Going into national lockdown wasn’t exactly the way Jestic expected to celebrate the first anniversary of its acquisition by Universal Industries International, but as every business has discovered during the course of the past 12 months there really isn’t anything to gain from dwelling on what might have been.
Instead, the Kent-based supplier of brands such as Mibrasa, Henny Penny and Wood Stone put the champagne on ice and doubled down on ensuring it could emerge from the pandemic in the best possible shape to eventually return to the growth trajectory it was so clearly on beforehand.
Ben Dale, managing director at Jestic, thinks back to some difficult discussions last year as the extent of the pandemic’s impact on the hospitality sector began to sink in, but ultimately the company’s management and owners were on the same page.
“We all agreed that we should just keep pushing and try to keep everything intact — we’ve kept all the sales team, we’ve kept all the culinary team — because we knew that opportunities would come. And we figured that the best way to recover would be to have the people there to do that. We’ve bedded down new sales people, we’ve gained traction with new products, and one of the main objectives for this year is to get back and do what we planned to do in 2020.”
The Jestic story is one of constant evolution. Traditionally known for specialising in pizza ovens and theatre-style cooking products, a major turning point for the business came in 2011 when it acquired ServEquip. That gave it a comprehensive repair and maintenance operation, but also access to Henny Penny, the North American brand whose fryers are used by some of the world’s most iconic chains.
Not long after, a distribution agreement with Vitamix came along, powering Jestic into the smallwares market for the first time. Additional foodservice equipment brands from Europe and North America have followed, signifying a deliberate strategic effort to complement the portfolio with products priced at a level more indicative of routine kitchen purchases than one-off acquisitions.
One of the first real significant partnerships to push the business outside its comfort zone was Rosinox, which propelled it into the horizontal cooking arena.
“It’s a product that pushed us into more customers and more projects, and the same sort of thought process has continued since,” explains sales director Steve Morris. “Our intention is to take on the right brands at the right quality and at the right price point in the market, but they must also match our ethos and the way we work. HRC in March last year was a real coming together — we had two or three new product launches, we had two or three new sales people on the stand, everything was ready to hit and then something else hit!
“But I think we’re in a position where we’ve got quite a diverse range of good quality products to push out there to the dealer network — it’s a nice balance of holding, cooking, frying, pizza ovens, smallwares and the theatre-style cooking as well. We just wish we could be doing it faster!”
It is evident that Jestic is highly selective about who it works with and a quick glance at its current roster of brands confirms some common themes — privately-owned businesses, track records of product development and clear category specialisation to name just a few.
With more than 20 brands in the stable now, some onlookers might wonder whether it has reached a ceiling in terms of how many more it can manage. That doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case, though.
Says Dale: “The response to that is quite an interesting one because I actually think we’re better set these days to take on more [products] than perhaps we were two years ago. Because we’ve pushed into slightly different sectors with different products we’ve been able to segment the sales team. Instead of having one sales team and expecting every member of that team to be an expert in all the pizza ovens or all the fryers, we’re now able to segment it. We’ve got teams focused on dealers, we’ve got individuals focused just on two product lines, we’ve got people focused on consultants — so it brings more opportunity to slot additional products in if they fit.
Jestic kicked off 2021 by announcing a distribution partnership for combi ovens with MKN, the established German cooking manufacturer. Morris says it’s no secret that the pair have been talking on and off over the years, but it’s only recently that both agreed the timing was right.
“MKN fits our product portfolio perfectly — it’s high quality, best-in-class product; a family-owned business very focused on what it does. One of the things we love about this job is the passion that manufacturers have for their own products and MKN is right up there with that. They are not willing to produce something that isn’t to their standard and if that makes it a bit more expensive then so be it. That fits very nicely with us. They’ve got some really good design ideas such as the FlexiCombi Team units that are double stacked with two controllers at the top. With our culinary team and service back-up we believe we can add something to that product and make MKN a bigger player in the market.”
The ongoing expansion of the portfolio ultimately means more choice for dealers and their customers. Over the past five years, the company has significantly ramped up its focus on the distributor channel, establishing robust policies and procedures around how its sales personnel operate and partnering with buying groups such as Cedabond and ENSE. Furthermore, Jestic’s acquisition of the Manchester-based Malibu Corporation in 2019 has allowed it to establish a demo facility in the north that mirrors its existing test kitchen in Paddock Wood.
Longstanding relationships with chains such as Domino’s and KFC, in particular, mean that some dealers that don’t know the company intimately could conclude that it is more of a direct-selling sales organisation. But the truth is that outside of multinational accounts, in excess of 80% of its business is dealer-based.
It’s a statistic that Morris admits still comes as a surprise to some people: “Traditionally it’s been that you either work with dealers or you don’t work with dealers — actually we sit in the middle. Whatever business we can drive through the dealer network, we will. There are some exceptions, but we are very upfront about it and will always sit down and openly have a conversation with any dealer.”
He continues: “A lot of the decisions we’ve taken on new products have all been focused around how we can put that into the dealer channel and make it as appealing as possible. So whether it’s a Mibrasa charcoal oven or a Moduline holding drawer, dealers have always got the demo support of [culinary director] Michael Eyre and his culinary team and the knowledge that we’ll provide support in areas such as training and service. The portfolio is coming together and hopefully dealers can see what we’ve got in the range, how it fits in with their business and how we’re supporting it. People realise very quickly it’s a very different offer to what a lot of people know Jestic for.”
The global pandemic might have temporarily put the brakes on Jestic’s traditional methods of engagement with dealers, but there is absolutely no doubt that the company cannot wait to make up for lost time.
Jestic’s brand portfolio
Carlisle Foodservice Products