From soggy bottoms to sustainability, LET 23’s product launches packed a punch!
The march of melamine.. cafetieres.. organic shapes.. microwaveable stainless steel.. and more
FEA LET Forum, 16 & 17 May 2023, Whittlebury Hall, Towcester
There’s no doubt that sustainability was top of the agenda at FEA’s 2023 Light Equipment and Tableware (LET) Forum – but the variety of different ideas and products was mind blowing. Reusable packaging for takeaways, alternatives to plastic cutlery for airlines, portioners to reduce food waste, reusable piping bags, the move from gas to induction, sauce dispensers to replace single use sachets, knife sharpeners that extend the blade’s life … And, of course, the sustainable ideas make economic sense, too: a lightweight, low cost stainless steel knife for an airline might cost 5p, compared to a 2p plastic one, but it’s reusable, time after time. Even allowing for the cost of handling and cleaning, it’s going to save an enormous amount of money.
“This was a really lively Forum,” said Steve Goodliff, the chair of FEA’s LET Group. “The buzz was very positive and very business oriented. There was lots of interest from the delegates, who seemed really engaged in what exhibitors had to show and say.”
John Temple of supplier Tablecraft agreed. “To be fair, the Forum is always good,” he said. “We get to see the right people. You can’t beat it for that. It does what it says on the tin.”
Andrea Shearn-Wood of Ascot Wholesale was a returning delegate. “I enjoyed it this year even more than in the past,” she said. “Meeting up with suppliers reinforces our relationships with them in a way that emails and phone calls simply can’t. The event generates lots of potential business for us and for suppliers.”
For information about the 2024 Forum contact Jocelyn Shawyer at FEA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back to this year, and soggy bottoms – or rather, banishing them. Amongst the innovative launches was perforated bakeware that ensures the whole bake – including the bottom – is cooked evenly. Another talking point was the microwaveable food containers made of stainless steel.
2023 LET Trends
Alongside sustainability, here are some more of the key LET trends for 2023:
- In terms of colours, there were a few specifics. Bright red and navy blue seem to be having a moment, as does green – the latter possibly due to the trend to put foliage into the dining area.
- Has copper had its day? It seems so… at least for the time being. Now it’s gold that people are rushing for. Mind, antique copper is on trend, too, along with vintage stainless steel and bronze.
- Cafetieres are having a revival, as consumers’ love of coffee in all its forms continues to grow. And suppliers are ensuring that spare parts of the cafetiere can be replaced if they get broken, such as the glass or the plunger.
- Then there is the seemingly relentless march of melamine. Such a diverse range of products were on show. There’s a big growth in organic shapes and textured surfaces, and melamine is increasingly popular in a wide variety of foodservice settings. OK it’s not oven proof, but it’s hugely robust and practical and its quality has shot up in recent years.
- Which isn’t to say ceramic tableware is anything other than hugely popular. Organic shapes are also big here, along with reactive glazes that makes each piece individual.
- Portion control was a big talking point. It’s not just about sustainability and reducing costs, it’s also about displaying those important calorific values accurately.
- Buffet is back! As the Covid rules and attitudes are relaxed, buffet is making a big return. Loads of different ideas were on display, including clever risers that can be used in different ways to create a variety of dramatic architectural presentations. There’s also a move to mix and match different materials in the buffet display – wood, glass, metal, melamine…
- Sharing is back, too, with big platters in increasing demand.
- Getting hammered – we’re talking about metal here, often stainless steel. Lots of products, from saucepans to cutlery, are getting the hammered or rippled look. As well as being attractive, it’s practical, as it doesn’t show fingerprints.
- Speaking of getting hammered, cocktails are huge. There were lots of barware ideas on display, with new designs of cocktail shakers, mixing glasses and all the paraphernalia the mixologist could need.
- Butchery – some knife suppliers said that there was increased demand for butchery knives, as foodservice operators are buying whole carcasses to butcher on site, so as to use all the animal.
