INDUSTRY REPORT: Cooking suite manufacturers size up market as new challenges emerge

Athanor suite

It can be difficult to ascertain what sort of position the cooking suite sector finds itself in given the lack of concrete data that surrounds this part of the market, but if you listen to what the leading manufacturers have to say about business then things would appear to be in pretty good shape.

Commercial cooking suites are still a fundamental aspect of most major kitchen and catering projects and that alone has ensured that manufacturers and suppliers weren’t short of orders last year. Equally, the trend for open kitchen and front-of-house cooking has increased demand for more aesthetically-pleasing solutions that suit specific applications and decors.

“I would say last year was fairly consistent with previous years,” says Stuart Flint, regional training and demonstration manager at Electrolux Professional, although he acknowledges that the UK’s decision to exit the European Union has had some impact on the market in general. “People are considering longer term projects very carefully, and in some cases are having second thoughts entirely — but this is across all categories rather than cooking suites in particular,” he adds.

Currency volatility is an issue that has been at the forefront of most manufacturers’ minds in the wake of the Brexit vote. In theory, high-ticket items, as cooking suites are, would now appear to be more expensive when imported from the US or Europe.

It is just not possible to pay little in price and get lots in terms of specification — price and specification go hand in hand”

But Steve Hobbs, director of Grande Cuisine, suggests this is not necessarily the case. “The weakness of sterling is putting pressure on all businesses, both at home and abroad. Even those companies producing equipment in the UK may be using a large quantity of component parts supplied outside the UK so they will feel the pinch just as much as the manufacturers of the fully imported items,” he argues.

Lincat can certainly vouch for this. As a UK manufacturer, the weaker pound has boosted its export sales but at the same the cost of acquiring parts from overseas has rocketed. “Our products do incorporate materials and components whose prices are affected by the exchange rate and so we are planning a price revision in January,” says marketing manager Helen Applewhite.

Most important features

Every operator will have their own list of preferences for what a cooking suite must entail and it will be relative to their budget, the amount of chefs using it and the type of food they expect it to produce. But there are some common themes when it comes to key criteria.

According to Grande Cuisine’s Steve Hobbs, the main consideration is value for money over the investment period. “Depending on the operator’s brief, the life expectancy of the product may be two to three, five to seven, or 10 years, depending on the specification and cost,” he says. “Every product at every level is built with a fundamental life expectancy based on its component materials, its size and performance. The worst situation is where a client does not fully understand these differences and just sees a price tag. It is just not possible to pay little in price and get lots in terms of specification — price and specification go hand in hand.”

The choices that operators are now making around cooking suites are very menu dependent.

Mark Reid, operations director at Nayati, notes that durability, build quality, performance and aesthetics are extremely important when buying or specifying cooking suites. He says: “Each customer will rank these according to their personal preferences and application. At Nayati we would like to think we have all these areas covered to ensure chefs get the equipment they need for their kitchens, but most importantly we can deliver these key buying factors to our customers at sensible prices without compromising in any way. Our product ranges continue to develop on an ongoing basis; aesthetics, efficiency and performance are top of the agenda in everything we do.”

Stuart Flint at Electrolux thinks that ease of use and ease of cleaning are both vital aspects of a cooking suite purchase, especially in chain environments where turnover is traditionally high and it is not uncommon for operators of the equipment to be unskilled.

“The easier a piece of equipment is to use, the more likely it will be used in the right way, so having equipment that is programmable, such as fryers or pasta cookers, will ensure nothing can go wrong,” he says, adding that reliability and overall cost are also high up the priority list. “The energy saving properties of a cooking suite are also growing in importance, meaning induction cooking is becoming more and more prevalent.”

German manufacturer MKN offers solutions for all different requirements in professional kitchens, with many of its customers opting for customised suites, according to marketing manager Anja Halbauer. The company’s development chefs are tasked with establishing the daily challenges that operators face and communicating these to the R&D department to ensure that new products meet the changing needs of the market.

Halbauer insists that the functionality of cooking suite is still the most important factor for operators. “A big issue in 2017 will continue to be the potential of energy savings,” she adds. “For operators and chefs, it is important to know the energy consumption figures of the appliances. This makes full cost accounting possible in order to control economic efficiency.”

