A re-energised version of Falcon Foodservice Equipment has emerged from the pandemic — one that has its sights firmly set on innovative products, untapped markets and groundbreaking technology while still paying necessary reverence to the 200 years of history that has got the business to where it is today. Andrew Seymour caught up with managing director Peter McAllister to hear why the cooking equipment manufacturer is focused squarely on the future.
November 2019 isn’t all that long ago, but it certainly feels like a different lifetime given what has happened to the world since. As Falcon Foodservice Equipment and 150 of its most loyal customers and partners cruised down the Thames to celebrate the manufacturer’s 200th anniversary, there wasn’t a face mask or hand sanitiser bottle in sight.
Nobody at that time could ever have envisaged what lay around the corner, but having traded its way through the last major global pandemic a century ago — not to mention a couple of World Wars to boot — Falcon arguably has more experience of what it takes to survive a crisis than most.
If last year’s celebrations were a timely opportunity to pause and commemorate a heritage that spans two centuries, the past 12 months have been all about using that legacy as a platform to ensure it can support the needs of a foodservice industry that is set to look very different in the future.
That’s not to say it has been a doddle. Like every manufacturer in the industry, Falcon has had to pivot, reorganise and reset its near-term goals. In March, it was forced to temporarily close its manufacturing plant in Stirling as the UK was plunged into lockdown, a scenario that simply would have been laughed at if somebody had dared suggest it aboard the cruise just four months before.
But while the company shut its factory, it did not shut its business. And it certainly didn’t abandon the plans it had to develop a suite of new products and implement a full rebranding (as the logo above shows) and website modernisation programme.
We are adding products, markets and technologies that really complement our core offering”
While some organisations may have put everything on hold as the crisis worsened, managing director Peter McAllister and his fellow directors took a strategic decision to do the opposite.
“When lockdown happened, we were kind of left with two options,” he says. “Do you completely shut down and just not be there to support your customers and freeze product development, or do you actually continue to be the go-to brand? We took the decision to support all of our customers during the pandemic and at the same time actually accelerate our product development efforts.”
The reality of being a working product development engineer is that you will be sitting at your desk with a clear agenda to design a new product and somebody from the factory floor or office will pop in with an issue they want to chat about. But with no distractions to worry them, McAllister’s NPD team worked flat out at home on new projects.
“That conscientious decision to not furlough people and focus on product development has really helped us accelerate the development of the products that the market is going to see in the coming weeks,” says McAllister (pictured below with product development chef Shaune Hall).
At the heart of all this is Falcon’s first ever Connected Kitchen concept. Using sensor technology from Oxfordshire-based equipment monitoring firm KoolZone, Falcon says operators can now connect any product from any brand to the same platform and dashboard.
The system can monitor temperature and operation, sends alarms and reminders, collects information such as energy usage and records HACCP data. The company claims it is the first “genuine” connected kitchen solution on the market, since it allows any product or device in the kitchen to be connected to a single platform, viewable on any PC or mobile device.
McAllister admits he initially broached the topic of connectivity with heavy scepticism — “because everybody kind of says they’ve got a connected solution” — but a conversation with one of Falcon’s national account customers made him realise just what the company had at its disposal.
“I’m paraphrasing slightly but they said, ‘yes, we’ve got all our dishwashers connected and I can tell how many cups have been washed across all our branches in the UK, but actually I don’t really have time to look at that, and what am I going to do with the data anyway? If only there was a solution that went across every brand and actually worked on an ‘exception’ basis, which is if something goes out of any of these parameters it sets off an alarm and sends a message.’ We realised that this was actually the solution we have, and that’s what brought us down the road to developing our Connected Kitchen solution.”
Embedding electrical controllers into every product SKU isn’t as simple as it sounds, certainly where more basic equipment is concerned, but that has not deterred Falcon from trying to make sure that its products have the functionality available in the event it is needed.
A single-site owner-operated business probably wouldn’t benefit from connectivity to the same extent that a multi-site operator would for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the ability to turn that capability on if they wish, argues McAllister.
“If you were to fast forward 10 or 15 years and say will the majority of the kitchens in the UK be connected? Well, the answer to that is yes. But there’s a bit of a leap of faith that everybody needs to take. It’s a new technology and a lot of people are not quite sure about the benefits of it. I think once people start to understand it, they realise there are significant benefits. There is a real focus on food safety now and if we have a solution that allows you to record all of your HACCP data automatically in a dashboard then that has got to be a good thing.
