Cooking suites form the centrepiece of most commercial kitchen builds that take place in the UK market and as such it is vital for distributors to get this core component of the catering operation exactly right. So what’s in store for the market in 2014?
What are modular ranges suppliers cooking up for 2014?
The distributor market can expect to see plenty of new modular cooking equipment finding its way into the UK market next year, as the leading manufacturers either tweak their existing offerings or roll out completely new lines.
Dawson, which markets the Rosinox and Mareno lines, is promising some “substantial developments” to excite distributors in 2014. It is remaining tight-lipped for the time being, but says all will be revealed at Hotelympia.
“What we can share is that we will be bringing to market new developments from both our prime cooking equipment brands Rosinox and Mareno, “ says marketing manager Glen Crossland. “Our developments are centred on durability, design and efficiency — areas we believe to be extremely important to competing at the forefront of the prime cooking equipment market.”
Fellow Ali Group brand, Baron, also has big plans for next year. It intends to roll out the new ‘Royal’ line of heavy duty modular cooking equipment come January after giving partners a glimpse of the offering during the HOST exhibition in Italy.
“The Royal line includes ranges, chargrills, planchas, multicookers and gas woks, and is specifically designed for the market of high intensity and volume production cooking, which is ideal for hotels, high volume chain restaurants and production kitchens,” says Roger Flanagan, boss of Universal FSE, which brings Baron into the UK.
He adds: “These items will be fully commercialised in the New Year and complement the already upgraded Baron modular 700 and 900 series cooklines, which over the last two years have been transformed into a seriously heavy duty, stylish and high performance offer for the UK market.”
Another Ali Group brand, Ambach, also has strong expectations for 2014 having fine-tuned its product portfolio over the last three years. It boasts three core horizontal cooking ranges: 700, 850 and 900. It believes the 700 series is ideal for customers with a smaller kitchen footprint but who still want quality and performance from their cookline, while the Chef850 has been constructed to provide a solution for almost any requirement.
“To this aim, we have added a number of new products to our existing line-up of Chef850 modular equipment,” says UK manager Alistair Farquhar. “With over 90 models in the range and seamless co-ordination through our unique joining system that guarantees excellent levels of hygiene, we want the Chef850 range to be seen as redefining the standard of modular catering equipment.”
Elsewhere, Electrolux recently launched its new Thermaline range, a premium line of made-to-measure modular cooking solutions and braising pans that provides chefs with more than 40 different cooking options to choose from. The 700 series market, meanwhile, remains an increasingly interesting area for a number of brands, including Charvet, Lincat and Hobart, with the latter bidding to ramp up business from its dealer-only brand Wolf, which also manufactures a 900 series.
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Lincat says that energy efficiency is the key driver for new product development within its modular Silverlink 600 and heavy duty Opus 700 ranges. “We plan, for example, to expand our choice of induction products in both ranges in the coming year,” reveals Nick McDonald, marketing director at Lincat.
Parent company Middleby will also be heavily promoting the Q90 range, a 70-piece modular family of 900mm deep commercial catering equipment.
International brand manager, Richard Fordham, says: “The key message that we’ll be aiming to communicate is that Q90 was conceived and developed in Italy but engineered and manufactured in the UK by the Middleby Group, in dedicated production facilities at the Lincat factory. As such, it successfully blends manufacturing expertise from the north of the continent with the creative flair found in the south.”
What else matters beyond price?
Price isn’t the only aspect clients base their purchasing decisions on, so modular cooking ranges manufacturers are working extremely hard to develop equipment that ticks multiple boxes.
“In general a chef or operator will look to install a modular range either when a venue is first opening or when it is undergoing a major revamp,” says Steve Loughton, managing director of Jestic, distributor of Marrone ranges.
“Therefore, while price is a consideration, the decision to purchase is largely led by a requirement to upscale the cooking potential of the outlet, and therefore purchasers are looking at the latest technologies in order to take advantage of the benefits that this can bring. The design and aesthetics are important, especially in open kitchens, but the capabilities and the flexibility of the modular range is likely to take precedence.”
While aesthetics are important, especially as more venues move towards open kitchen-style design, technological advances can be a differentiating factor for many, continues Loughton.
“Having induction built into the modular range is certainly an area that we see evolving further in 2014 as chefs start to discover both the primary and secondary benefits that this technology can bring. From greater control in cooking through to a more comfortable ambient temperature in the kitchen, induction is likely to move to the next stage in the coming year.”
Simon Lilley, hot products category manager at Electrolux, suggests durability, ergonomics and speed are among the most influential buying factors today and, collectively, these all equate to efficiency.
He says: “The faster equipment is, the more food chefs can get out of the kitchen. Equally, the more varied the range, the better spread the menu offering. If a chef can increase product output and variety when investing in new equipment they’re going to be very happy with their purchase as the investment will make them more profitable in the long term. Profitability is the ultimate aim.”