The LET Forum in numbers
67 delegates, representing
22 distributor companies
16 exhibitors if you count Contacto and Frilich (owned by Contacto) separately, as they each had stands
£820 raised for St John Ambulance at the LET Forum Awards dinner
3 awards given out at the dinner
600 (at least) cups of coffee and tea served during the Forum
The three awards given at the LET Forum annual dinner on 16th May were to:
- Alliance, who took the Distributor Cup for an unprecedented sixth year in a row,
- Corey Mayes of London Bar and Kitchen, who was named Sales Professional of the Year, and
- Former FEA chief executive Keith Warren was given the Donald Bird Award.
LET Products on Show
As the largest European cutlery supplier, first time exhibitor Amefa showed its diverse range of steak knives, buffet items, and cutlery from 18/0 casual dining and trend designs to 18/10 collections for fine dining. Offering a wide range of quality specifications across bestselling ‘Teardrop’ and ‘Square’ shapes, buyers still have a variety of options regardless of budget. As cost and resource become a key factor in hospitality, hammered cutlery is a growing trend, as it’s stylish and doesn’t show fingerprints, resulting in less polishing. PVD coated cutlery is also in demand – adding a touch of colour to the table and keeping it’s finish for as long as standard silver cutlery. Specialist products include sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic cutlery and Assisted cutlery, for those with dexterity issues such as arthritis.
Reusable plastic boxes made of polypropylene are designed to replace disposable packaging for takeaway meals. It’s early days yet, but the company sees these in the same area as the reusable plastic cups that are promoted in coffee shops. Similar products are already doing well in Germany and are providing a sustainable solution to the single-use packaging issue. The boxes are ¼ gastronorm, so are compatible with a variety of holding and transport systems, and are dishwasher and microwave safe. Also on display was a range of upmarket, induction-ready stainless steel saucepans with an attractive embossed rippled exterior that makes them ideal for front of house.
The melamine specialist showed a selection of new products, all designed in the UK. The Talon cups in particular, created a reaction from Forum delegates. Their on-trend no-handle format, corrugated exterior and dual colour (white interior and coloured exterior) created a stylish impact. Moreover, these are highly practical to keep hot drinks hot inside, without transferring heat to the outside. The company focused on tabletop products, several featuring organic shapes. Trafalgar is a striking new collection that includes an oval-shaped dish. Loom cake stands have detachable bases that are available in different heights. Kata melamine dishes and Nimble bamboo risers and lids create an outstanding buffet display.
A household name in retail, Denby is breaking into the hospitality market and lots of the company’s pieces have a ten year chip guarantee. Amongst its new products is Kiln Green, a stoneware collection with a reactive glaze that makes each piece different and combines beautifully with the design’s organic shapes. Denby is also introducing a new range of porcelain tableware, which gives the company the option to experiment with texture and colour. The British manufacturer was also promoting its strong green credentials – including zero to landfill and the recycling of water used in manufacture.
The classic toaster is still manufactured in the UK – and each one has a label on the base telling you which assembler made it. They are built to last, with components such as the elements being replaceable and easily obtained. For its 70th birthday, the company launched a worldwide search to find the oldest working Dualit toaster. The winning toaster was 50 years old, having been made in Dualit’s Old Kent Road factory in 1973! To enhance safety their DCT2i Conveyor toaster has a built-in thermostat and features a standby setting to conserve up to 70% energy, while the Classic Toaster units feature built in thermal cut out fuses. Dualit opened its own UK coffee capsule production plant in 2013. High street retailers and supermarkets stock the capsules, giving customers a choice of where to purchase. Its latest product innovation is home compostable capsules. These are hermetically sealed, so the coffee stays fresh, but are truly compostable, being made from a corn starch derivative.
The company celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023. New at the Forum is a range of cast aluminium cookware from Pujadas – the bronze finish model was especially popular with delegates. Other launches included Cambro’s FreshPro range of containers, which feature a drip tray and an airtight lid and can help extend shelf life. Also from Cambro is the Universal Storage Rack, which fits into the brand’s shelving systems and can be used to store multiple gastronorm pans. FEM’s Polinorm lids are designed to replace clingfilm and fit most gastronorm pans on the market. From Hamilton Beach Commercial is the Summit Edge, a 3.5HP blender which is quiet and quick. It has an autoblend feature that blends drinks to the right consistency, every time.
