Their function might be simple and their design conventional, but few caterers could survive without a water boiler to hand. But which direction is the market headed in and what have manufacturers got up their sleeves in 2018? FEJ got hold of the top water boiler brands and put three killer questions to them that the market wants answered.
1. Most water boiler manufacturers have had to increase their prices over the past year and a half. How has this impacted the market?
Price increases have been an inevitable feature of the market over the past 12 months given the fluctuations in currency exchange rates. While there will always be demand for water boilers, there is no doubt that the price increases, combined with uncertainty over Brexit, have had an impact on buying behaviour.
Nevertheless, most of the big water boiler brands insist unit volumes have continued to increase, even though many have had to tweak list prices to counter rising materials costs.
“Operator demand for quality beverage equipment has been strong for a while now and we see no reason for this to change in the short to medium term future,” declares Ian Harbinson, head of marketing at Burco Commercial. “The general consumer knowledge of hot beverages, and particularly the different blends and ingredients available, has grown dramatically thanks in part to the major high street chains, and as a result the expectation of a beverage that not only looks good but also tastes great, is higher than ever. To achieve this, a business needs the very best beverage equipment, including a commercial water boiler.”
Lincat claims it saw “substantial” growth in its water boiler business during 2017. With its FilterFlow range of water boilers with on-board filtration receiving a strong reception from the market, it insists growth has been solid across the board. “That said, we have also succeeded in breaking into the coffee sector and we are now seeing good traction there too,” reveals marketing manager Helen Applewhite.
Buffalo, the water boiler brand sold by Nisbets, claims to be one of the few that didn’t raise prices last year and as a result it says that sales held up. “Fortunately, the Buffalo brand has not had a need to increase prices on its range of water boilers in the last 12 months, largely because we relaunched our Buffalo auto fill boiler just over 12 months ago to ensure that we could continue to offer it at a low price. As such, we have seen demand remain high for a product that provides very good value for money,” comments Buffalo brand manager Paul Siouville.
Although the relaunch of its auto fill boiler range was a major step for the business, it has still seen a “gradual” increase in demand for manual fill water boilers, adds Siouville. “Offering a more mobile option and perfectly suited to outdoor events such as festivals, the Buffalo manual fill boilers give caterers the opportunity to have boiled water on tap, in a variety of locations,” he says.
For Instanta, the online and private sector channels have been particularly buoyant, while it too has registered an increase in demand from the coffee market. “We’ve also seen a breakthrough in the specifier market,” reveals Peter Brindle, northern sales and key accounts manager at the company.
“Being a member of the Zip Industries Group, which includes advanced drinking water appliances company Zip Water UK, has been a great driver in terms of that market. Since the sales teams merged earlier this year there has been a lot more people on the road talking about our products.”
2. The level of technology and features in the current range of water boilers is more advanced than ever. Is there a danger that they have become too over-engineered for their core application?
When it comes to features that save time, money and energy, the industry is quite rightly embracing technology, according to Instanta’s Peter Brindle. He notes that when the company first introduced its scale filter monitor — a preventative maintenance system offering users an early warning that their filter needs replacing — it received “fantastic” feedback.
“It means you can plan in the downtime and make the product last longer. Other innovations that have seen great feedback involve energy savings. A lot of our customers experience busier and slower times, so our eco button, for example, has been invaluable in terms of saving energy. When it’s a slower period you can run the water boiler half full so that you’re not wasting energy keeping excess water hot.”
If a particular feature of a water boiler does not improve the final beverage, speed of service or reduce the cost per unit, then the likelihood is that the customer is paying extra for what is essentially a gimmick”
Lincat is also firmly of the belief that innovative technology and great engineering are delivering real benefits to operators, citing the predictive eco setting on its new generation of FilterFlow water boilers as an example. “This learns from usage patterns and switches to low-energy mode for quieter periods. As a result, it is capable of reducing the volume of water boiled by up to 50%. We will continue to look for ways to make our boilers even easier to use and ever more energy efficient,” says Helen Applewhite.
Of course, there is always the risk that as technology advances and the operator expects the very latest feature or device to be included on their kitchen equipment, water boiling appliances could become over-engineered for their relatively straightforward purpose. But Burco’s Harbinson says there is a formula that operators can use to determine whether any new equipment that makes it to the market will really deliver the benefits it claims to offer.
“It is always worth remembering that added value often directly corresponds to added cost, and if a particular feature does not improve the final beverage, speed of service or reduce the cost per unit, then the likelihood is that the customer is paying extra for what is essentially a gimmick,” he says.
Buffalo’s Paul Siouville comments: “Technology continues to evolve, and ultimately manufacturers can sometimes be accused of adding in functionality because they can, rather than it being a customer demand or need. This simply adds to the price of a product that is primarily required to boil water quickly. While the Buffalo boilers include key features such as filtration and temperature control, they are ultimately designed to provide consistently hot water throughout the day at the best price.”
Glenn Roberts, chair of CESA, says operators should see clear advantages from the recent investments that manufacturers have made to evolve their products: “Improvements in water boiler operation and functionality benefit both the operator, whose life is made easier, and the consumer, who gets a better quality product. The advances, for example in temperature control or water treatment, enhance the effectiveness of the equipment, which can only be a good thing.”
3. What trends will shape the water boiler market in 2018 and do you have any launches planned that will strengthen your offering?
There is certainly no lack of innovation in the water boiler space and the leading manufacturers are working on plenty of new developments for operators to get excited about in 2018. Some are focusing on improving the aesthetics of their range while others are putting all their energy into delivering more features that help speed up service and provide a more consistent, quality beverage.
“Energy efficiency will continue to dominate advances in the water boiler market,” predicts CESA’s Glenn Roberts. “It is a simple matter of physics: for example, if improving the insulation reduces the energy needed to maintain the temperature then it’s worth considering — so long as it doesn’t impact on the functionality of the model.”
Instanta’s Peter Brindle suggests that, for a long time, price was the deciding factor in most water boiler purchases, but he thinks that people are coming full circle now and realising that it’s all about value for money and longevity.
“It goes back to that old adage ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. No one wants a cheap water boiler that doesn’t do the job, wastes time and energy in the long run or breaks down. Being a premium boiling and chilled water equipment manufacturer, this shift in mentality is great in terms of our offering, which sees quality manufacturing sit at the heart of our brand. From the high-spec materials we use, to our rigorous testing systems, our products are robust, reliable and long-lasting.”
As counter space becomes a real premium, with retailers wanting to use the space to display products to sell, an undercounter boiler is a great solution”
He also foresees undercounter boilers gaining popularity in 2018. “As counter space becomes a real premium, with retailers wanting to use the space to display products to sell, an undercounter boiler is a great solution. Instanta has a fantastic range already established, but is currently working on developing a new undercounter boiler product in anticipation of this trend gaining momentum.”
Lincat, too, is planning a new addition to its FilterFlow range that will meet the need for a compact solution. “We can’t say too much at this stage other than that it will meet the needs of those with the least amount of space!” comments Applewhite. “In terms of trends, users will continue to look for energy efficient, well-built units with on-board filtration. The importance of high quality, filtered hot water in the making of great-tasting drinks is now widely understood.”