Import tacks: wholesalers reveal strategies

BBQ new-USE crop
rexmartins’ RMB brand is said to be easy-to-use, space saving, energy efficient equipment.

Well known catering equipment brands are manufactured around the world, but with not all of them having a UK base, distributors rely on importers to bring the latest quality products into the local market. So how do these suppliers decide on which brands to provide?

According to rexmartins MD, Wayne Phillips: “The values of the brand are important – friendly and open businesses are preferable to work with, for both the wholesaler and the end user. The quality of the products on offer is also important – you want to know that you are providing your customer with the best machines possible. It is essential to keep up with the latest trends and features, for example, eco-friendly brands are becoming more and
more popular.”

The Tunbridge Wells-based firm sources products from around the world to its high specifications and rigorously quality checks its brands. “Our main factories are in Italy and the Far East – we visit them regularly to carry out due diligence on the product lines,” detailed Phillips.

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He reported that the firm has received increasing requests from customers for easy-to-use, space saving, energy efficient equipment. “We noticed there was a gap in the market for a product range that harnesses all of these qualities and so we decided to create our own brand – RMB, which ticks all those boxes.”

While recent exchange rate fluctuations have been the main factor in price increases across the industry, rexmartins believes it has made the necessary adjustments and does not envisage any more price increases for at least 16 to 24 months.

Over at independent supplier, Grande Cuisine, one of the first things director Steve Hobbs looks at is the pedigree of a manufacturer in its existing market. “This would include criteria such as how long the business has been trading, whether it has had a presence in the UK market previously – and if so what sort of reputation the brand has. We also play close attention to the structure of a business, preferring to work with those that are family- or small shareholder-owned and not part of a large group or corporation,” he revealed.

Historically Grande Cuisine has worked with French-based businesses, primarily due to the network of contacts it has built up within France over many years and the longstanding relationships that have evolved as a result of this. Hobbs added: “We have experience of working with other European-based companies outside of France but by and large we have found that they do not have a deep enough understanding of the very unique nature of the UK equipment market and as a result we have found it very difficult to establish long term mutually beneficial trading partnerships with them.”

The fall of the Pound hasn’t affected the company’s import strategy and it will continue to work with existing suppliers whilst remaining on the lookout for potential new partners with which it can develop its business within the UK, to the mutual benefit of both parties.

Foodservice Equipment Marketing’s (FEM) focus on light equipment has made it a market leader in the sector. As marketing and sales manager Mark Hogan detailed: “We look to supply brands that are in the top three within their specific product category. Hamilton Beach Commercial, Manitowoc Ice and Alto-Shaam are good examples of this.”

These and many of its other brands including Cambro, Prince Castle, San Jamar and Vollrath, mean a large part of its equipment supply is from the USA. However, FEM also sources equipment from Europe such as Sirman and more recently Pujadas, which was launched to the UK market last October.

Hogan explained: “Pujadas is one of Spain’s leading manufacturers of commercial cookware, kitchen utensils and buffet display products, boasting a reputation for innovative ideas appealing directly to chefs. We have also just added Doregrill rotisseries, from France, to our product portfolio.

“Our focus, as always, is to continue to offer the same quality brands, while focusing on improving our service.”

Elsewhere, while Sous Vide Tools is principally known for its water baths specialism, it also has a wide variety of unique products in its stable. “For us the decision is more about the type of equipment than the brand,” said MD, Alex Shannon. “There is a huge amount of ‘me too’ equipment out there and bringing another brand into an already crowded marketplace doesn’t make good business sense unless it has a very specific USP and satisfies a need.

“One of the good things about working very closely with chefs on a day to day basis, as we do, is the feedback that we get from them with regards to equipment that will either make their job easier, save them money or enable them to significantly improve or expand their menu. That’s why our portfolio is largely made up of niche products from water baths to vacuum packers, dehydrators to pressure steamers.”

Emphasising that quality and reliability are key features the firm looks for in any potential new product or brand, Shannon added: “The margin on new equipment is very tight and we can’t afford to be losing any of it to warranty costs.”