The buffet specialist company has cooling cushions or packs that the operator stores in the freezer overnight, then puts into the display equipment, where it can keep food cool for up to three hours, depending on the conditions. Also on show were beverage presentation ideas – and these are important for the company, as it developed the original juice dispenser. A key issue with juice is the tap, which can get blocked. Frilich has a clever design that comes apart easily for cleaning. A stylish carafe system uses a crushed ice tube to keep juices cool.
New are stacking teapots in a choice of mirrored or brushed stainless steel finishes. Green accessories such as spice mills are having a moment – perhaps to match a trend for foliage in restaurants and hotels. A big launch is ten new cutlery collections in Grunwerg’s River range, which are all 3.5mm, stamped and 18/10 stainless steel. A wide choice of designs is available, including Sheaf, with a simple and contemporary look, Whitting, which has stylish twisted handles, and Barlow with a hammered pattern. The company was also promoting its range of cafetieres, in line with the trend for traditional coffee brews.
Lifetime Brands Europe
An eclectic mix of new products included a range of electric scales from leading brand Taylor – ones that can weigh down to 0.01gm. There are also allergen scales, waterproof models and ones with an antimicrobial surface. From the company’s Artesa range comes a striking marble wine cooler and the gin tree – an arresting way to serve drinks, for example at a function. Super vitrified porcelain and stoneware from Mikasa Hospitality boasts a lifetime chip edge warranty. One of the big interest generators at Forum was the company’s range of Masterclass microwaveable ‘cook, freeze, heat, eat’ containers, which are made of stainless steel! Their proprietor technology prevents arcing.
The Tormek T-2 created a lot of interest at the Forum. It’s a knife sharpening system designed to meet the needs of commercial kitchens. Its adjustable guidance system holds the blade in place to give just the right angle on the sharpening wheel, while the honing wheel de-burrs the blade to give the best possible edge. Its accuracy and user-friendliness makes it easy for kitchens to keep knives sharp and, since it only takes microns off the blade, the knives last for longer. Metcalfe also promoted its range of vegetable prep machines, including the Hallde combi cutters and vertical cutter blender/mixers.
Mitchell & Cooper
Bonzer can openers are getting a big push from Mitchell & Cooper. As well as saving time and effort in any kitchen that opens lots of cans, these workhorses are easy to look after and the blade pops out for washing. The company is also pushing another established Bonzer brand product – portioners. These can really help reduce food waste – Freeman’s Hospital in Newcastle saved £100,000 per year following their introduction. The company showed its Crustastun machine, which humanely kills crustacea and, since the animals don’t suffer stress, the meat quality is enhanced. It also showed the Nemox gelato machine, which can turn liquid into sorbet in just 12 minutes. All this, while at the same time Mitchell & Cooper is celebrating becoming the distributor for the Dynamic range.
The company has just become the exclusive UK representative for Hatco and Escali, handling all sales, customer service, marketing and logistics for the US based manufacturers. At the Forum PFR was focused on mixology, under the Barfly brand, and knives and other kitchen tools from Mercer. Shaken or stirred? One product creating waves is the Lattice shaker from Barfly – it’s subtle and unusual design will add theatre to drinks presentation. For those who prefer their cocktail stirred, PFR offers a wide range of mixing glasses and spoons. With lots of new recipes coming from the USA, there’s demand for jiggers in ounces as well as metric. New from Mercer is a range of butchery knives and, on the chef’s knives side, a Damascus knife.
De Buyer’s new AIR System is a range of perforated bakeware that promises to deliver consistent performance and give better bakes. Using the precision engineered perforations, pastry bakes quickly and uniformly. If the batter is wet there is also a range of compatible liners. Also for the pastry section is Le Tube, a dosing system designed to replace the single-use piping bag. Squeeze the handle and it delivers a perfectly adjustable flow. Signature also highlighted a washable, reusable piping bag for those piping manually. From Chasseur is a range of top-quality cast iron cookware, enamelled and with consistently machined walls, ensuring a lack of hot spots, and perfectly smooth bases to protect glass hob surfaces. Chasseur cookware is available in a new range of on-trend colours for 2023.
