensive one. What we have got to stop doing is marketing the fact that it is a cheap product because it defeats a lot of purposes.”
For CHR, the situation presents an opportunity that could help redefine the company as customers seek more accountability from their kitchens.
Promart chief: Bespoke brings its own challenges
Given that working with distributors is just one element of what Merseyside fabrication specialist Promart does, managing director Alan Davies admits that the partnership with CHR on the Eco-Chef range is a “unique set-up”.
He says: “This particular project with CHR is very interesting from the point of view that no one else has done it. We specialise in bespoke — it is what we do and the mainstay of our business.”
Davies says that building bespoke cooking ranges does present a number of technical challenges, largely because each job varies from the last . “It depends on the client’s criteria, the site situation, the contents of the job and the technical issues that it brings — whether it is splitting the counters up for access, whether it is the amount of heat that is generated or whether it is the power load that comes to it,” he says.
Promart, which employs more than 40 staff, likes to use features such as tubular supports, rolled edges and curves. Such details are used in the production of the Eco-Chef suites not just for aesthetic appeal but to channel ventilation and support the cantilevering of appliances.
Davies insists that build quality doesn’t just come from the materials that are used in the construction of the suites, but rather the way in which those materials are deployed.
“Where a design starts and where it ends up is always somewhere different, and that is born out of the technical issues that we see within the concept of the designs,” he comments. “The quality of the product has a lot to do with the thickness of the steels and the density of the topwork around the relevant areas of potential distortion and buckling. But it is also about how you use your materials — how the material will work in relationship to heat and temperature and, of course, any refrigeration that goes into it; how you use bracketing to support a grill or combi that might be cantilevered off the central structure. It is knowing where and when to put the emphasis.”