At the annual CRFA Show, which wrapped up on Tuesday evening, Foodservice and Hospitality magazine editors conducted an impromptu survey, asking some of the industry’s big players to comment on their company’s overall outlook for 2010. Here is a snippet of what they had to say.
F&H: We all know 2009 was a pretty tough year. How has your first quarter been?
Vinod Jotwani, director of Marketing, Rational: We are excited to be honest. We finished off doing quite well, with a 10 per cent increase in our business. And, in Jan/Feb we are up 25 per cent from last year.
John Zuga, sales manager, Robot Coupe: Thank God for international sales, because the U.S. market was hurting last year. We are normally a double-digit growth company, except for last year. But our first quarter has been fantastic. We are way up, even in the States.
Mike Brown, director of Marketing, Ecolab: We are really trying to go after our goal in Q1. We are striving for eight per cent growth, and we are tracking, but we are not quite there yet. And we are spending wisely.
Steve Dever, sales representative, Hobart: The first quarter has been tough, but it is normally a tough quarter for us. We are not a price-point business. Our core business is also institutional. Our first quarter is consistently smaller because these businesses don’t spend their money until after March.
Warren Erhart, president and CEO, White Spot/Triple O’s: As far as our brand, we are very well-positioned. We offer great value and saw large increases from both brands. We didn’t stop marketing last year, either. We also stepped up our training, and now we have 40 Red Seal-certified chefs. We opened 10 units in the past 12 months, four of them full-service White Spots. Our store at UBC was a very unique opening, and so was the one in Whistler.
And the Olympics were also pretty good for us in Vancouver and Whistler, where we did huge business. In the tertiary markets out stores were pretty dead. Takeout was up, so people stayed home to watch the games, I guess.
F&H: What are your overall feelings for 2010?
Jotwani: The market is becoming more educated about combi-ovens, so we are very excited. We are looking at a 20 to 25 per cent increase this year.
Zuga: We are bullish on 2010 because of our niche. We are the Cadillac of food processors, and we’re very popular with chefs. They realize that our equipment is a smart investment. It saves time and labour, and that is our niche.
Brown: Last year was sort of mixed for us. We had some successes, getting a lift from hand-care infection, due to the H1N1 crisis. Preparedness was a key word, and our customers realized the importance of it. But we’re excited about the new year, especially with our Apex line of products.
Dever: Right now we have 30-plus jobs in Ontario waiting to open up. And we just had a really successful show. We are very optimistic about the next three quarters.
Erhart: We are very excited. Here is a scoop for you: we are in the process of getting a letter of intent signed to bring Triple O’s to Taipei. Right now we have Triple O’s in Thailand, Hong Kong and Korea, and this will be our next Asian market. We have a franchisee family who has units in Vancouver that has acquired the master franchise rights for this region. We are also investigating taking Triple O’s and White Spot to Ontario and beyond, but that is in the early phases.
F&H: Do you have any new products here that you’re excited about at the show?
Jotwani: Our SelfCooking Centre is still gaining traction in North America, as it is very popular in Europe. With the tough economy, we can offer a solution to customers. Yes, there is a big investment upfront for our product, but the payback on it is fairly quick. It can be recouped in the first six months. And the economy is going to turn.
Zuga: We have the J80 Ultra here, which is a top-of-the-line juicer. It’s won awards for innovation, and it’s on trend because of the healthy eating movement.
Brown: We have the Pot and Pan Soak system, which is specifically designed to eliminate rewashing tough pots and pans. Often, pots are not washed properly the first time, which is really inefficient. With this product, there is no scrubbing needed. You put the pan in the soaking agent for 10 to 15 minutes, and then it goes into the warewasher. This product was piloted in the summer — it’s been in the U.S. for two years — and we had very high retention with it.
Erhart: We don’t, but I can tell you that Pino Posteraro of Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill is going to be White Spot’s next celebrity chef. He follows the likes of John Bishop, Umberto Menghi and Melissa Craig.
F&H: What are the biggest challenges you company faces this year?
Jotwani: We have many sales people plus our corporate chefs on the road at all times, so we are looking to keep educating people. We are looking into the back of the house, and we want to help chefs find profitability. We can save them on energy costs and increase their efficiency.
Zuga: The confidence level of the consumer is key. Fine-dining is hurting right now, and customers are trading down. The credit crunch in the U.S. is also hurting investment into restaurants, especially with the expansion of multi-unit chains.
Brown: The challenge is educating customers. So many of them are cost-driven right now, but at Ecolab, our best products are in our Apex system. If you want premium results, you can’t just [go] cheap.
Dever: Our biggest challenge is the same as always. We are a high-end company, and the economy is dictating customers to make mid-to-low end purchases. The mentality has changed and there has been a shift in the marketplace to dollar sensitivity. Some people don’t care if the product is going to last 10 years, because they don’t know if they are going to be in business in five years time.