EXCLUSIVE: Duke Manufacturing reboots UK strategy for chain push

Duke Manufacturing, the US giant that counts Burger King, KFC and Subway among its core customers, wants to make its equipment more accessible to smaller chains in a move that will almost certainly involve it forming new distribution relationships in the UK.

The manufacturer’s global business has grown off the back of supplying three of the world’s four largest QSR chains (only McDonald’s currently eludes it) and while that will continue as normal it is also keen to ensure it is reaching other operators that it hasn’t actively targeted before.

Adam Abelovsky, new business development manager EMEA at Duke, believes the present structure and variety of the UK operator segment makes it the ideal time for the Missouri-based outfit to expand its reach.

And he thinks there are plenty of operators out there that would benefit from the kind of equipment that Burger King, KFC and Subway have been consistently specifying and buying for the last 20 to 30 years. This includes vertical and horizontal holding units that can be programmed to specific temperatures and are capable of holding different products.

“The market has become a little bit more fragmented right now and there are a lot of opportunities with small burger chains and independent chains that really could benefit from using our holding technology. We are looking for distributors and we are setting up a distribution network in the UK,” he explained.

This holding unit was developed specifically for Burger King, but the technology is now available to other foodservice businesses.

Duke employs a team of three in the UK, but it acknowledges that to develop and support new business properly it will need to rely on committed partners. “We are trying to get to these end-users because we don’t have the sales force to do the legwork and the UK market is very mature and developed, so you need partners for that.”

Asked if Duke’s UK strategy is changing, Mr Abelovsky replied: “A little bit, yes. To be honest we haven’t had a strategy, we just went and sold to our key accounts and when somebody rang us up we said, ‘okay, we can do business with you’. But right now we are actually actively looking for how can we grow this product. Our vision or purpose is that our units solve the pain that end-users face. They will help customers that need to improve speed of service and want to reduce food waste – those are the people that we want to sell to. We don’t just want to push the product in the market and get the volume, which is why we are picking the right dealers, the right distributor and the right people to partner with.”

Duke is one of the most recognised and historic foodservice equipment names in North America, but unlike compatriots such as Middleby and Welbilt it has never established the sort of sales, marketing and distribution infrastructure that those businesses have in the UK, predominantly because the vast majority of its activity is linked to fulfilling the global relationships it has with Burger King, KFC and Subway.

Duke has been showcasing new holding units to the UK market at Hotelympia this week.

However, the UK market is ably supported by Duke’s European headquarters in Prague, where distribution, warehousing, inventory management, customer service and technical support are carried out. In the autumn it will relocate to larger premises and Mr Abelovsky forecasts that in three years’ time the 40-strong team in Prague is likely to be nearer 60 to 70 people.

He expects the UK market to play a key part in the growth. “In the context of international business, the UK market is very important to us. We appreciate the UK market a lot because of its maturity and the development that has taken place. People are ready to spend money for good equipment that is going to help them to serve the right food at the right time.”

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