Valentine Equipment is working closer with chain accounts as they look for real solutions to their menu and allergen challenges. Alex Douglas took a trip to the brand’s HQ and factory in Switzerland to discover the ethos behind the business.
The words ‘Swiss-made’ tend to speak for themselves, but if anything that has only made Lausanne-based Valentine Fryers work even harder to demonstrate that its cooking appliances can provide operators with the reliability and quality they are looking for.
The company’s heritage dates all the way back to 1956, but longevity has never been a byword for complacency as far as it is concerned. Valentine’s presence in the UK has continued to grow year on year, with the business staring at the prospect of achieving another record-breaking year.
Steve Elliott, sales director at Valentine and Cuisinequip, credits the close bond it has with its factory for driving this growth and ensuring it brings the right innovations to the market at the right time.
“Our year at Valentine ends at the end of October and we are set for a record one so far. We’ve seen better uptake of people wanting Valentine products and, on the Cuisinequip side of the business, we’ve also had a steady year selling induction. Our rise and fall quickheat salamanders are an increasing part of our business, going into chain accounts and top-class restaurants,” he says.
Elliott insists there is no big secret to the growth, except to work hard and “do things better”. He says the company’s manufacturing pedigree has driven confidence in the brand name, leading to significant repeat custom from operators that demand its products in their kitchens.
“‘Swiss-made’ conveys efficiency, good design and good working and strong equipment and also an awareness of the environment. The products are built to last so you’re not replacing them every few years. It is not surprising to see Valentine fryers that are over 30 years old.”
Continuing the theme of brand trust, Elliott adds: “It is a very comfortable feeling to have that. I think as well, for the end-user, the reason the equipment is good for them is because it is very efficient which means when you turn it on, depending on the temperature of the oil and what temperature you are going up to, it can take between three and five minutes to heat up the fryer so you don’t have to have them on for hours beforehand.
“When the oil gets nearer to the set temperature, it reduces the power going into the element, so if you set your fryer to 180°C, it will reach 180°C and not have a massive over-run in the temperature,” he says.
If we need 20 more of this fryer because we’ve had some additional orders, then the factory will work their magic and get those out to us”
FEJ’s own tour of Valentine’s factory in the presence of company CEO Christophe Paris reinforced the calm, clean and efficient working conditions in which its fryers are made. Not surprisingly, the relationship that Valentine has with its subsidiaries exhibits similar characteristics.
Elliott says: “Special orders can take about three weeks to dispatch from the factory. In the UK, though, we do also carry a set of standard stock; it works very smoothly. We are a customer of some 61 years with Valentine in Switzerland so we tend to know how each other works really well and if we say we need 20 more of this fryer because we’ve had some additional orders, then they will work their magic and get those out to us.”
Following feedback from end-users and a study of consumer eating trends, Valentine recently released a fryer which allows for separate filtration, meaning the oil will not be cross-contaminated with allergens.
Elliott is hoping this kind of innovation will allow it to stay on the front foot, especially with investment from chain businesses driving a lot of its momentum. “At the moment, it is the chain restaurant sector and multi-site users that are investing in Valentine. There is also one particular supermarket looking at introducing more substantial lunchtime options, so we’re supplying them with some easy-to-use computer fryers.
“I think the trends are very pertinent. The government recently announced that all food packaging is going to have all the ingredients labelled, which shows where it is heading. You can also see that the twin-pump fryer is useful for vegetarian and vegan foods, which is another big trend, and we are seeing the demand for that.”
Looking ahead, Elliott predicts: “We already have a good market for Valentine fryers but I always think we can continue to do better and continue to increase turnover in the coming years, though I don’t see us increasing our headcount for the next year or two.
“With the incorporation of our sister company Cuisinequip, we can provide equipment that Valentine does not make, such as induction cooking suites and freestanding tabletop induction, and that complements each other well because it means that apart from refrigeration and warewashing, we can fully kit out a kitchen.”