Q&A with Chris Koehler, Food Service Solutions


Interview by Nick Laws

Q: What was the immediate impact to your business at the beginning of COVID-19?

FSS went from a strong start in 2020, with more than 15-per-cent growth, to zero. Our sales in the second half of March were almost zero, rebounding in April to 20 per cent to plan. Executive salaries went to zero until we figured out CEWS in June, then we slowly started paying ourselves again as we figured out how to survive in a radically different market.

Q: What residual effects are you still feeling?

As COVID-19 progressed, the roller coaster of opening, closing and new waves and variants has been difficult to navigate. Supply chain has been the biggest long-term impact and continues to affect lead times. We made the difficult decision to significantly invest in inventory in February and March of ’21 in anticipation of more demand. The market and supply chain remain challenged, but in general, we’re in very good shape on high-demand key items.

Q: How have these challenges changed your company’s approach to strategy and product development?

FSS made the early decision to add product to its portfolio. We knew that the market would be soft, so we wanted to have a broader portfolio of product solutions to help our customers.

Q: What is the most innovative new restaurant-equipment product to come out as a result of COVID-19 challenges?

DRY-AGER has a patented UV-sterilization process that allows operators to do value added aging of meats, cheese and other products that increases the operator’s margins without risk of mold or mildew. We used it to dry age beef for 240 days in 2020, just to see what it was like. Normally operators age product for 45 to 60 days. Furthermore, the equipment uses moisture from the evaporator to constantly regulate moisture in the dry-aging cabinet, which results in less shrink and a better yield, meaning operators make more profit using their product.

The second very innovative and profit-enhancing solution is Turbo Air’s patented self-cleaning condenser. Let’s be honest, most operators never clean the condenser on their fridge freezer or other cooling equipment. Turbo Air cleans it several times per day, so the appliance is always at peak efficiency. This means that operators reduce their electrical consumption and save hundreds of dollars per year of hydro. The fact that this is a green energy efficient product and that it helps to reduce global warming is a further bonus for everyone.

Q: Have price increases and supply-chain issues continued to be a challenge for your company and, in turn, your customers?

Yes, every manufacturer has been affected by freight, labour and component costs and price adjustments have been frequent, which places an even higher need on operators to look for equipment solutions that are energy efficient, labour saving and ensure consistently high-quality food. It’s important to look for equipment solutions that generates an ROI for the operator, and not just look at the sticker price.

Q: What programs do you have in place to help your struggling restaurant clients?

We have a team of eight chefs nationally and 10 kitchens where operators can cook with our chefs and try products before they invest so they understand how that equipment can help their culinary operations and make them more profitable before they buy. In addition, we understand that capital is scarce, so we have programs with our dealer partners to create capital financing that allows operators to get good equipment solutions, with a strong ROI and finance it through day-to-day operations.

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