In July 2022, Welbilt, a world-leading provider of foodservice equipment to chefs and chains, including global franchise McDonald’s, was acquired by Ali Group in a deal estimated to be $3.4 billion. Through the acquisition, Ali Group has further extended its reach into the North American market from its Milan, Italy, headquarters and added Welbilt’s roster of trusted brands to its already huge catalogue.
So, 15 months on, how are Welbilt themselves feeling about the acquisition and how has it proved to be mutually beneficial? We caught up with Jean Paul Roudier, vice president EMEA, sales & marketing at Welbilt, at the HostMilano 2023 show to find out.
“It has been a very good first 15 months, I think that there are a lot of synergies between Ali Group and Welbilt and we are trying to get the best of both,” says Roudier. “Welbilt is very well implemented in the chain market – with these big brands such as Frymaster or Garland, but also in HoReCa with Convotherm, with a mix of both with Merry Chef as well – while Ali is extremely strong in the general market.”
Alongside extended market reach for both companies, Roudier highlights geographic ‘synergy’: with Ali Group’s established presence in EMEA and Welbilt in North America and Europe, together they make an excellent strategic partnership.
Business as usual
When asked whether Welbilt’s methods of doing business have altered in the months since the acquisition, Roudier says, “It’s really business as usual. We are still extremely focused on our customers,” adding that, “the main difference is Welbilt was a listed company. Ali is not a listed company. So, it simplifies things a little bit in terms of and reporting back to the market every quarter and so on.”
One aspect of the acquisition which Roudier praises is the ability for both companies to be more agile in business matters and respond to market trends quicker due to the size and scale of the brands they encompass. He cites as examples Welbilt being able to introduce WMAXX warewashing to the European market alongside the Delfield refrigeration brand; both launches were facilitated through the acquisition by Ali Group. Six months ago, Welbilt created a new ice-machine brand, Crystal Tips, illustrating that the company’s capacity for innovation and creativity has by no means diminished in the wake of the acquisition.
As for the reaction from Welbilt’s all-important customer base, Roudier describes the feedback as ‘extremely good’. “Welbilt was used to selling solutions: a combination of products and services together to deliver something for a customer,” he continues. “Now, with this additional product line [from Ali Group], we can complete the range and be more present with our customers.”
At the forefront of innovation in foodservice
Despite a ‘gloomy’ general market Roudier sees ‘moderate growth’ for Welbilt in 2024, especially in the Middle East and the chains market. “Interest rates remain quite high, they will not go down in the next few months,” he predicts. “That does not help investment, but it’s not too bad. Inflation should go down. So, that looks like moderate growth.”
Roudier nevertheless remains optimistic, especially about the opportunities provided by the HostMilano conference for expanding Welbilt’s network, which he describes as an ‘extremely positive’ event in his calendar.
“[It’s] the biggest show for foodservice equipment in the world,” he says. “It’s an event most of our customers are attending. We can see people traveling from all regions. Two years ago, it was well attended by Europeans, and some Americans but almost no people from Asia. This year, we have seen a lot of people coming from that region. So, it’s an opportunity to meet almost all your customers in one or two days, and to reconnect with customers, end-users, and channel partners, while showcasing new products and new innovation.”
These innovations include Convotherm’s new ConvoSense artificial intelligence technology, which recognizes food items as they are placed in the oven, cooking them as required. Roudier is also excited about the possibilities of the new Fresh brand, a smoothie machine which acts as refrigeration cabinet, icemaker, and blender in one with an automatic cleaning system.
“[This product] is good because it reduces the footprint and meets some trends of the market including scalability, energy saving, using less water and connectivity,” notes Roudier. “You will notice that on all pieces of equipment from Convotherm, Frymaster, Merrychef and Garland, just to name a few, they use the same common controller. All of the equipment is ‘born’ connectable – so you can connect and then plug and play.”
‘Connectivity, sustainability, flexibility, and scalability’: these are the key words Roudier says Welbilt wants to drive their product designs going forward. With Ali Group as their owners and business partners, there is no reason why Welbilt should not achieve all these objectives on a larger scale than ever before.
Interview by Michael Jones; Additional reporting by Elsie Clark