The easier a piece of equipment is to use, the more likely it will be used in the right way, so having equipment that is programmable, such as fryers or pasta cookers, will ensure nothing can go wrong”

During the creation of its Opus 800 range, Lincat spoke in detail to operators about their requirements and what they look for in cooking suites. Helen Applewhite reveals that features such as power, ease of cleaning, durability and reliability ranked highly in the list of priorities.

“These have always been our priorities too and we’ve been working hard to deliver even better performance and more rugged reliability with the Opus 800 series,” she says. “For example, a depth of 800mm means Opus 800 provides chefs with a larger cooking area and powerful 7.5kW open burners give chefs more heat to work with. In terms of durability, oven ranges in the series are constructed on a strong and robust steel chassis and feature heavy duty cast iron pan supports.”

Trends for 2017

Cooking suites are considerably more energy efficient and easier to clean than they were a decade ago and there is also more technology built into them to give greater freedom to operators. But what does 2017 hold for this category of the market, and can we expect to see more technological change?

“I think the biggest difference going into 2017 is that equipment choices are now very much menu dependent. Whereas previously chefs might have gone for a six-burner range with a solid top and a fryer, now people are taking a more ‘food first’ approach and shaping their equipment accordingly,” says Electrolux’s Stuart Flint.

lincat-cooking-suite

The energy saving properties of cooking suites are growing in importance.

This certainly supports the consensus that operators want more versatility from their cooking suites, particularly with the average kitchen footprint getting smaller. Caterers are looking for the most varied menus they can achieve through the smallest amount of equipment.

“Similarly, the cost of commercial space is rising, so the less extraction needed the better,” adds Flint. “Here, induction once again comes into its own, allowing people to reduce their outlay on extraction. Investors are focusing on how they can get the right piece of equipment for them, whilst still being able to make savings.”

Grande Cuisine’s Steve Hobbs is adamant that the greatest consideration for operators next year will be energy consumption and this will drive buying behaviour: “More and more operators want to see a reduction in energy consumption in the kitchen both for the sake of ‘green credentials’ and for the bottom-line results.”

Cooking suites might not be the fastest moving part of the equipment sector, but as manufacturers make tweaks to their offerings they will undoubtedly do so with durability, speed and energy efficiency in mind.

Cooking suite evolution

Manufacturers are keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to potential technological developments in cooking suites during 2017. While many expect their R&D departments to be busy, it is likely that small, succinct enhancements will be favoured over wholesale changes.

Stuart Flint, regional training and demonstration manager at Electrolux Professional, notes that the term ‘cooking suite’ can be quite loose, as anything in horizontal or modular cooking could be built into a cooking suite. “We brought Thermaline to market back in 2013, so it might seem as if not much has changed, but there is always work going on behind the scenes to refine those products and keep them in line with cooking trends,” he says.

Electrolux has focused its energies on developing different ways that chefs and operators can use its cooking suites.“For example, things like free cooking tops allow people to break from traditional cooking by cooking both directly and indirectly,” he explains. “That provides chefs with much more versatility from their appliances that they can bring through in their menus — especially in environments like pub chains where a diverse range of dishes will make them stand out from competitors.”

Aesthetics, efficiency and performance lead the agenda for many foodservice operators.

Grande Cuisine is witnessing more awareness and interest in the full-time life cost of equipment, including energy costs, consumption rates and usage.

“As a result of this shift, we have seen developments such those within Capic where ‘plasma’ technology is being used, for example, to generate the rapid heating of appliances, reducing the need for long heat-up times,” explains director Steve Hobbs. “Features such as variable controllers for heating elements on items such as the salamander grill are also gaining popularity because it means that the unit is totally flexible. It can be operated with one, two or three elements as required, depending upon the cooking style and also on the time of day.”

Lincat, meanwhile, is coming off the back of a very significant year in terms of the development of its cooking suite portfolio. The British manufacturer has launched a new Opus 800 range of 800mm-deep heavy duty prime cooking equipment in 2016.

“It is larger, heavier and more powerful than the Opus 700 range it replaced,” explains marketing manager Helen Applewhite. “Opus 800 products offer increased capacity, are safe and easy to use, quick to clean and straightforward to service.”

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