Scott Duncan is the new managing director of Unox UK after taking over the reins from Gary Nunn last month. In his first interview since joining the combi and bakery oven manufacturer, he shares his thoughts on the brand’s culture, the goals he has been set by its Italian factory and the equipment he expects operators to want in the wake of Covid.
Firstly Scott, how have the first few weeks been for you – and how easy has it been to get up to speed on all of Unox’s product offerings?
The first few weeks have been really excellent. I have been particularly impressed by the extensive onboarding and induction process. The systems and processes in place are extremely detailed, which has been really helpful. One of the key learnings for me was that one of the reasons that Unox has grown so quickly and so well is because of the systems and the back office and the investment globally.
Obviously I have not managed to make it to the factory yet but I hope to do that soon. The most important part of the first few weeks that was unusual or unexpected for me was that while I have learnt a bit about the products, we spent a huge amount of time learning about the Unox culture.
What are your immediate plans and priorities over the next six months as you settle into the role?
The immediate plan for me is to get to know the UK team better and support them as we enter what looks like a busy second half of the year. The team has grown recently and it is important that we try to get used to the new ways of working under the Italian ownership because there is obviously going to be changes in the way they want to do things.
The priority for the next six months is to get out there as the pandemic ends. We are really looking forward to doing the trade shows as they start to open up. It’ll be a good opportunity to meet the customers, meet the dealers and have that face-to-face contact. I expect it to be a busy six months.
You’ve taken over the business at an unprecedented time, what with the industry only reopening recently after a year of periodic closures. What sort of mindset are customers in right now?
Hospitality has faced probably its toughest times in recent history and that has been really difficult for everyone involved. I think the key message from customers, end-user groups and larger groups is that the biggest thing for them is getting the till ringing again and getting some much-needed cash back into their businesses.
On the flip side of that there are some massive challenges around rents and property and staff. There is a real staff shortage within hospitality a through Brexit, through the pandemic, and that has been a big challenge for the big operators. Saying all of that, I think there has been a real togetherness within the hospitality industry, which I have been impressed with. That has really shone through.
What is the remit you have been given by the Italian HQ – can we expect any significant changes in strategy moving forward?
First of all, I think the UK is always seen as a key market globally for Unox, with many countries looking at what happens here for inspiration and direction. The strategy from Italy is, of course, to try and grow the market and grow our market share. How we are going to do that is by continuing to assist dealers and by supporting end-users to get the most out of our products. While we have got a great product, we need to do much more than that – it’s about that added value and the extra service.
The team has grown recently and it is important that we try to get used to the new ways of working under the Italian ownership
While there has been a change of ownership we still want that family-feel to Unox UK to exist. We are a big corporate but we don’t want to be looked at a big corporate. We are one of 25 commercial branches but we still want to be ‘Unox UK’ and deliver that family feel. It is not about just shifting boxes. It is about being on-site, doing that drawing, doing that install, doing that training – we really want to work with the team as we try and grow the business.
Are there any areas of the business that the Italian HQ is particularly looking to invest in to ensure enhanced support for customers?
During the last few months, we have already invested in our UK people. We have created a dedicated key account team to work with larger groups, larger chains and the bigger projects. The active marketing chef (AMC) team, who operate regionally, has also been increased to five people. That has given us a much larger regional presence, so rather than two people carving up the UK we have now got five regional people.
The AMC role is quite a unique one, isn’t it?
Yes, because they do three key functions in the market: they offer customers a salesperson to work with; they are a demonstration and training chef offering support before and after a purchase; and they are consultants to ensure the customer gets the correct specification and operational equipment for their particular needs.
The AMCs offer an individual cooking experience as part of our service, which is an onsite one-to-one bespoke cooking session with the end-user, cooking their food and using the oven the way they would use it in real life. It’s not just a demo, it’s a personalised session for the chef to deep-dive into the equipment – and you can see how this supports both the end-user and the dealer.
Does that structure mirror what happens elsewhere at Unox?
Yes, it does. The active marketing chef is an idea that was born in Italy and it has been developed throughout the globe. The plan will be to grow that team further as the territories grow. We have got an idea in our head that once a territory gets to X amount of turnover we can add another person. To have these dedicated people on the road, in a van, with two ovens on the van and everything that goes with that, is expensive. So we have got to pay for it and there has got to be a return, but it is an investment from the head office in Italy that will help us grow that team.
What do you regard as the biggest opportunities for the business in the coming years?
I think we are really lucky as a brand and a manufacturer because we have got product that can go across all foodservice. It is probably one of the exciting things about the brand – one day you can be talking to a large coffee shop chain, supermarket or pub group but then you can be talking to travel and leisure operators or an owner-operator of an independent restaurant. And you have obviously got all the dealers that go with that, too.
I think the regional groups and larger key accounts present huge opportunity for the business in the future. You have got what I like to call the ‘growers’ and what I mean by that is the groups that have got between two and 15 locations. We are seeing a lot of that at the moment – where the locations are growing fast and they are reaching out for help. When you help these customers from the start, there are potential rewards for everyone. While we are already working with many larger national chains there are lots more out there that would benefit from using our products. Our two new specialist key account managers are dedicated 100% to assist dealers and groups.
Which Unox solutions would you say most lend themselves to the challenges that operators are likely to be facing post-Covid?
There are two areas that are currently providing solutions to operator problems at the moment. Firstly, as businesses reopen, operators are looking for ways to reduce staffing and tap into the rise of click and collect delivery services. This is where our Evereo ‘hot fridge’ comes into its own. It is an innovative service temperature food preserver that safely preserves food at serving temperature for extended periods.
Food can be cooked and held without the traditional process of blast chilling, cold storage and regeneration, which can save on energy usage and therefore running costs. We have got a large national pub group using it and one of the things they came back with was that it costs them less than £1 a day to run and the food wastage is above 30%.
I think the regional groups and larger key accounts present huge opportunity for the business in the future”
Secondly, we are seeing a real interest in menu diversification and menu extension, so businesses adding additional products to their offer. This has seen a sharp increase in the Speed.Pro model, which is an oven using traditional convection along with microwave to deliver accelerated cooking. This is allowing operators to delivery high end baked goods such as pastries, pies, sausage rolls as well as pizza, burgers and QSR style options – all from the same unit.
To give you an example, premium London coffee shop chain Attendant has reduced the turnaround time to heat brioche bacon rolls from seven or eight minutes to just one minute when heating four rolls – smashing the brand’s target of four to five minutes for all takeaway food. That is game-changing for them because it allows them to deliver product really quickly at the quality they want.
Your Italian office recently announced a huge carbon net zero project, which will also play a key part in the UK thinking as we move forward. I understand you have are also redeveloping the UK office. What can you tell us about that?
Yes, we have already started on a new UK HQ, which will be aligned to this project – the building will be considerably larger than our current location and will be built to a carbon neutral specification including solar panels on the roof, electric car charge points, special heat pump heating and many other features. It is very detailed – there is even carbon neutral paint and floor coverings – and we’ll be in a position to give further updates later this year. Our key accounts team have also now taken delivery of Tesla cars as we start to switch our fleet to fully electric. In terms of numbers, the building is 10 times the size of where we are now, which will be absolutely beneficial for stock development.