STATE OF THE NATION: The top 10 largest catering equipment manufacturers operating in the UK today

How big is the UK catering equipment market? It’s a question that will elicit a different response depending on who you speak to, but from analysing the financial performance of the market’s 10 largest players we can at least build a picture of what the landscape looks like. In a first ever report of such depth and detail, Foodservice Equipment Journal has compiled figures for the biggest suppliers operating in the UK since 2010. 

Data on the catering equipment market isn’t always easy to come by. Ever since reporting on this industry, I’ve heard executives express a wish for more numerical insight into the state of the market.

Fortunately, the UK is blessed with the sort of business transparency that doesn’t necessarily apply in other territories and that means we can examine the level of trading activity that has taken place over a sustained period.

Every major catering equipment manufacturer or brand operating in the UK has now had its 2016 accounts published by Companies House. This allows us to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together to create a comprehensive picture of how the market’s largest catering equipment suppliers performed in their most recent financial year, and compare that performance to previous years.

In this report, we have only tracked the performance of the largest 10 players by sales that we are aware of, but their size and scale means they collectively account for the lion’s share of business transacted in the market today.

In fact, we estimate that the top 10 are currently responsible for more than 60% of equipment sales in the UK, bearing in mind that some of them, such as ITW Limited, AFE Group and Welbilt, represent multiple individual brands and entities.

Rules of engagement

In compiling this list, we have had to set out a number of ground rules. Firstly, we have only included companies whose core business is to manufacture or supply branded, heavy duty catering equipment to operators, usually through a third party intermediary such as a dealer.

We have therefore not included tableware and cookware companies that could stake a claim for achieving the revenue threshold to earn a place in the top 10, such as DKB Household (2016 sales: £22.9m), service and leasing companies such as JLA (£33.8m) or spare parts companies such as First Choice (£27.6m).

Additionally, companies such as Kingspan Environmental (£98.08m) and Brita (£68.5m) sell into the commercial catering market but ultimately generate the bulk of their sales from the consumer sector or other markets.

It is important to note, however, that the structure of company accounts means it is not possible or practical to entirely strip out non-equipment figures. AFE Group, for instance, owns Miller’s Vanguard and Serviceline, which specialise in service and maintenance and therefore the sales these companies generate contribute to its overall figure.

It would also be remiss of us not to mention Nisbets. With 2016 sales of £321.1m and an operating profit of £34.3m, the Bristol-based outfit would be far and away the largest player on this list if it was included. While the company admittedly generates an increasing chunk of its turnover from own-label brands, such as Buffalo and Polar, it is primarily regarded and recognised as a retailer and reseller of catering products. As traditional catering equipment distributors and kitchen houses are not included in this particular report, we felt it would have been inconsistent of us to count Nisbets.

Also note that companies appear in this list based on how their individual accounts and company structure are presented to Companies House. For instance, companies such as Falcon and Williams do not file individual accounts and therefore their data is collectively published under a group parent.

Lincat, on the other hand, publishes its accounts independently and so its numbers reflect its performance only. But you could argue that it would be even more prominently placed on the list were the revenues from all the other Middleby Group businesses operating in the UK added to the total. The same goes for Winterhalter, which does not include the contribution from sister company Classeq as Classeq files its own accounts.

Headline growth

The growth of the top 10 catering equipment players is impressive. Collectively they made sales of £566.83m in 2016, which is 11% more than the previous year and £125.35m more than in 2010 (when they totalled £441.48m), although it’s worth noting that inflation added 16% over that period using CPI measurements.

Operating profit of the top 10 has risen less quickly over the past 12 months, increasing 2% to £40.95m in 2016. However, it is important to note that the current operating profit total does not include a contribution from ITW Limited, which has not stated these on a segmented basis in accounts for the last two years. With these included, the overall level of growth would almost certainly be much higher.

Total Top 10 Operating profit 2017

Headline numbers never fully explain the stories behind companies or the variables that influence performance, but they do provide a valuable overview of a market’s scale and overall health. We hope you find the analysis informative and welcome any observations or comments that you have – and, of course, if you think there is anybody missing from this list that should be on there please let us know!

Without further ado, we present the 10 largest catering equipment manufacturers and suppliers operating in the UK today:

1. ITW Limited

2. AFE Group Limited

3. Welbilt UK Limited

4. Rational UK Limited

5. Lincat Limited

6. Winterhalter Limited

7. Jestic Limited

8. Electrolux Professional Limited

9. HTG Trading Limited

10. Meiko UK Limited

EDITOR’S NOTE: Accounts published at Companies House do not always tell the whole story of a company’s performance. Businesses legitimately organise their affairs for purposes of tax efficiency, and wholly-owned subsidiaries of global companies can make charges on their UK businesses that depress net profits. In this State of the Nation report, we show only annual turnover and annual operating profit for each company. These are the two most reliable indicators because there is very little creative accountancy that can affect these figures. We also show these figures over a period of seven years so that we get a reasonably accurate picture of improving or declining fortunes over time. 

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