In this exclusive Q&A series, operators gain behind-the-scenes insight into our unique distributor partnerships.
At Henny Penny, we go to market differently than most equipment manufacturers. Through our network of distributor experts, we’re able to provide hands-on-support before, during, and after purchase and installation. Our distributors are in the field everyday solving customer challenges and demonstrating that cooking precision and consistency lead to both quality food and operational savings.
Solutions Food Equipment (SFE) is our distributor partner in France, where ghost kitchens skyrocketed in popularity as a result of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, the delivery market was 5% of the commercial restaurant industry and growing by a rate of 20% per year. In France, that growth is expected to triple within the next few years. Today, over 25,000 restaurants are available on the country’s Uber Eats platform, with 1,500 of those restaurants operating exclusively as virtual brands in ghost kitchens.
Here’s what Gregoire Demouy de Kergrist of SFE had to say about this evolving trend:
How would you describe the ghost kitchen market in France?
Last year, lockdowns accelerated ghost kitchen development with the introduction of new players and investors. We have seen the number of concepts just exploding and regularly we are discovering new ones.
We see a lot of marketing from Not so Dark and Kharis Capital (owner of Burger King and Quick for Belgium, O’Tacos for Europe) and investors like Smart Kitchen. We also see delivery business related players like Taster, founded by a former executive of Deliveroo and already present in France, the UK and Spain. Direct delivery brands such as Deliveroo, Dark Kitchen (Panorama Group), Vador, Kitchen Lab and Cooklane are continually developing new concepts.
These players all plan multiple openings within the next 12 months (between 10 and 50 kitchens each)!
Aside from those big players, are small businesses jumping on the ghost kitchen trend as well?
Besides the big names, we can see other people riding the same wave, such as traditional building owners that are creating laboratories with 5 to 10 small kitchens to share. They rent these ghost kitchens out to various brands and offer a wide range of business services to the operators (communication, financial, HR, marketing).
We also see traditional restaurant chains trying to get in on the trend by creating a dedicated virtual brand for delivery, like Buffalo Grill or Courtepaille (both Henny Penny customers!). The success they’ve seen with this approach has made them rethink the organization of their kitchens to keep up with demand when they reopen their restaurants to the public.
We even perceive positive signs from the hotel industry. For example, the huge chain Accor, frustrated to see most customers ordering food via Uber Eats or Deliveroo and eating in their room, are also considering food concepts specifically for delivery in order to reclaim much of their business.
How did SFE help customers like Buffalo Grill and Courtepaille introduce virtual concepts?
We worked with customers like Buffalo Grill and Courtepaille to create a dedicated corner for a delivery-only virtual burger brand.
As a specialist of equipment for QSR restaurants, SFE is in a particularly good position to help those concepts set up or upgrade their kitchen processes. Most of the existing kitchens were launched with poor quality equipment and due to the sales increase experienced with the pandemic, they have faced the limitations with that equipment, especially with fryers. We transitioned the concepts from simple counter-top units which cost less than 1,000 € to reliable and high-production Henny Penny fryers.
That was a big step, but we brought them into our demo kitchen, explained all the advantages like savings on time and oil consumption and safety for their teams. There, they had the opportunity to cook their own products in our fryers and experience this huge step they could take in terms of food quality and taste.
What opportunities does the ghost kitchen market present for SFE?
SFE has already partnered with the major dark kitchen concepts in France (Smart Kitchen, Taster, Not so Dark, Kitchen Lab), and we follow emerging concepts closely to get involved in the first openings. Sometimes we can even work on the development of new concepts, because once our equipment is in, we know it will be in all the next kitchens. Even when restaurants reopen, we don’t foresee a significant reduction in delivery sales because French customers have now become accustomed to ordering food easily at home and will continue to do it even after returning inside of restaurants.
What makes SFE the ideal partner for ghost kitchen operators?
Our main competitive advantage is the combination of our passionate and professional people and our willingness to deliver the best customer experience with the aim to build strong partnerships.
SFE has the chance to have a full range of equipment focused on this kind of activity. Aside from our Henny Penny line, we supply broilers, speed ovens, pizza ovens, griddles and refrigeration which allows us to offer a complete and premium solution for our customers.
The quick development of ghost kitchens had a big impact for us, helping SFE to end 2020 with a 25% increase compared to 2019. And by the end of 2020, Henny Penny became our top-selling brand.
Did you learn anything else from 2020?
This is a growing market, where main players with financial capabilities plan to open a lot of ghost kitchens and gain market share quickly. To stay in the game, we need to be proactive in contacting these players first – it is crucial!
The pace of development should be fast considering the investment for a ghost kitchen is 6 to 10 times less than a “real” restaurant on average.
These operators are moving quickly so they need a lot of reactivity and solutions including product availability. Unfortunately, sometimes we must deal with long lead times from overseas, so having a rolling stock is highly recommended.
To learn more about SFE, visit their website.
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