British catering equipment manufacturers remain bullish heading into the last quarter of 2015, with many confident that they can overcome some of the more pertinent challenges the sector faces.
The cost of manufacture compared to other parts of the world, coupled with limited government support, including a lack of available grants, continues to present obstacles.
But, manufacturers insist the ‘traceability’ that comes with sourcing British equipment — and knowing that there is a concrete link to the factory and the local support that brings — is one of the most compelling reasons for buyers to purchase as close to home as possible.
“With higher labour rates, higher overheads and volatility in global commodity prices of materials, remaining competitive can be a real challenge,” admits Jon Usher, head of UK sales and marketing at Glen Dimplex Professional Appliances. “While we won’t always be the cheapest, we do offer a consistent quality at an affordable price. Research has shown that customers do seek a quality product and are prepared to pay a little more to guarantee this.”
Foreign exchange rate fluctuations, the impact of inferior imports from the Far East and contending with the pressures of attempting to keep costs down while retaining quality are all challenges facing British manufacturers, too.
Samantha Starling, group marketing co-ordinator at Parry, says the secret to success is achieving consistent quality at very competitive costs. “We can manufacture competitively because we have flexible production lines with standardised operation processes. Furthermore, we control our own supply chain, our design operations are in-house and quality is built into everything we do, whether it is a process or a product.”
The availability of sector-specific skills in the market is a concern for some however, including Neil Richards, MD of Metcalfe, which employs 15 full-time staff at its factory in North Wales making commercial food preparation equipment.
“There is a big hole in the skill base of engineering/design engineers in the UK, although there is now a realisation of this issue, which has prompted investment from government into the education sector to promote the engineering sector,” he says. “I am very positive. I believe that manufacturing is the greatest value-creating enterprise in any economy. It creates economic wealth and prosperity, jobs and opportunity. It also provides innovation and skills which are a vital part of any growing economy.”
Guy Cooper, managing director of light equipment specialist Mitchell & Cooper, agrees that while there is an increased interest in handmade and authentic items, skilled craftsmanship and the renewal of time-honoured manufacturing traditions, there is still a knowledge gap in the market which needs to be bridged.
“Particularly for heritage British brands, who tend to utilise very little automation in their manufacturing process, the skill level of staff is critical to sustaining the British foodservice equipment market, and as such it is imperative that we invest in training of this kind, lest we see traditions decline,” he concludes.