Connect is a range of acacia wood boards featuring clever handles that double as connectors, interlocking with risers to create striking buffet displays. With the increase in demand for personalised products, the company offers laser etching onto wood and cork boards, coasters, spoons and other items. For example, coasters can have logos and messages etched into them, and Connect boards could have messages such as ‘Gluten Free’. Also on display were a range of stylish wood display products with a pastel green exterior. The company is known for its range of pepper and salt mills with the latest model called Prism, which features an eye-catching design that will certainly create impact.
The company showed its complete new range of barware, including shakers, strainers and jiggers. Its PourMaster range of juice servers has a new colour coded lid, this is a one-piece integrated spout making it much easier to clean than a 2 piece traditional spout. Textured, organic-shaped melamine tableware collections include Lunara, which resembles ceramic with copper flecks, and the Europa in white. Both are glazed for added protection. Another melamine line is ‘enamel’ pans for serving and display. These are popular in Europe as alternatives to disposable packaging for eating in in fast food outlets: there’s no need for a liner, they are dishwash safe and they look great.
Thunder Group has a new UK website that will make searching and ordering much easier. The company offers a wide range of foodservice essentials at competitive prices – including tongs, melamine buffet ware and polycarbonate glassware and stainless steel and polycarbonate gastronorm pans. At the Forum it talked about some of its key lines, including GN pans, colour coded tongs and utensils, chopping boards, squeezy bottles, bins and trolleys. Portioners and tongs are increasingly important, in all sorts of different sectors, from schools and public sector to delis and fast food establishments. Thunder Group offers three different designs of portioner, in multiple sizes, offering a choice of grips to suit various applications. Also on show were its pizza accessories, including cutters and paddles.
Comments from the LET Forum Floor
Andrea Shearn-Wood, Ascot Wholesale: “I enjoyed the event this year even more than in the past. There are lots of suppliers and this reinforces our relationships with them in a way that emails and phone calls simply can’t. The event generates lots of potential business for us and for suppliers.”
Amy Daniels and Rafal Wojciak of Alliance – both first timers – “We’re learning about new products and meeting suppliers. It’s definitely very worthwhile.”
Julie Harradence, Lorraine Mizon and Alex Edwards of Drinkstuff. “It’s really good, we’ve learnt a lot and it’s helping source products for customers. The Forum is well organised, there’s a diverse selection of suppliers, it’s a friendly event and very useful – the 20 minute appointment time is just right: a great way to catch up with suppliers you know and meet new ones. It’s nice to meet people you might normally just email or talk to by phone. It’s good to have the chance to talk to them at the dinner, too – we still talk business, but it’s more relaxed.”
Sharon Kleeman of United UK. “It’s my first time and I’m very impressed. I like the way FEA does it, you can choose what you want to discuss. It’s useful to pick up on trends, such as the return of sharing plates. I like the variety of products and price points.”
Dan Cashman, Dalebrook. “It’s my first time and I didn’t know what to expect. It’s lovely – a real eye opener. It’s great to meet all these people we deal with. There’s been lots of interest.”
Lisa Hardy, Lifetime Brands Europe: “Brilliant. To have one-to-one attention gives us the chance to understand our dealers’ needs. It’s also nice to have these small groups, who are able to touch and feel the products. It’s one of the best events we do.”
Paula Sherlock, Signature FSE. “For us this is the main event of the year. It’s about training – it’s such an efficient use of time both for us and for our distributors.”
John Temple, Tablecraft: “The LET Forum is always good – we get to see the right people. You can’t beat it for that. It does what it says on the tin.”
The Foodservice Equipment Association (FEA) is the independent, authoritative voice of the foodservice equipment industry, representing nearly 200 companies who supply, service and maintain all types of commercial catering equipment – from utensils to full kitchen schemes. For more information on FEA visit www.fea.org.uk