Lilley adds that consistency will play an important role in the decision-making process in 2014, too. “When we recently surveyed a group of chefs, the most important factor when choosing new equipment was consistency with other equipment. Certainly, we’ve seen with our customers that when they invest in a range, they want to really streamline the kitchen and make the most of space, which is always at a premium,” he says.
Charvet Premier Ranges’ managing director, Wayne Cuomo, says its ability to ‘tailor’ modular cooking suites with one-piece tops, for example, or mounting over refrigeration, such as Adande drawers, is standing it in good stead, while Hobart Cooking Solutions points to “flexibility” as a crucial sales feature of its Wolf range.
“It can be installed in any kitchen because it is available as standalone units or suited units,” says managing director Ian Garner. “This allows the range to be tailored to the individual requirements of any chef and will satisfy the requirements of every type and style of busy kitchen.”
Ambach’s Alistair Farquhar says that specification is usually key in most circumstances. “Making the right investment into equipment that delivers the performance you need and that can also deliver the life terms quoted is everything,” he comments.
“Factor in an accurate appreciation of levels of ongoing operational costs, including servicing time lines, and end-users will be close to procuring what they really need.”
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Durability, configuration and aesthetics of modular equipment are major buying factors these days, suggests Dawson’s Glen Crossland.
He says: “It is important that prime cooking equipment providers offer a solution and not just a product line. Our project support team realise this and work closely with our customers to ensure the right equipment is specified for each job we are involved in. Our support structure in our head office in Barnsley is central to our prime cooking equipment offering. The service of a dedicated team for all projects means we can compete at the forefront of the market.”
Yet, while every supplier would like to think that clients are buying product purely on the merits of how it is constructed and what it does, Universal FSE’s Roger Flanagan insists that price is still the guiding factor in tender processes, even if design, ergonomics, efficiency and performance are recognised criteria.
“Too few tenders are won on the original specifications, as contractors are offering alternative products under the ‘value engineering’ process common in the current climate,” he says. “This is unfortunate for the manufacturers as although all are different and have different values, these are lost in the race for the cheapest price. Consequently, the only losers are those manufacturers that have good attributes but are constantly having to devalue their products to retain business.”
What impact is the high level of competition having on the modular cooking equipment market?
There is no getting away from the fact that the modular ranges market place is incredibly crowded, with more brands seemingly entering the sector with each year that passes.
This is a trend that isn’t lost on Charvet’s Wayne Cuomo. “It is the survival of the fittest in the market at the moment and manufacturers who are continually striving to produce equipment and features that the customer wants are increasing their market share,” he says. “Modular is quite often seen as a genuine alternative to bespoke if it can be tailored to suit the customer. Those that don’t have this flexibility are falling behind those that do!”
Electrolux’s Simon Lilley suggests that within the commercial cooking ranges market there is probably what can be perceived as a war on two fronts.
He explains: “The top end of the market has seen an influx of high-end, premium products built around the chef and the aspirations of their menus, and at the bottom end of the market there have been floods of cheaper products entering the fray, driving prices down and creating a throwaway culture within the industry. Only in the middle of the market is it more static, but even there the high level of competition is changing the shape of products.”
There are many in the market who believe that the rise in the number of manufacturers selling into the market has had a dampening effect on price rises, including Lincat’s Nick McDonald. He says: “Many of our Opus 700 products have prices today which are lower than in 2009,” he remarks. “The effect of competition on prices for six burner ranges is even more telling. Our Opus 700 OG7002 model was priced £2,315 in 2007, which is six years ago, and is the same list price today!”
Any manufacturer confident in its products will acknowledge that healthy competition can be a good thing, simply because it keeps everyone on their toes and drives higher standards. “It forces manufacturers to look at their own products and ensure that they are as efficient, innovative and engaging as possible,” agrees Middleby’s Richard Fordham. “Just as the diner has an infinite choice on the high street, so the operator has a huge selection of manufacturers to choose from.”
Ambach also welcomes the “creative thinking” that intense competition brings. UK manager Alistair Farquhar says that you’ve always got to have a vision and a plan for the future, while noting the importance of specification: “Unhealthy competition by way of inaccurate and unquantifiable product comparison leads to poor procurement. Modular equipment has its place, it has been established for a long period of time and, in our experience, its use is becoming more prevalent in high-end locations.”
Universal FSE’s Roger Flanagan is concerned that the huge influx of modular cooking equipment from across the globe to the UK is devaluing the high standards set by the likes of Baron, which it distributes.
“The choice now is so massive that the end-user, and to some extent the consultant and distributor, are overwhelmed by choice. Only by the experience of a poor choice, selected by price or from dubious salesmanship and a lack of after-sales support, can change their minds in the future. However, it’s then too late. Price should not be the main issue, but in a climate where quality representation is not always available, it is. And it’s the customers who always suffer.”