Meet your 100 Greats: Business Developments, part 3

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Catering Insight is celebrating its 100th issue with a run-down of 100 UK catering equipment industry greats, comprising people, projects, equipment and business developments.

Today we take an in-depth look at the third lot of business developments: Unitech rescues, FEA government liaison, Precision factory investment, Airedale’s Flowrite acquisition and JLA buyouts.


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Unitech rescues

It may not be the most popular series of buyouts, but there is no doubt that Unitech Industries’ rescues of several distributor groups in trouble has re-shaped the UK catering equipment landscape.

The initiative began at the end of 2008 when Unitech saved ScoMac Catering Equipment from administration. In 2012 ScoMac itself then rescued Northern Irish dealer P Nugent & Sons from administration, which today is Unitech’s leasing division. Then when Birmingham distributor PKS got into difficulties, ScoMac formed a service business called ScoMac Central Technical Services with the former company’s directors to save jobs.

2017 and 2018’s buyouts of defunct dealers Francis Catering Equipment and Crosbys proved the most controversial yet, but both companies have since thrived under the Unitech umbrella. Later in 2018 a takeover of Court Catering Equipment was much more straightforward, as the London distributor was in rude health.

FEA government liaison

The Foodservice Equipment Association (FEA, formerly CESA), has proved a vital voice for the UK catering equipment supply chain since its establishment as the Catering Equipment Manufacturers’ Association in 1938.

Over the years its links with the highest echelons of UK government have become ever stronger, and with a patron in the form of Lord Trefgarne, the association ensures it is represented very strongly.

On issues such as Brexit and its UK trading implications, appliance regulations and standards, as well as the current coronavirus crisis, FEA has always been there to bang the drum for the sector.

Precision factory investment

Last year, Precision Refrigeration ploughed £250,000 into a factory investment programme at its Thetford, Norfolk base. This was aimed at bolstering its production facilities, as sales have increased by 25% year on year.

The work meant that the company was able to double the capacity in its factory, and speed up the rate of production, shortening lead times.

Elements overhauled included tooling, racking, enhanced quality testing equipment and general infrastructure improvements within the factory. The stores area was also totally re-designed to help reduce product build time.

Airedale’s Flowrite acquisition

Just this year, major distributor Airedale Group acquired refrigeration and air conditioning servicing specialist Flowrite Refrigeration. The acquisition coupled with Airedale’s existing service operation, creates what is thought to be the largest specialist maintenance platform operating in the UK hospitality sector today, with a combined total of over 200 service technicians.

The move added refrigeration, cellar cooling, remote monitoring and air-conditioning capabilities to Airedale’s service offering, and the dealer can now boast that its offer is completely end-to-end, through design, manufacture, installation and maintenance of everything in the commercial kitchen across the UK.

JLA buyouts

Over the space of 18 months, starting in 2013, servicing giant JLA shook up the UK catering equipment market when it entered the sector.

The acquisition of seven dealerships swiftly followed by the end of 2015: Rugby-based Red Squared, Cardiff-headquartered CKM, Southampton-based Proton Washrite, Dorset’s Carford Group, Harmony Business & Technology, Comcat Engineering, and Newco Catering Equipment.

The Ripponden-based firm’s business model of only focusing on the engineering resource in these companies may not have proven popular in the wider industry, but it has definitely worked for the company, with group revenues soaring to over £129m over recent years.


Tags : Catering InsightCatering Insight 100 Greats
Clare Nicholls

The author Clare Nicholls

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