Before the coronavirus crisis kicked in, it was a bright day just over the Belgian border with France when Catering Insight got a first glimpse of Culimat’s headquarters and the huge range of catering equipment it supplies to the continental market.
While many in the UK may not have heard of Culimat itself, they will be more than familiar with many of the brands it imports and subsequently exports. In our country it essentially supplies products to many well-known suppliers. For instance, it partners with Nisbets group wholesale arm Uropa Brands to bring Menumaster microwaves to the distributor market in the UK, plus this brand is about to spin-off a new marque called XpressChef to represent its high speed ovens.
This partnership also encompasses Metro shelving and storage products and Edlund food preparation equipment, though Culimat also provides the latter brand for supplier, Metcalfe Catering Equipment, along with Nemco light equipment – countertop cooking appliances and food preparation kit. The Belgian-headquartered firm also supplies T&S Brass pre-rinse units and taps to the First Choice Group and Rosseto food dispensers and buffet display equipment to selected partners.
In Ireland, Culimat works with Caterline to bring the Menumaster/XpressChef, T&S and Server (dispensing equipment) brands to that market.
The supplier is currently renewing its focus on the UK and Ireland markets with the appointment of well-known industry figure, Brian Lavelle, as UK and Ireland sales manager. Culimat’s owner, Jurgen Dobbelaere, said of the move: “The UK is an important market in Europe. I felt that we needed 100% commitment from one person on the UK market. In the past I covered it, but as we see UK sales growing further, this has become a strategic market for us, hence the investment.”
This leaves Dobbelaire to cover central Europe and to concentrate on his dual role as president sales and marketing, while co-owner Mieke Vanacker is the president of operations, finance and accounting. The pair acquired the firm from its founder in 2014. Dobbelaire explained the genesis of the company: “Culimat started in 1995 when one US manufacturer tried to find a route to market in Europe. The idea of copying the US sales rep/sales office model from the US was created. It began with one brand and then other US brands followed suit.”
Back in the UK, Lavelle summed up the current situation: “It’s a unique situation for Culimat, where relationships have already been established for many years. For a lot of our brands it’s about raising awareness and offering a streamlined supply chain for products. We work closely with our partners to build awareness of the brands and their routes to market.
“We want to make sure that our partners in the UK are well stocked and trained on these brands and push and promote our products. That’s the vision for Culimat now having a direct representative in the UK.”
While he said of his own experience: “We’ll leverage any existing relationships that I’ve got in the UK market, both end user and distributor. My past has definitely been helpful to building key partnerships – this previous exposure in the market is helping to springboard the Culimat brands into the limelight.”
Dobbelaere further detailed: “The idea is also to firmly develop key account business at the end user level, inform them and train them on our solutions, and see how we can offer value to their foodservice operations with our products. They are all premium appliance, geared towards chain business efficiencies.”
Underlining this are the facilities and benefits the company can offer. Its headquarters not only houses a smart showroom, conference area and demonstration kitchen, it also holds a large amount of stock in its onsite warehouse. Plus it keeps an extensive stockholding of spare parts for high speed ovens and microwaves. According to Lavelle: “Our European service partners also hold stock so if any time they run out, it’s easy for us to replenish very quickly. For us, it’s all about the service. If you get the service right, it builds the trust in the brand and customer satisfaction is always at the highest level.”
Culimat can also provide marketing material and trade show support, while its in-house XpressChef culinary advisor Mustafa El Ouafi can conduct demonstrations of these high speed ovens. This product category is a big focus for the supplier, as Lavelle detailed: “The global change in cooking techniques and the growth of food to go means that high speed ovens is a strategic market sector for us.”
Dobbelaere added: “Another driver is that it’s very difficult to find chefs nowadays and high speed ovens can help to alleviate the problem of recruiting or retaining chefs.”
While Lavelle underlined sustainability as another benefit: “Operators only use the unit when they receive an order, it’s not working away in the background all the time. We are now introducing the best in class high speed oven from XpressChef.”
The latest technological updates for the accelerated cooker series include full wifi capabilities as standard, HD swipe true touchscreen, a short cooldown cycle, and the internal door sits below the internal level of the unit to reduce risks of burning the user.
Other unique products in the supplier’s portfolio include Metro’s PrepMate multifunctional workstation with incorporated shelving and SmartWall wall-mounted shelving.
According to Dobbelaere, Culimat’s message to the UK is: “We have a broad line of American brands for foodservice equipment. It’s premium product and it fits perfectly in operations that want to work efficiently and expand their business.”
While Lavelle concluded: “The vision for the UK and Irish markets is to educate and inform consultants, operators and kitchen designers about our available solutions. We are providing unique, multifunctional products.”