CESA Conference 2019: event review

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CESA, which announced a rebrand to the Foodservice Equipment Association, hosted a conference looking firmly to the future, reports Michael Jones

Themed ‘2020 Visions’ the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) Conference 2019 on 14 November was very much focused on looking ahead and ensuring its members are ‘future-ready’ for the myriad of challenges and opportunities the industry in the UK will face in the short and long term.

In keeping with that spirit of embracing progression, one of the first acts for CESA chairman John Whitehouse during an informal networking dinner the evening before the conference was to announce that the association’s members had overwhelmingly voted in its Annual General Meeting to rebrand to the Foodservice Equipment Association (FEA), effective from March 2020.

The rationale behind the change, said Whitehouse, came from listening to feedback from members (comprised of more than 200 catering equipment suppliers) in a recent research survey research. The move demonstrated, he said, that UK suppliers were keen to reflect the “evolution of the industry – from ‘catering’ to ‘foodservice’ – and the breadth of its membership base.”


The conference, held at the Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel, had 225 attendees – “a great number” according to Whitehouse. Hosted by Simon Jack, business editor of the BBC, it was “a hell of a time to have a conference” bearing in mind the backdrop of an impending general election and the ongoing uncertainty for British businesses surrounding Brexit, said Jack.

“It has been a hugely damaging period for business,” said Jack, citing the “chronic” productivity issues in the UK. “But businesses – and the people that run them – have showed astonishing resilience.”

The first speakers were Mike Faers, managing director of Food Innovation Solutions and Piers Skinner, managing director of Telemetry Ltd who addressed ‘The future of the industry and connectivity interface’. The pair analysed ‘indicative trends’ and ‘intelligent hypotheses’ about the future of foodservice and hospitality, with particular focus on the growth of ‘small box-format’ operations (such as Petit Pret) to small footprint kitchens with low energy requirement and easily interchangeable units.

“I urge you to adopt the mantra of not only ‘faster’ and cheaper’ – but also ‘more flexible’,” said Faers. The pair also explored ‘finishing strategy’ kitchens – traditionally familiar to QSR restaurants but now apposite to high-end kitchens too – “where ‘just in time’ delivery will become increasingly prevalent, dark kitchens, ‘hub and spoke’ concept operations, automation and AI, the rise of food halls, health and nutrition (and the rise of diabetes), climate change, blockchain, connected kitchens and food delivery.

Talent and Titans

Next up, HR expert Kevin Green addressed the importance of finding, keeping and motivating good people and why “it’s the soft stuff that now delivers business results.” 85% of business value is derived from ‘intangibles’ – people, explained Green. “So hire brilliant people who will create value for you. But spend a lot of time figuring out what ‘value’ means for your business,” he said.

Talent, said Green is ‘skill’ plus three other things: ‘thinking strategically’, ‘change orientation’ and ‘the ability to inspire and motivate others’. We are, he explained, experiencing “a full-blown talent crisis” in business but that because the relationship between productivity and engagement is causal, the opportunity is to improve performance through engagement.”

Three presentations followed from this year’s ‘Titans of Industry’, a concept from FCSI’s Foodservice Consultant magazine: celebrated US consultant Kathleen Seelye FFCSI, founding executive principal, Ricca consultancy; Andy Earley, senior director, category management, EMEA, Hilton Supply Management; and Najib Maalouf, group managing director of Middleby UK.

“We aspire to change our industry and our profession,” said Seelye. “As consultants it’s our job to understand the opportunities that can take our clients to the next level. Our success at the end of a project depends on how well we were able to create a project narrative. We need to look at the bigger picture as consultants.”

Focusing on the topic of the connected kitchen, Seelye set the scene by addressing how much energy is currently been wasted in modern commercial kitchens. “The average restaurant uses anything from 300-800 units of energy, but there is a requirement to bring that down to 20-30. That’s a huge challenge,” she said.

“This is now about demand management – ultimately controlling our kitchens through software. And you can’t control something unless you can measure it. For manufacturers, the holy grail is to make your units energy independent of the grid.”

On the subject of interoperability in connected kitchens, Seelye urged the industry to collaborate more. “We need to have a neutral, open platform that any manufacturer can access. We don’t want to go back to the chaos and complexity we experienced with BIM,” she said.

Earley reiterated his company’s commitment to doubling its investment in social impact by 2030, as well as cutting its environmental footprint in half “through responsible hospitality across the value chain”.

Maalouf focused on the challenges operators are facing. “Restaurant managers have four major influences/problems: increasing sales, managing competition, customer trends and values and regulation,” he said.

He also cited the major expectations operators will demand of their equipment in the future, listing those as: speed, but with quality; smart and adaptive; versatile and relevant for any time of the day; reduced dependence on labour; eliminate food waste; smaller; better holding; and the ability to self diagnose.

“Increasingly we need equipment that can emulate the human brain by self diagnosing, thinking, deciding and communicating,” he said.

The ‘Titans’ then shared an insightful panel session on the future of the industry, hosted by Jack and taking in topics as diverse as sustainability and data.

Cyber, futurology and F1

After lunch, and following the awarding of 43 new delegates for their CFSP certificates, Paul Cowell, CyberGuard Security presented practical ways UK businesses can take steps to identify, protect and recover from cyber-attacks. “Hacking is often done by competitors trying to gain a commercial advantage by getting access to another company’s intellectual property and to shorten their own R&D cycle,” he warned.

Rohit Talwar, CEO, Fast Futures hosted an interactive session that looked at ‘Future proofing in the catering industry’. “We are seeing technology providing solutions to today’s challenges at an exponential rate,” he said.

Key short-term future trends Talwar highlighted included: food waste, farm to fork, vertical farming, 3D food printing, in vitro meat, new restaurant concepts (including multi sensory dining), co-cooking spaces and ghost kitchens.

Finally a keynote address from Formula 1 expert Mark Gallagher, formerly of Red-Bull and Cosworth, looked at how a combination of technology, teamwork, leadership, communication, finance and risk can provide business with a competitive advantage, just as in Formula 1.

Recognising the industry’s finest

At the CESA Gala & Awards Dinner later in the evening, industry stalwart Andy Blake was presented with the Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Catering Equipment Industry. Formerly  Winterhalter’s commercial director, Blake retired earlier in the year and was a hugely popular choice for the award.

Marren Group won the Training & Development Award for its “comprehensive approach” to team training, while Laurie-Anne Douglas, HR manager at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, was highly commended in the same category. Victor Manufacturing’s fabrication and welding apprentice Brooke Lawford won the Foodservice Equipment Apprentice of the Year Award, sponsored by founder of Gilberts Food Service Equipment, John Gilbert.

The FCSI Sustainable Equipment Award was handed to two companies, whose respective products were tied during the judging process. FCSI UK & Ireland chair, Matthew Merritt-Harrison FCSI therefore presented trophies to Mechline for its HyGenikx HGX air and surface hygiene amplification system and Hobart for its new Two Level Washer. European WaterCare’s IX water filter system and Fri-Jado for its custom chilled serve over counter, were highly commended.

Michael Jones