Just a few metres from where Falcon cooking equipment rolls off the production line in Stirling, Scotland, resides an altogether different — but absolutely crucial — component of the company’s operation: its development kitchen. FEJ caught up with the man who runs the facility — development chef Shaune Hall — to find out how it’s helping the company to drive innovation and providing inspiration for customers.
How long has Falcon had a development kitchen at its HQ — and have there been any significant modifications to it in recent years?
We’ve had a kitchen within the Falcon Foodservice facility for a long time, where culinary testing was done but it didn’t really become a development kitchen until the arrival of Neil Roseweir in 1992. When we moved from Larbert to Stirling in 2004, the kitchen was designed from scratch so it’s a real modern, state-of-the-art facility. In my time here, the major modifications have been putting down a new floor and installing a dishwasher for the first time!
How often does the set-up and layout of the kitchen change?
It changes regularly, with equipment always being swapped about. This could be for a number of reasons, including visitors looking to see particular pieces of equipment, new products being culinary tested (sometimes even older products being re-tested), new products being demonstrated or promoted and just for me to get completely familiar with.
What are the primary functions of the development kitchen?
Primary functions include culinary testing of proposed new products; product demonstrations to customers and end-users; product training; and the creation of training videos. Another more recent use has been in the production of much of our social media content.
What strategic role does it play within Falcon’s business?
It is a vital part of the new product development process, where products are tested, trialled and poured over to ensure they are absolutely fit for purpose and will stand up to the treatment expected in commercial kitchens. It also plays a major part in enticing visitors to the factory, with a visit to the kitchen generally being the highlight of any visit.
Additionally, it offers potential customers the opportunity to try before they buy so if they need reassurance that the equipment they are looking to buy is right for them they can visit the kitchen and try it — or a similar model — out, essentially just like taking a car out on a test drive. When people are spending significant amounts on equipment, this peace of mind is invaluable.
Potential customers can try out a piece of equipment before they buy — essentially it is just like taking a car out on a test drive”
What role does the development kitchen play in terms of client management and support?
It’s a useful facility to have. A good example could be a customer complaining that an oven constantly burns the pies on the bottom shelf. We can do the same cooking tests in the same oven and get to the bottom of why the pies are burning. Then we can go back to the customer with advice on how to prevent this from happening. It also enables customers to ask myself any culinary questions about specific products and if I don’t happen to already know the answer I will carry out the necessary culinary tests and get back with a real answer, not just a theoretical one.
How often is the development kitchen used by end-user customers and chains?
We regularly host end-users and chains in the kitchen. Buyers and chefs from chains will often come up to look at new products and see them in action for themselves. The end-user visits will be a mix of pre-purchase, so making sure the equipment does what they need it to do and / or narrowing down their cookline to specific units and after-sales training, where the chef might come in and spend time working with us on the equipment that’s going to be installed in their kitchen.
Are there plans to change anything about the structure or layout of the development kitchen in the near future?
I am always looking to evolve the kitchen along with the normal equipment changes to ensure that anyone coming for a repeat visit has a different experience. While there are no plans for wholesale redevelopment, I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve to change the kitchen experience for our visitors in the future.
A vital cog in the wheel
Although Falcon’s development kitchen is widely used by customers testing new menus and platforms, it also plays a vital role at the very front end of the product creation process. Development chef Shaune Hall will put prototypes through a rigorous testing procedure to ensure that it will work in the real world not just within a computer design package or in the laboratory.
Every aspect of each product is reviewed from cooking performance, ergonomic and health and safety perspectives. This includes evenness of cooking, heat-up and cooking times, ease of cleaning and maintenance, positioning of handles and noise levels. Information is then fed back to the product development team to make any necessary modifications for a particular unit to meet the rigorous standards that are expected from a Falcon product.