Far be it for me to spread doom and gloom, but I can’t help noticing that the major news stories peppering the Catering Insight inbox in February were by and large of the negative variety and with this month’s coronavirus crisis, the situation is ever more fluid.
We had a small Sheffield distributor shutting down, Global FSE confirming its liquidation, G&M Supplies struggling to re-finance itself to remain trading, and Dutch-headquartered supplier Hendi moving its UK operation back to its central office. The challenging market conditions have also impacted Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment’s revenue.
So is this indication of a trend or just part and parcel of the general ups and downs of the trade? You could take either view really. Many UK catering equipment firms have pointed to the Brexit process and its resulting uncertainties as sucking the life out of project work, but an equal opposite number have also expressed views that their businesses are still flying and there is no Brexit-related impact at all.
On one hand you can say that there will always be peaks and troughs in any market and that it is convenient to blame Brexit for all ills, but on the other it is an inescapable fact that the UK’s economy is stagnating. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics report that UK growth was just 0.1% in the 3 months to November, representing the lowest year-on-year increases since the spring of 2012.
Operators could indeed justifiably postpone any investment in new kitchens and equipment until after the limbo period of EU trade deal negotiation finishes by the end of this year, but does that then write off 2020 as a bad job – especially considering the coronavirus situation too? Extending the life of their existing assets would then surely prompt more work for catering equipment servicing companies and distributors with a servicing capability.
If engineers are going to be even busier repairing appliances, it makes sense to train more up and encourage more people down that career path. And it is in this arena that we perhaps see some sunlight breaking through the clouds. It is very heartening to see how CEDA has brought prominent industry figures together to create the first specialised catering equipment technician apprenticeship.
There was a skills shortage anyway, and much of the industry has been demanding that engineer recruitment and training needs to be a priority since the existing demographic skews towards the older end of the spectrum, so the Catering Equipment Service and Installation Technician Apprenticeship is more than welcome. Hopefully this will be the start of a constant stream of new blood refreshing the industry.
I hope that we hear more good news stories like this in the near future so that we can clear the clouds of doom from the horizon.