Event report: The CESA Conference 2017

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The CESA Conference 2017 addressed a changing industry in a complex world, reports Michael Jones

It was no coincidence the primary theme music for this year’s conference for the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), which represents over 190 companies supplying commercial catering equipment in the UK, was David Bowie’s Changes. Addressing change in a shifting landscape was very much on the agenda at a conference titled ‘Moving forward in a changing world’.

“We are living in interesting times – uncertain times,” said Glenn Roberts, chair of CESA, at the conference on Thursday 16 November. “Insight is vital,” he said. And the conference programme delivered exactly that.

Held at De Vere Wokefield Estate Hotel in Reading, UK, the conference was expertly moderated by BBC presenter Steph McGovern who opened the conference by comparing the respective fortunes of the global economy with those of the UK. “The global economy is growing well, but with 1.5% economic growth the UK is moving at a slower pace. The UK has taken its foot off the gas. We are back into real-term wage falls,” said McGovern, while noting that unemployment was at a 42-year low.

Dealing with uncertainty

“Monetary is policy is kicking back in again. The Bank of England still thinks inflation is the way to control the economy…but the variables are so global,” said McGovern, who indicated the “biggest issue” affecting UK growth is the “uncertainty” created by Brexit that has resulted in a political chaos where parties are still “arguing about the basics”.

In the meantime business has to just get on with it and “crack on”, said McGovern who believes the companies she has seen achieving success currently are those “not letting uncertainty paralyse them” but are “finding opportunity in disruption” as well as seeking new business outside the EU.

That set a suitably pragmatic and forward-looking tone for the conference. McGovern was followed on stage by Steve Gotham, director of Insight at MCA who presented on restaurant and dining trends in the public sector, based on his company’s interviews with 6,000 customers a month.

There is, said Gotham, a “long-term positive trend in out-of-home food and drink spend, but it’s on hold this year” as economic forecasters highlight slowing growth, with the eating out market set to grow moderately this year by 1.7%.

“The short to medium term outlook remains subdued,” said Gotham who also indicated the slowing pace of physical expansion for restaurants. “It’s a difficult market place out there. We’re in a rebalancing state at the moment. There is a greater emphasis on driving performance and sales based on stability.”

Following McGovern’s earlier reference to the importance of disruption in this market, Gotham recommended foodservice companies provide “something not easily recreated” in their operations. “Offer something different,” he said.

Andrew Archer, managing director of Dewberry Redpoint, presented on the future of the UK cost sector until 2020. The industry is worth 49.4% of public sector market value, said Archer, who warned of the impending “absolute car crash” on staffing levels “if Brexit happens”.

Other significant challenges according to Archer include food prices and inflation, labour cost inflation, the value of the UK Pound and unprecedented financial pressures.

Technology and the rate of change

An entertaining presentation from Jeremy White of Wired magazine followed. Highlighting a number of products and innovations that are genuinely changing the world, from augmented reality, autonomous delivery vehicles, artificial intelligence to nanotechnology and machine learning, White stressed the “rate of normalisation” for new technology was “staggering” and that companies will fail if they don’t take into account “the rate of change”.

This proved to be a neat segue way into advertising/marketing veteran Gary Meehan’s presentation on connected equipment in commercial kitchens. “Are manufacturers considering the end-user enough?” questioned Meehan, who believes manufacturers should listen to the late Steve Jobs’s advice of “starting with the customer experience first and working backwards.”

‘Smart kitchens’ are, said Meehan, “kitchens that think for themselves. It’s about software, not hardware. The more complex and proprietary we make a system, the harder it is to communicate it to people,” said Meehan.

“We need to use a much more simple technology. We don’t need the internet of things (IoT) in connected kitchens. If technology does anything for us, it has to bring convenience to bear. Convenience is a big driver. There has to be applications and big benefits.”

Robin Clark, restaurant services director for online food order and delivery service Just Eat discussed how his firm are aiming to create “the world’s greatest food community”. The takeaway market is worth £6.6 billion in the UK, rising to £10 billion if the collection only market is included. £1.5 billion is currently being spent through the Just Eat platform alone.

Awards and accolades

Also at the conference, Simon Frost, CESA’s education advisory group chairman, presented Certified Food Service Professional (CFSP) certificates to 2017 recipients, highlighting there are currently 464 CFSP-qualified professionals in the UK and Ireland, with another 31 set to qualify via the 12-week remote learning course.

At CESA’s black-tie dinner later that evening, Lord Trefgarne won the CESA Outstanding Service to the Industry accolade. Lord Trefgarne has been CESA’s patron for 22 years. Roberts, described him “as a loyal and passionate supporter of the UK manufacturing and engineering sector”.

At the dinner Adande’s Aircell integrated grab and go foodservice cabinet was announced the winner of the FCSI Sustainable Catering Equipment Award.

Julian Edwards, FCSI UK and Ireland chairman, said: “Adande has brought a piece of equipment to the market which achieves, not only a significant reduction in energy consumption, but also gives the opportunity for reduction in food wastage through prolonging the life of food.”

The second place award went to the V-Tex drinks chiller from Enviro-Cool. “The use of this equipment can bring about very significant reduction in energy use whilst also bringing greater operational flexibility,” said Edwards.

Winterhalter’s Connected Wash system took the bronze award, with Edwards highlighting the machine’s ability to increase efficiency and reduce the usage of consumables, energy and water.

Michael Jones


Pictured: CESA’s chair Glenn Roberts with Steph McGovern