“And we certainly believe that the cost of recording everything on a bit of paper and then keying it into something else versus the cost of having a dashboard that records all of that data will pay for itself very quickly,” he adds.
While connectivity is a new facet of the strategy, Falcon is very clear about the fact that it has no intention of diluting its focus on what it has always been best at. Making chargrills, fryers and ranges that can be relied upon year after year, whether installed in a prison kitchen or a high-end restaurant, is the very reason why the business has existed for so long.
McAllister stresses that the company is not veering away from that — rather it is expanding its focus.
“We’re not reducing the range of products that we already do, we are maintaining our position of being the best that we possibly can be in the prime cooking market, but just adding additional products, markets and technologies that really complement our core offering.”
There is a lot of innovation within this industry and often it’s all a little step up in the staircase, but what we’ve got here really is a quantum leap into something completely different”
One of the difficulties of being a 200-year-old company is that finding new markets can be difficult. But the launch of a range of catering products for the healthcare sector offers evidence that it can be achieved. Pick of the bunch is a bulk food delivery system that features regeneration capabilities and refrigeration.
Falcon spent a lot of time engaging with various food groups during the development of the product, hoovering up their feedback and testing real menus in order to create a piece of equipment that exceeds the standards of hospital and care sector operators.
“We genuinely believe that with all the right input from the industry we have developed a fantastic product. It is fully IoT-enabled and comes with all of the information so that patients can select what they want. The HACCP controls are there and the energy monitoring is all built in and embedded into it,” says McAllister.
Already the company has identified the need for associated products that will ensure the range of healthcare-focused catering equipment it offers will be expanded further in the months to come.
When McAllister first arrived at the business two years ago, one of the first conversations he had with Falcon’s new product development team concerned a concept to significantly reduce the chances of fryers catching fire.
The company finally believes it has reached that Holy Grail with the development of the Fryer Angel, a device that prevents a fryer from operating if it detects that it might catch alight. How you test such a product to its maximum capacity naturally poses a challenge — after all, you aren’t going to know just how effective it actually is until a kitchen is at real risk of burning down. However, that is exactly what happened when the system was installed at a site.
McAllister explains: “One of our field trial sites said, ‘there’s a problem with your fryer, it’s causing me all sorts of problems and it won’t go on this morning’. So we checked our IoT solution and worked out what had happened. We said to the customer, ‘do you realise that when you came in this morning you had a very small amount of oil in the fryer and you’ve turned it on without checking the oil.
“Had that Fryer Angel solution not been there you would have pretty much burnt down your facility. So it actually did its job by protecting that user’s kitchen — you can’t have a bigger advocate of it than that.
He continues: “There is a lot of innovation within this industry and often it’s all a little step up in the staircase, but what we’ve got here really is a quantum leap into something completely different. We’ve got a multi-patented solution with a global patent on it and we think that this could really revolutionise the safety levels in the industry.”
One drawback of the Fryer Angel is that it can’t be retrofitted, but McAllister isn’t giving up hope that might change. “In very simple terms, the shape of the fryer pan has been changed to allow the unit to sit into it, so it’s very difficult to do, but it would be wrong to say that we haven’t tasked our teams with coming up with a solution for that,” he says.
Underpinning all the product and technology development work has been a separate initiative to rebrand the business and update its corporate website, creating a platform that is much more in tune with the needs of chefs and the digital age.
The new site will be easier to navigate, exhibit a contemporary appearance and provide customers with access to valuable content. They will also see a new Falcon logo — only the second time it has been changed in its history — that honours tradition but moves it forward aesthetically.
Says McAllister: “There was a really fantastic strapline we got from one of the chefs, who said, ‘the moment I walk into a kitchen to start a new job, as long as I see lots of little red badges I know I’m okay’. And I thought that was just a lovely part of the heritage of the Falcon brand, and what we’re trying to do is build on that, modernise it and then take that to the next level.
“If you ask anybody about Falcon they’ll say ‘quality’ and ‘reliability’, but would they say ‘high-tech’ or ‘at the forefront of innovation’? They might, but they might not. So I believe this is the perfect time to really relaunch this new and more modern brand.”
It might be a while yet before Falcon takes another trip down the Thames, but it most definitely has a clear plan of the course it needs to chart.