With a solid first half of the year behind it and a series of investments about to be made that will strengthen its service infrastructure, Linda Lewis Kitchens is on track for its strongest performance since the business was founded. Catering Insight asked managing director Linda Lewis to explain what’s sparked the revival.
You have just announced plans to expand the business by recruiting an apprentice engineer and a qualified gas engineer, as well as grow your vehicle fleet. Plus you recently won the Oldham Businesswoman of the Year award. Why is 2013 proving so fruitful for the company?
As with all things, fate has had a hand in it! A chance meeting [with the owner of leadership and development consultancy Sewell] on a train back in 2012 led me to attend quite a life-changing seminar, and it was at that point that I decided to change LLK’s approach to doing business.
We have since ramped up our marketing efforts, introduced an advertising and PR campaign, and improved our overall visibility. As well as these steps, LLK has become much more noticeable to dealers in the past 12 months through getting out on the road and promoting the jewel in our crown — the world-renowned Cuppone brand.
What proportion of your sales comes from Cuppone equipment? Is it now the dominant brand for you?
Cuppone is certainly the dominant brand for LLK, with 61% of our total sales emanating from Cuppone products alone this year. We have made significant investment in promoting the Cuppone brand to the UK dealer market, and this increased awareness of the prestige and quality of the Cuppone name has seen these sales double since 2011. Sales of Cuppone have been so strong in the first six months of this year that they already equate to 86% of our total Cuppone sales in 201.
What else is happening to the portfolio outside of Cuppone? Have there been any highlights with other brands on that front?
The other growth area for us right now is in sales of meat slicers and our ‘all-round’ planetary mixers. Our dealers are seeing a lot of business coming from end-users who have been seriously let down by their suppliers — often promising to deliver on large orders of cheap mixers and slicers from abroad and failing. They approach our dealers for help and once they see the quality of our equipment they almost always become loyal LLK customers.
In terms of customer segments, where would you say that the growth you currently claim to be seeing is coming from?
Pub and hotel chains are a massive growth market for us in terms of our Cuppone pizza equipment, especially pizza ovens. Through Airedale Catering Equipment, we have seen Orchid pubs roll out Cuppone Max pizza ovens in their new Pizza Kitchen & Bar venues all year, and via Vision Commercial Kitchens the De Vere group have chosen the Cuppone gas oven as well as the Cuppone dough mixer to support the new ‘Vinny and Vito’ menu concept at De Vere Village Urban Resorts.
Slicers are becoming more popular with schools and colleges that need heavy duty and reliable meat-cutting equipment they know can cope with the demands of a canteen environment. We’re also seeing takeaways, pubs and hotel chains keen to invest in the versatility and easy food preparation that planetary mixers offer.
You’re looking to purchase an additional vehicle for your fleet. What sort of difference will this make to the business?
Our new fleet will enable LLK to improve its overall customer service — we will no longer be so reliant on carriers to transport our equipment to dealers, and we will be able to respond to urgent orders or last minute stock emergencies more effectively.
From a service point of view, what kind of install package do you currently offer and how will that change moving forward given your plans to recruit an apprentice engineer and commercial gas engineer?
Our expansion of the service business will be lucrative for us as LLK uses sub-contractors at the moment, so an expansion in our service offering will mean cost savings as well as bringing in new business. LLK currently offers service on food machinery and electrical equipment, and the expansion of our service offering will enable LLK to provide additional gas fitting and service work — great for dealers seeking peace of mind and quality assurance. LLK will also be able to cover warranty work for other equipment manufacturers.
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By expanding your engineering capabilities, will you actively compete for service work with dealers?
We will be offering a service to our dealers rather than competing with them.
What are your plans for the business for the rest of the year and into 2014?
For the rest of this year we are very focused on promoting our original ‘3 Steps to the Perfect Pizza’ concept to further raise awareness of the Cuppone brand with both dealers and end-users. Sales of our Cuppone Giotto ovens have spread throughout Europe via recommendation, and we aim to continue to expand the geographical reach of this top-of-the-range pizza oven over the coming months.
Educating end-users on the benefits of using a dough mixer together with a technologically-advanced pizza press rather than rolling pizzas by hand is another long-term goal we see as very important to increased market penetration going forward.
What are the biggest challenges for the business right now?
Challenging scepticism from end-users about using an electric pizza oven and a pizza press to create authentic Italian pizza — instead of rolling dough by hand and baking in a wood-burning oven as tradition dictates — remains a big challenge for us, but one where we are already making progress.
The significant benefits of using a Cuppone pizza press to produce consistently perfect pizza bases, achieve quick cooking times and low cooking temperatures, are beginning to be understood by the catering industry. Also, the fact that using a pizza oven with a stone base can give an equally authentic taste to using a wood-burning oven is gradually being accepted by restaurants and caterers throughout the UK.
How do you view the state of the UK catering equipment market at the moment?
I see the market as more buoyant than it has been in a long time. I think confidence will continue to improve and once the industry sees that the recovery in sales is not a blip then partnerships between dealers and suppliers will strengthen and really start making waves.
Pub chain Orchid blossoms with pizza equipment investment
In a bid to provide authentic Italian pizza, Orchid Group — the UK’s sixth largest pub retailer — has invested in Cuppone pizza ovens for 23 of its new Pizza Kitchen & Bar venues, with more to be fitted throughout the UK this year.
Linda Lewis Kitchens supplied all of the ovens via Bradford kitchen design and build specialists Airdale.
The Cuppone electric Max ovens are an ideal fit for Orchid Group’s Pizza Kitchen & Bar initiative, which it only launched two years ago. The concept has attracted thousands of customers by renovating local pubs and bringing a mix of freshly-made pizza, stylish surroundings, cocktails and fantastic customer offers to the heart of local communities. Every Pizza Kitchen and Bar promises a 100% fresh pizza dough guarantee, and the Max ovens from Cuppone ensure quality results and bake times of three to five minutes per pizza.
Arnaud Unvois, purchasing director at Orchid Group, said: “Following a lengthy trial period where we assessed the Max ovens on different criteria, we knew these ovens were the right choice for our PKB concept — and Linda Lewis Kitchens the right supplier to deliver on all our objectives.
“With the growing popularity of pizza as a dining choice and the trend for quality, individualised menu choices, we are confident that our Pizza Kitchen & Bar concept will continue to expand and Cuppone will expand with us.”
Name: Linda Lewis Kitchens
Address: Unit 3 The Iron Works, Union Street, Royton, Oldham, OL2 5JD
Tel: 0161 633 5797
Key brands: Cuppone, FAC, Fimar, Elframo, Unox, Arris, Universo