The hospitality sector faces an unpredictable road ahead as Britain prepares to walk away from the EU. With the catering equipment supply chain trying to fathom out what the future holds for business, FEJ met with CESA chairman Glenn Roberts to examine the ways in which the trade body is working to improve the industry’s prospects.
When Glenn Roberts was lined up to become chairman of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) last year, nobody could have predicted that his time at the helm of the UK’s primary body for catering manufacturers would coincide with what has already come to be regarded as one of the most turbulent periods in British political history.
With Theresa May pulling the Article 50 trigger to begin formal exit negotiations, suppliers are anticipating much more of the volatility they have encountered since last June’s referendum. Roberts admits it is a “significantly challenging time for all of us in UK Plc” but the Brita sales director and former Gram boss has been in the industry long enough to know there is little point getting worked up over circumstances you can’t control.
Instead of worrying about political instability and macro-economic headwinds, his primary focus is on achieving the best results for members and influencing change where CESA can. “What we can and should be doing as CESA is looking after the best interests of our members to make sure we have a good, loud voice within the legislative processes within government and also within the wider foodservice market,” he explains.
“We represent nearly 200 companies — some are very large beasts and part of big international companies, some are medium-sized companies and some are really quite small. For us to truly reflect all of their needs and desires requires a great deal of investment of time, energy and effort from our secretariat to help support those.”
A recent survey that CESA undertook of its members revealed that due to the uncertainties of Brexit, many companies are delaying investment in areas such as premises and operating systems; reassessing their workforces as they look to reduce costs; and anticipating increased prices as raw materials costs rise.
So does CESA see members’ interests changing? “I think they will want more security and knowledge that they are being represented correctly in the right way and their voice is then being heard,” responds Roberts, pointing out that the expansion of its executive committee to 16 people last year was designed to afford the association a much wider knowledge base from which to draw on and encourage new blood into the fold.
CESA has worked tirelessly over the years on legislative issues and it continues to carry out much unseen technical work that benefits its membership base. Its ability to inform and educate the market place is also a defining part of what it is about.
“We are working in a very volatile market place,” he says. “Our customers, our ultimate end-users, are getting far more sophisticated in how they buy equipment, where they find it, how they source it and how they want it supported. Whether we like it or not, we are intrinsically linked to the depth of people’s pockets in the consumer world and how often they choose to eat and drink and stay away from home. That directly affects the tills of our customers and what they are going to want to spend their money on. If you are not clear on demonstrating what your added value is then you are just caught in that price fight, so the whole educative piece is very important for us.”
“Across the board we have terrific people doing great work in a very experienced, knowledgeable and professional way. And perhaps the market doesn’t recognise that sometimes”
Hundreds of catering equipment employees have now passed through CESA’s Certified Food Service Professional (CFSP) programme and plans are afoot to enhance the qualification further and even create an entry level version to make the scheme more widely accessible.
“Across the board we have terrific people doing great work in a very experienced, knowledgeable and professional way. And perhaps the market doesn’t recognise that sometimes. We need to keep pushing that as well as proving to people leaving universities, colleges and schools that coming into our sector is a desirable way of creating a career and that there is progression potential within it.”
CESA is a member of EFCEM, the trade body for national catering equipment associations in Europe. Understandably, there are fears that its voice at the table won’t be as loud once Brexit has been completed, but Roberts insists that doesn’t mean its ability to influence will be diluted.
“We have always had a strong voice within EFCEM and we want to continue that. It is about making sure that what we say is valid and reasonable, and ensuring that we can at least be part of that conversation. I agree it is a concern that a decision that is made that is of benefit to the main players in Europe may be to our detriment in the UK and we don’t have a voice to mitigate that. Undoubtedly it has not strengthened our position but where we have sat very strongly within technical committees across Europe in the past it has helped us greatly.”
CESA representatives recently met with Lord Bridges, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union. Roberts says the 50-minute discussion at 9 Downing Street was highly constructive, giving it a platform to outline its position and share some of the concerns that the wider hospitality market and supply chain have about Brexit.
CESA wants self-certification to remain in place for UK companies to CE mark equipment (excluding gas equipment) and is keen to be able to develop its own policies in areas such as product testing to ensure it can keep pace with the EU even if it doesn’t have a seat at the table. And with a high volume of exporting taking place from the UK to Europe it is firmly against the introduction of tariffs. “What we certainly don’t want is to go down the WTO process; it makes us far more expensive to export our products to a market that may be quite happy for us not to be exporting into it because they have got, in most cases, their own manufacturing bases as well.”
When all said and done, those working in the commercial world want certainties. Neither Roberts nor CESA can guarantee those, but what they can pledge is an unwavering commitment to act in the best interests of members, irrespective of whatever is happening to the political landscape.
Top three priorities for CESA members
1. Access to the single market
2. Free movement of people
3. Access to skilled workers
Source: CESA Business Barometer, Q4 2016