Sous Vide Tools will be launching a major light equipment brand in the UK in September. When it comes to import decisions, Shannon commented: “There is no doubt that the exchange rate fluctuations are something we could do without. However, they have not significantly altered our import strategy.”

While Ascentia Foodservice Equipment is still a fairly new supplier, it has already built up a significant network of brands. Director, Chris Kelly, detailed: “When we initially put together our portfolio of products we were looking for brands which would not compete with one another and were specialists in their chosen fields. For example we represent Bertos for prime cooking equipment. These are the only products it produces, making the company a specialist rather than a brand which could be a jack of all trades.

“The same can be said for Mibrasa which produces enclosed charcoal ovens and robata grills, Pavesi which produces stone hearth static and rotating deck pizza ovens and Venix which produces combination and convection ovens. It was also important for us that these brands were all at the premium end of the market to allow them to sit comfortably side by side.

He added: “It was never our intention to source our brands from a particular region. We just set out to find the best brands and products for our portfolio and for the UK market. When looking for a traditional stone hearth pizza oven the most logical place for us to look to was Italy, just as it was for us to look to Spain when we were in search of a robust and authentic charcoal oven brand.”

Ascentia isn’t actively looking to add any more brands to its current portfolio, but it will be keeping abreast of currency fluctuations, as so far it has held off from imposing major price hikes and tried to absorb the costs as much as possible.

One supplier name back in the market is Cuisine-Europe. MD Richard Fordham resurrected the company last year and now has a portfolio including Bertha, Counterline, Hyginox and Küppersbusch. “There are a number of criteria we apply to the brands we consider, but a primary one has to be that they are independent,” he reported. “Only in this way can we build relationships confident in the knowledge that we are not beholden to decision makers over who we have no influence.”

The company is always looking for new products and solutions, with Fordham detailing that this can be client-led in the form of specific sourcing requests. “This often opens up new avenues as products come to light of which we were not previously aware. We will then look at the target markets to assess potential and make the decision from there as to whether to add it to the portfolio.

“Sicotronic is a perfect case in point – we were made aware of an energy optimisation system from Germany and, having looked deeper into the product and the potential benefits to the operator, it made perfect sense to introduce it to the market.”

However, Cuisine-Europe has had to turn some manufacturer enquiries down, as Fordham revealed: “Over the past year we have had several approaches from companies seeking representation and whilst some of them have been hugely attractive as products, we have not furthered discussions as they are part of a larger corporate organisation.”

Nevertheless, he added: “We are currently in discussion with a few potential new additions and would hope to be able to add these to the Cuisine-Europe offer in the next couple of months – it’s certainly an exciting time and with the industry seemingly buoyant, it’s the right time to plan the next stage of expansion.”

At Daventry-based Euro Catering, sales director Justin Towns detailed it has three main criteria to decide on which brands to represent: “Firstly, we look for companies that can augment our portfolio and offer a range of benefits that stand out in the market and provide our dealers with a chance to attract clients.

“Secondly, we determine with whom we believe we could enjoy an enduring relationship. The best example is Italforni – we have partnered with them for over 20 years and helped them establish a strong reputation in the UK, whilst supporting their spirit of innovation and their provision of catering solutions.

“Thirdly, our litmus test is focused on determining which suppliers will provide superb support, as without this we cannot maintain the trust of our distributor, dealer and specifier networks. We believe our policy of building enduring relationships strengthens the support we receive, taking it beyond the level of ‘good’ other suppliers might receive.”

He added: “Exchange rate fluctuation has impacted on us, just like every other importer, but we are handling this and have no intention of abandoning any suppliers. This again reflects our policy of building relationships with loyalty as their cornerstone.”

Whilst Euro Catering is not actively looking to add more brands to its portfolio, “Our eye is always attracted by something different and equipment that would positively benefit our customers,” concluded Towns.

Tags : Ascentiacuisine-europeEuro CateringfemGrande Cuisineimportersrexmartinssous vide toolssuppliersWholesalers
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

1 Comment

  1. When Valentines sister company Cuisinequip was founded, the criteria for the products it was going to supply had one simple qualification- to have the same high standards as the Valentine brand.
    Bottene pasta machines from Italy, Locher equipment from Germany and HWM induction from Austria all have these qualities.

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