Panel discussion: Induction equipment sales

The benefits of induction cooking equipment are pretty clear-cut, but suppliers involved in this market still face some significant barriers as they bid to grow their sales. Catering Insight invited a handful of market custodians to debate what the future holds for the induction business.

On the panel
– Steve Snow, Managing Director, MCS Technical Products
– Geoff Snelgrove, Managing Director, Control Induction
– Trevor Burke, Managing Director, Exclusive Ranges
– Rosie Sanders, Managing Director, Induced Energy
– Peter Hunkemoeller, VP Sales Northern Europe, Manitowoc
– Steve Hobbs, Managing Director, Signature FSE

Induction has been described as a ‘rich chef’s tool’ due to its capital purchase cost versus alternative cooking methods, such as gas. To what extent do you agree with this statement today?

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Steve Snow: I totally disagree with this statement because the payback in energy saving, reduced labour costs, smaller ventilation canopies with reduced costs, no gas interlocks and, as with our CookTek brand, five-year parts and labour warranty, brings true savings and peace of mind to the operator.

Geoff Snelgrove: I would strongly disagree with the statement that induction is a rich chef’s tool. We have examples of induction suites costing under £10,000 giving energy cost saving paybacks of well over £100 per week. This, added to savings on capital costs of new or upgraded extraction systems for gas, actually makes a poor chef richer!

Peter Hunkemoeller: The utilisation of an induction unit requires the operator to look at the long-term cost benefits rather than just the installation cost. While the upfront cost of an induction suite will be more than a traditional gas or electric alternative, the reduced energy costs, as well as usage benefits, will soon outweigh that upfront spend. With induction, all the heat is generated within the pan so no ambient energy is wasted around the vessel.

Steve Hobbs: I do not believe induction is a ‘rich chef’s’ product. From our side, Adventys end-user prices start from £300 for a basic 2.5kW tabletop product, up to £50,000 to £60,000 when used as part of an Athanor bespoke suite. This covers every level of the market from a small cafe right through to a main production or feature kitchen. I agree that induction is more expensive in comparison to a ‘gas’ product, but looking at the life-time costs of the two products, induction is by far the more cost-effective in the long term.

Distributors working on projects regularly cite cases of customers which would like induction but don’t have the power or connected load on site to be able to run it. How much is this issue holding induction equipment sales back?

Geoff Snelgrove: I agree that this issue does hold some sales of induction back, but bearing in mind that pan frying typically consumes only 1200W of power this problem is sustained in part by over-specifying of induction equipment due to people’s underestimation of how efficient it is.

Steve Snow: Yes, this is an issue, but chefs often believe they need large kilowatt loading for induction, whereas if it is a quality brand of induction it is not necessarily the case because of the conversion of power to the pan.

Steve Hobbs: Most projects which are a refurbishment of an existing premise have this issue with power coming into the site. As there is no uniform electrical supplier, the end-user or operator is being penalised to upgrade not only their supply but often other surrounding establishments, as the power companies are not looking at long-term investment but short-term profit generation. Time delays, costly surveying costs and the cost of works also put some clients off. Where there is a new-build site this is generally not the case as the investor is looking at the longer term.

Trevor Burke: With the fully integrated system offered by Menu System, we are able to reduce the connected load of induction suites by up to 50% without compromising performance. By using the integral optimiser, all appliances in the range can be run in such a way that the overall capacity set is never exceeded. In addition, we are able to integrate other appliances into our optimisation system. Again, this is a question of looking at induction as a system rather than a straight appliance replacement for conventional equipment. One of the other advantages of induction is that it reduces the requirement for chilled air to be brought to the kitchen as there is no heat build-up with induction. Providing chilled air would normally be part of the electrical/mechanical package and can take up a huge amount of electrical capacity as well as adding cost. If you are saving 30kW by not having chilled air and reducing the loading by 50% through optimisation you will almost certainly be able to find the capacity. It’s all about thinking of the kitchen as a whole rather than just adding a few individual induction appliances.

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The number of induction suppliers in the market is now much higher than it used to be. How has this impacted general market pricing and behaviour?

Rosie Sanders: The world and his wife seem to be supplying induction hobs these days and end-users can be confused. Box shifters of cheap imported hobs have actually grown the market. Chefs buy the cheap domestic type hobs and they work — for a time! However, chefs have fallen in love with induction by then and next time around they’ll invariably buy quality.

Trevor Burke: The increase in the number of induction suppliers and the general increase in market activity is a positive thing. There will always be a range of products on the market to fit budget and operational requirements. With induction, price will be determined by the quality of technology (performance), the quality of build, and the saving and payback time against capital cost.

Peter Hunkemoeller: With the heritage behind the Garland brand, operators are aware of the extensive research and development undertaken by the company. We provide caterers with the latest in technological advances, as well as more efficient and effective units that can offer a quick ROI through comprehensive pricing and servicing packages. This is why Garland sales remain strong, despite increased competition.

Steve Snow: MCS Technical Products has been placing the CookTek brand into the UK and Ireland market for over 14 years and has seen many changes with companies entering the market and failing because of poor quality. There is now in excess of 30 companies doing induction of varying quality and a large number of these are badging the equipment. The CookTek brand is fully manufactured by CookTek in the USA, allowing us to use the statement that it is ‘designed, developed and manufactured by CookTek’. In other words, it’s CookTek on the outside and CookTek on the inside.

All induction kit achieves the same result in the sense that induction heating is used to directly heat a cooking vessel. What factors therefore make one type or brand of induction equipment better value than another?

Trevor Burke: You could ask why buy a bespoke Rorgue range when a Falcon six-burner dominator will do the same job? Because induction ‘all looks the same’ it does not mean it all performs the same. As with everything, and perhaps a little more with induction, the ‘buy well, buy once’ principle is applicable.

Geoff Snelgrove: A 3kW induction unit from most manufacturers will give the same output, plus or minus 10%. The big difference between different brands and different products of the same brand is the duty. You can buy a 3kW commercial induction hob for a few hundred pounds or a couple of thousand pounds, but one will be good for 50 hours of hard use and the other for 50,000 hours. We supply units that vary from 5,000 hours’ duty to 50,000 hours. The former will be fine for heating soup for 30 minutes once a day in a lunch club, but you would need the latter for a busy 24/7 airport hotel kitchen.

There are other differences. For example, the 6mm Schott Ceran Vitroceramic for a heavy-duty 3kW induction stove costs more than a complete light-duty 3kW induction hob. But the 6mm Schott Ceran can take a load that could break the glass and completely crush the light-duty induction hob.

Rosie Sanders: That’s a bit like saying all cars are the same or all restaurant food is as well! We employ a focused induction coil which has rather the same effect as holding a magnifying glass in the sun — focus it just right and you can burn wood, out of focus you get nothing. So a focused coil induction hob packs a real punch and this is extremely important for stir-frying, Depth of field is another factor as well, but that’s getting into the world of electronics. The most important factor is to buy from a known manufacturer. Remember, ‘big name’ companies can have small-named foreign induction engines inside, so ‘buyer beware’ as they say!

Steve Hobbs: Each product is designed for a different use, style of use, longevity of life and power. There is a multitude of suppliers, but a few manufacturers of induction product. Many manufacturers which ‘feature’ induction within their product range primarily use components from three or four different component manufacturers. It’s as important to establish who these component manufactures are as this will be the workhorse inside the ‘box’. There is cheap Asian-imported product being sold into commercial establishments on a price basis when all this does is drive down prices and margins, reducing profits for companies to re-invest in the induction philosophy.

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