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INDUSTRY INTERVIEW: Middleby UK turns on the kitchen magic as market dynamics shift

Kenny Smith, managing director

Some of the most formidable operators in the market have been benefitting from Middleby UK’s extensive demo and test facilities to find the applications that best suit their operational needs and styles of cooking. And the door remains firmly open in 2019 as the company seeks to help operators find solutions to all their culinary challenges. FEJ met Middleby UK managing director Kenny Smith to find out more.

As far as catering equipment names go, they don’t come much bigger than the Middleby Corporation these days.

Established for well over 100 years, and with almost a dozen offices worldwide, the organisation’s most recent accounts show that it made sales of £2.3 billion (£1.8 billion) in its last full year, leading it to proclaim that one in three restaurants now uses its equipment.

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The company’s highly acquisitive nature — it picked up no fewer than eight companies in 2018, including notable brand heavyweights such as Josper and Taylor Company — have provided a fast-track route into new product sectors and bolstered its armoury of specialist catering technologies.

The richness of its portfolio has certainly endeared itself to large operators in the UK, where Middleby counts national chains such as Whitbread, Morrisons, KFC, Papa John’s, Burger King, Five Guys and many more amongst its valued customer base.

The rise of fast casual, street food and all-day cooking has played firmly into the company’s hands, with flagship equipment brands such as TurboChef, MagiKitch’n and Houno perfectly positioned to meet demand for speed, capacity and flexibility.

“We like to think of ourselves as a solutions-driven company because of the product mix that we have,” explains Kenny Smith, managing director of Middleby UK, noting that the definition of ‘solution’ will ultimately depend on what customers regard as their main priorities.

“Our biggest growth product will be TurboChef but that’s only if someone’s solution is speed. Sometimes people believe they need speed, but they also need capacity, so they might come in to look at a TurboChef because they are short on space and end up buying a Houno CombiSlim.

“So a solution might be a TurboChef with smaller combination ovens as well — we’ve even sold convection ovens to customers that came in looking for combi ovens because they’ve said, ‘wait a minute, we can do all the products that we used to do without water and drains?’ So I think the ‘solution’ isn’t really down to one brand, it is actually down to more.”

It is no secret that speed continues to be the topic driving most conversations in the cooking space and Smith can certainly vouch for that, having seen it firsthand with many of the top accounts it works with.

“Everybody is looking for speed cooking — it is probably the number one thing that people come to talk about because they want to turn over tables quicker or, if it is a fast food environment, serve more customers. Speed is the key driver for purchases just now within what we sell.”

Middleby UK has been in its current premises in Wigan for four years and the site is home to a giant stockholding facility, offices and a comprehensive demo kitchen. One of its successes has been getting customers up to the kitchen to test their own products and menu items on its equipment.

We like to think of ourselves as a solutions-driven company because of the product mix that we have”

“We have found that people are more willing to come to our test kitchen and try out their products before they buy to make sure the solution is the correct one. It gives them the comfort that what they are buying is correct and that the product they get out at the end of the day meets their expectations.

“Although we still sell through distributors, our big success has been the distributors letting the end-user come and actually do that.”

Although he prefers not to name names, some of the leading high street chains, groups and supermarkets have travelled to Wigan over the past 12 months to put the equipment through its paces under their own command.

“Some of the bigger chains have really seen the benefit of coming in and trialling the equipment — with no commitment really because they don’t have to buy it. It gives them the opportunity to find the right solution because some people come in with the pre-text that a certain product will work and find that there is actually a better solution for them.”

Smith cites the example of one supermarket chain that came in with the intention of buying a TurboChef Fire oven used by a national pub chain to expand into pizza and left buying a completely different product after realising it was more suited to their application. “We will say if we don’t think a product is right for someone but we let them decide — if they want us to try another means of cooking or find a different solution then we will.”

And, as Smith also notes, if it doesn’t have the answer within Middleby UK, it can call on a number of local sister companies within the Middleby Group for support, including IMC, Britannia and Lincat, the latter of which dovetails nicely with its own offering as it can offer flat-line cooking suites, which Middleby UK doesn’t.

The impact of Middleby Corporation’s continuing acquisition spree will certainly be felt in the UK this year. The business plans to start distributing some of the Firex series of boiling pans and bratt pans, as well as Follett stainless steel solutions for fast food operators.

Not all brands are automatically rolled out into the UK once they have been acquired though, usually because there might already be a distributor in place or because the product is American and not CE-approved. But it still must be exciting to be part of a firm that is reshaping the industry?

Everybody is looking for speed cooking — it is probably the number one thing that people come to talk about”

“Yes, definitely. Having access to some of the brands that they bought in 2018 for us is good. We are always excited to find out the product mixes that we get and going forward who’s not to say — and this is purely guesswork now — that CE approval doesn’t count for as much if things happen within the Brexit negotiations. If there is a trade agreement with the US direct, you might then start accepting their approvals and standards as well.”

One of Middleby UK’s strongest assets is the sheer volume of stock available at its warehouse in Wigan. It holds approximately £3m worth of inventory for immediate delivery, including combination ovens.

“We future-purchase because that is the essence of our business — holding stock for immediate delivery. A lot of customers like that because when they make a decision they are not waiting six, eight or 10 weeks. We can also add fryers onto a fry suite. So if you buy a two-vat fry suite, we can build that into a four-vat in the UK whereas our competitors would have to have that manufactured if they didn’t have it in stock,” he comments.

“It is one of the quirks of Pitco and it fulfils a need for customers because they can get it more or less right away. If someone’s existing fry suite has gone down they might not be able to wait for the other companies if they don’t have that configuration in stock.”

Furthermore, Middleby UK has also restructured its service operations in recent times, appointing technical partners to represent each specific brand on a nationwide basis.

That means that when an engineer attends a call in any part of the country, it is schooled in the product that it has been sent to deal with. “That is working really well for us because when engineers turn up to sites they have expertise and they will invariably have stock in their van, which means they are more likely to be able to fix any issues straight away.”

With the doors of its test kitchen wide open for those that want to see how the latest cooking applications can improve their business, and a service and stockholding proposition that has been fine-tuned, Middleby UK is perfectly positioned to provide operators with all the support they need as they seek to find the solution that will transform their kitchen.

Middleby UK: Key brands

– TurboChef

Since 1991, TurboChef Technologies has been a pioneer in the world of accelerated cooking. With innovation and top performance in mind, TurboChef has helped to redefine cooking efficiency by designing rapid-cook ovens that are versatile, reliable and save energy. 

– Pitco

The heritage of Pitco dates back to 1918 when its goal was to offer a reliable piece of kitchen machinery for professional frying. It has carried on that ethos throughout the last century by designing equipment that makes it easier for customers to offer the best in fried foods. Pitco remains a leader in developing energy efficient frying technology, with the brand’s newest innovations focusing on integrated oil management, greater operating efficiency and ease of cleaning.

– Houno 

A part of the Middleby Corporation since 2006, Houno has grown from being a small manufacturer to supplying oven solutions to hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals and cruise ships. With its Scandinavian mindset, the brand has always challenged the boundaries of cooking to build ovens that provide users with the means to create memorable cooking experiences. Its CombiSlim ovens, which measure just 510mm in width, have helped bring the latest combi technology to small-scale kitchens.

Tags : HounoMiddleby UKPitcoTurboChef
Andrew Seymour

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