The route to market for kitchen equipment in the UK differs from much of mainland Europe in that while on the Continent the manufacturer or importer will usually deal directly with caterers both large and small, the UK system is for all but very big purchasers to buy through a catering distributor.
The benefit of the distributor system is that manufacturers can look after the design and build of equipment, leaving sales, distribution and servicing to the distributor. Even when large chain operations negotiate a price with a manufacturer for quantity, the manufacturer will hand over the delivery, installation and maintenance to a distributor.
With very few exceptions, equipment distributors in the UK are - or are descended from - regional family businesses. Chester-based equipment distributor C&C was founded in 1981, and had a turnover last year topping £5.5m. Its 20-strong workforce is managed by Peter Kitchin, vice-chairman of the Catering Equipment Distributors Association (CEDA), and son of C&C founder John Kitchin. "As a distributor, we supply everything, from complete food service schemes to kitchens, serveries, bars or just single items," says Kitchin. C&C is also able to provide dedicated service and maintenance through its sister company Catering Engineers NW.
To develop business in the South-east, C&C has opened a southern office to handle large projects in London, including the £740,000 contract later this year to refurbish the catering facilities for the legal community in Lincoln's Inn's listed buildings, working with kitchen designer Tricon.
One of C&C's biggest contracts in the past year was a £750,000 deal to equip the University of Birmingham's £3.2m central production kitchen. Refurbishing the 15 individual ageing kitchens around the campus would have cost the university about £12m, which prompted a complete rethink on meal production and a switch to a central production kitchen with the whole facility built at a quarter of the cost of refurbishment. C&C worked with kitchen design consultant GWP to install the main cooking area alongside Foster Refrigerator and Consort, which supplied and built the refrigerated areas. The facility - unique among UK universities - is producing 44,000 meals a week for 36 outlets around the campus.
Nowhere is the knowledge and experience of a distributor more important than when a caterer is uncertain what to buy. The pitfalls are underspecifying and being unable to meet needs, and overspecifying and paying for capacity not needed. Distributors are able to calculate both the present needs of the business and future needs when it grows. A lot of equipment looks the same, but experience from many installations and maintaining equipment helps the distributor to recommend a specific item or narrow down the choice.
C&C Catering Equipment
CEDA 01274 826056