Experienced industry executive and Cupola Consulting founder, Steve Loughton, casts his eye over the current state of the UK catering equipment industry and what factors he feels are accelerating the pace of change:
It has been oft said that progress and change in the commercial catering equipment world is very slow, glacial even. Arguably that has changed, and the pace of what traditionalists might even call disruption has increased exponentially. There are also many external factors affecting the norms of our existence.
One influential factor is that we have run out of people. For years we operated a revolving door of ‘lifers’ who knew everything and everyone, but that is now changing rapidly as they retire and because the pace of change has been slow, younger recruits have not yet been tempted by our prospects. There are now many new individual and corporate entrants but still a long way to go – the same holds true for operators. We are also subject to government regulation regarding immigration and conditions of employment.
We are also challenged with an onslaught of regulation and expectation. The need for company and individual standards and training is becoming more onerous and gnawing at resources.
Then there is sustainability and safety, which in all aspects top agendas. Energy, water, air quality, food waste, use of space as well as understanding food ingredients and allergenic reactions and menu labelling demand attention.
Furthermore, consolidation grows apace. It becomes easier and, importantly, faster for larger manufacturers to buy into innovation or purchase smaller companies than to develop technologies themselves. This has the result of making it more difficult for individual invention to flourish and increases the barriers to market entry, perhaps dulling further advances.
Another factor is that technology, multi-purpose equipment and the connected appliance are all growing in importance at a frightening pace. Equipment now automatically knows what needs to be cooked and for how long and connects to central operators over the web for menu updates or even rental charges. Plus the multi-purpose items maximise space utilisation.
Looking at marketing and PR generally, physical exhibitions, awards ceremonies, trade association meetings and conferences abound throughout the UK. Exhibitions have become more vertical in nature, albeit some of the largest shows held in Europe and the USA retain a comfortable, horizontal appeal to all as social gatherings as much as equipment expos.
Digital and printed news proliferates, including digests of what you may have already read, and direct email and the like is commonplace, and again, demands attention. It is necessary to have a frequent digital presence on social media channels which may necessitate external involvement.
So where are we going? The simple answer is ‘I wish I knew’. In fact, the probable outcome is more of the same but at an increasing pace.
I have not mentioned the B-word elephant in the room which has brought disharmony and uncertainty into our world. But whatever the outcome of that, we will continue to celebrate our core principles of affording hospitality, celebrating diversity in all its many forms and revelling in the fact that ours is one of the few truly global industries.