And so another 12 months have passed in the frantic catering equipment industry, and it has certainly been a dramatic year to remember.
We have seen some notable demises on both the distributor and supplier side, but also some interesting entrants too. I know of several start-up dealerships which began life in 2017 – the most recent being former Lincat sales and marketing director Rob Gibson’s new venture, Kitchen and Restaurant Projects.
While it is a shame to see well-established names go to the wall, the industry does benefit from fresh blood shaking up the sector. For instance, almost all of the ex-Dawson-supplied Ali Group brands found a new home this year, which gave new impetus and direction to firms like Grande Cuisine and Jestic.
Squeezed margins and stretched cashflow are the perennial bugbears which can put paid to any business, but this year the entire hospitality sector has been especially feeling the impact of the Brexit vote too. For operators, labour shortages (thanks to EU nationals heading back home) and market uncertainty trickled down to pausing capital equipment investment towards the end of 2016 and the beginning of last year.
Though there are signs that end users are now continuing with roll-outs, the sector is in a less prosperous place than if the referendum result had gone the other way.
It is perhaps in innovation that the catering equipment sector will find its own saviour, and the one element I am hearing discussed time and again is the connected kitchen. Pretty soon, all professional catering appliances will be connected to the internet and each other. The key will be to find a way of simplifying how to interpret the massive amounts of data this will generate.
I think the company – whether it is a manufacturer, supplier or even a distributor – which will steal a march on the rest of the industry is one that comes up with a foolproof app to control and monitor any and all appliances simultaneously. I await with bated breath the first to take the leap.
And talking of waiting with bated breath, the industry was certainly on tenterhooks for the results of this year’s Catering Insight Awards, and the winners should be rightly proud of themselves.
We had more votes than ever before – over 150 – and more close races than ever between equally deserving nominees. There were also more attendees than ever this year, so much so, that we sold out of general sale tickets even before the shortlist was announced.
The awards are a fitting tribute to the hard work of distributors and suppliers this year, as well as a great chance for the industry to let its hair down. So with party season in full swing, I would like to wish you all a very joyful and restful Christmas and New Year. See you on the other side!