FEJ AWARDS PARTNER INTERVIEW: Panasonic changes the game for commercial microwave applications

A century after the company was founded, Panasonic is still continuing to innovate in the markets it is present and nowhere is that more evident than in the commercial microwave segment. And as Iain Phillips, sales and marketing manager at Panasonic UK reveals, its latest offering in the cooking space is its most groundbreaking yet.

You’re currently planning for Commercial Kitchen. What’s going to be the big news for you this year?

Panasonic is going to have a very big year this year as we celebrate 100 years since our founder, Kōnosuke Matsushita, founded the company, and launch a world first: the NE-1878 all-metal door professional microwave with inverter technology, which we are hoping will change perceptions of the much-maligned microwave. The recent trend for open kitchens has seen some of our group operators build cupboards around their microwaves or position them under counters to hide them from the view of customers, such is the negative perception that they carry. The new NE-1878 will appear to consumers as just another item of commercial catering equipment, no different to anything they might see in a coffee chain on the back counter. We have secured a lot of interest from operators for this alone, before we even touch upon the improved cooking that it offers with inverter. 

Last year you launched the Speed Convection Oven, which was something new for Panasonic. How has that product been received since its introduction?

The last 12 months have been very successful with regards to the SCV-2; feedback from operators suggests that they are surprised at the range of its capabilities but surprisingly, the feature that is generating the most interest is its ability to stack as no other oven in its class can do so. Its target market is operators with limited space, no extraction and high throughput so being able to stand one on top of another is a huge advantage to a caterer.

The accelerated cooking market seems to be evolving fast. Do you think the technology is now as advanced as it can be – or can operators expect significant changes in the future?

The introduction of inverter by Panasonic to commercial microwaves is a massive leap for accelerated cooking and we expect our launch to be followed by a wave of mimics in the future as other manufacturers play catch up. The technology was invented by Panasonic several years ago, but it has been limited to domestic ovens until now.  The advantages that it brings to operators will change the way they use microwaves; the inverter in the new NE-1878 means the oven is 12kg lighter (compared to its predecessor), will attract lower shipping costs and is easier to manoeuvre for cleaning. It cooks more gently, more consistently and is more reliable, as well as using less energy.

We expect our launch to be followed by a wave of mimics in the future as other manufacturers play catch-up”

You brought a development chef on board for the first time last year. How are your customers benefitting from that resource?

Tim’s feet haven’t touched the ground! He was thrown in at the deep end when he started, just a week before Commercial Kitchen, where we were launching the SCV-2. Since then he’s been out and about with distributors and operators carrying out training sessions to ensure that the benefits of the full range of features on our ovens are understood.  He also works with end users on recipe innovation and menu development so that the full capabilities of the ovens can be maximised and implements installations and site surveys with new customers.

You spend a lot of time talking to your group customers about what they need, particularly when it comes to product innovation. What are they telling you these days?

Most group operators are looking for consistency across their estates, whether that’s in food quality, service standards or cleaning regimes. One of the key things they ask for is that equipment is easy to clean; the provision of all day food in many groups has an impact on the down time that can be allocated for cleaning equipment. If kit is kept clean, especially a microwave, its life can be prolonged, and optimum performance maintained. We talked to some of our customers for over a year while the NE-1878 was in its design stages and the feedback received has been instrumental in its development.

One of its features, being commended above others, is its all-metal door, but moreover the inside of the metal door having no ridges, seals or film to clean around, it’s totally smooth. Plus, we have not only provided a removable ceiling plate with the NE-1878, as we do with other oven models, we have included a spare, so the oven can be operational while the ceiling plate is being cleaned. One operator even highlighted how, often the ceiling plate is put into the dishwasher, and the microwave is used without it. Microwaves are attracted to food particles and over time, if they hit the wave guide that sits under the ceiling plate, it will cause arcing or sparking and can damage the oven, irreparably. We’ve built in a feature that the NE-1878 will not operate without the ceiling plate in place as a direct result of this feedback.

Microwave build quality has improved dramatically in the past decade. What impact has this had on replacement cycles? Do you see chefs and groups replacing their microwave less often than they used to?

Panasonic commercial microwaves are among the most expensive on the market, but for good reason; we use quality components, the build quality is exceptional, and we invest a lot into the research, development and testing of equipment to ensure it is up to the rigours of a working kitchen. A professional operation can easily rack up over 200 use cycles on each microwave, per day, so the demands on it are extreme. We often receive replacement orders for ovens that we supplied over ten years ago, so we aren’t necessarily seeing any changes in this respect!

What are Panasonic’s key objectives for the rest of 2018 as far as the UK business is concerned?

As we have such a big launch this year, we will be concentrating on that, as well as celebrating our centenary. Our main objective will be to ensure that we can gain as much exposure as a leading innovator in our industry as possible.

Panasonic is sponsoring the Executive Chef of the Year category at the 2018 FEJ Awards. Find out more at www.panasonic.co.uk/pro-cooking or follow @PanasonicMW

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