More in store for long-standing family business

Rational cooking systems help family-owned supermarket chain innovate to future proof their business

Crisis breeds innovation, and businesses that embrace modern technology will find solutions to larger problems that help them to both maintain and improve standards while increasing output and improving quality.

The Covid-19 pandemic affected Jempson’s in different ways. “Our supermarkets were able to remain open and were very successful, while the cafes had to change to a takeaway model,” explains Andrew Maylam, Jempson’s financial controller. “People were shopping more locally, and many were looking for good quality food to go.” To meet the changing needs, and trends of its customers Jempson’s launched a home delivery service, and introduced a range of high quality, freshly made ready meals. “We found there weren’t many options for chilled ready meals, and they became very popular.”

Many businesses learned the importance of embracing change during the pandemic and Jempson’s at Peasmarsh was no exception. The latest technology, like Rational’s advanced cooking systems, is a powerful and flexible way of increasing productivity and maintaining high standards during uncertain times.

Jempson’s is a family-owned business based in East Sussex that has evolved considerably since it was founded in 1935. From its roots as a baker and grocer, the chain now includes supermarkets, convenience stores, a restaurant, and cafes, as well as a petrol station, a pharmacy and post offices.  The total business currently has a turnover in excess of £32 million.

As lockdown came to an end, Jempson’s decided to upgrade the production kitchen at its Peasmarsh site. “We already had experience of using the previous generation of Rational systems,” says Andrew. “We worked with South Coast Catering on this project, and after they showed us what the latest Rational cooking systems were capable of, it made sense to update to them.”

Jempson’s took delivery of an iCombi Pro and iVario Pro, which together, through the ConnectedCooking networking system, forms the iKitchen and can replace the functions of 90% of traditional appliances while increasing overall productivity.

Jempson’s wanted to increase output, as well as offering a more varied menu. This had to be balanced against the need to maximise the available kitchen space, as well as being energy efficient. “The production kitchen at Peasmarsh used to be the main bakery for all Jempson’s stores,” says Andrew, “So in terms of the equipment we would need we were essentially starting afresh. The iCombi Pro and iVario Pro have really helped us to meet our aims.”

Head chef Minerva Jensen is delighted with the new cooking systems. “We make classic British food with a twist,” she says. “Whether we’re cooking food for sale in the shops or in the restaurant, we concentrate on using fresh local produce to make high quality dishes from scratch.”

Consistency of output is a big consideration for Minerva. “We produce between 90-150 ready meals a day, and between 60-90 meals in the restaurant,” she says. “The iCombi Pro and iVario Pro make producing this amount of food incredibly easy.

“The flexibility they give me, as a chef, is very good,” she says. “They can produce more dishes at the same time, and everything takes less time to cook, so we have more time to prepare everything.”

With the importance of Rational cooking systems to modern kitchens, anything that reduces downtime is an important benefit.

For example, the iVario Pro’s two pans can be used separately. “We can use one pan to prepare a batch of pasta while frying in the other one,” says Minerva. “The pressure cooking on the iVario Pro is incredible,” she says. “It takes half the time to cook, and it means we can get amazing, tasty, tender meat from less expensive cuts.”

The iVario Pro can also help to reduce risk and labour in the kitchen, and a solution for the staff shortages the food sector is facing. When using the iVario Pro to prepare pasta or rice the auto-lift function removes the basket of product out of the boiling water automatically. “My team don’t have to worry about moving heavy pans about the kitchen, which makes everything a lot safer and their jobs easier. It also means there’s less pots and pans for our kitchen porters to clean.”

The iCombi Pro can also prepare different things together. “It’s very versatile,” says Minerva. “For example, if we need to prepare fish and meat, they can be cooked at the same time in the iCombi Pro, with different results for each. We can set everything to be ready at the same time, which makes planning the service each day extremely easy.”

The ease of keeping both the iVario Pro and iCombi Pro clean has impressed Minerva. “With the iVario Pro you just need water and a sponge to clean out the pans,” she says. “The iCombi tells you when it needs cleaning and how many tablets it needs and then does everything automatically, it takes out all the guesswork and you can be sure that everything is hygienic.”

Replacing traditional kitchen equipment with multifunctional cooking systems also improves energy efficiency significantly. “Both the iCombi Pro and iVario Pro use about half the energy of standard equipment,” says Minerva. “The kitchen here no longer uses gas, and the fact that we don’t have to have burners on all day also makes it a more pleasant place to work.”

The ability to create recipe programs is another area where the ease of using the iVario Pro and iCombi Pro makes life in the kitchen easier. “Once I develop a dish, I can program it into the cooking systems, and I know that whoever uses it will get the result I created every time.”

Recipes, along with every aspect of both iCombi Pro and iVario Pro, can be monitored and controlled remotely with ConnectedCooking. “It’s one of the most fantastic features,” says Minerva. “It’s so easy to add new dishes to the menu with it, and being able to remotely monitor the kitchen’s operation from my phone lets me keep an eye on everything even when I’m not here.” This remote monitoring is a key part of Rational’s maintenance strategy, helping to identify and solve issues before they become too serious.

While this might seem like a lot to learn, Rational offers comprehensive training and support. “Our local Rational business manager visits regularly, to answer our latest questions and provide training where necessary,” says Minerva. “If we ever need assistance, we can call them up and get a response very quickly.”

The power afforded by Rational’s cooking systems has already had a huge effect on Jempson’s, with new and innovative dishes being added to the ready meal range as well as to the menus of the restaurant and café. “I’ve used Rational cooking systems for seventeen years, but these latest models are out of this world,” says Minerva. “They have already changed the way we work here, and we’re planning on getting even more for the rest of our sites. I’m excited to see what else they can do for us!”