Rational AG — the German manufacturer of industrial food steamers and ovens for the catering industry, has chalked out aggressive plans for the Indian market. The professional kitchen equipment maker that takes pride on its advanced technology aims to increase the customer base to 10,000 from the existing 1,000 in five years’ time. Pinaki Banerjee, Chief Representative, Rational India, talks to Varun Jain about the company’s future plans, marketing strategies and the only product that they make worldwide.
What is Rational’s set up in India like?
Rational is a focussed company. We first established ourself in Delhi and Mumbai by setting up offices and a network of service centres and technical application help.
We are headquartered in New Delhi. Our strategic partners comprise around 90 dealers across India. One of the major concepts of our company is Rational Cooking Live — a unique marketing concept wherein we invite people for a demonstration on the benefits of our products. We have also setup developmental centres across the country.
We have a very clear philosophy. We do not sell, but offer solutions to all our customers. Any kitchen has a multitude of problems — staff turnover, need to increase efficiency and productivity, loss of energy — and Rational tries to provide tailor-made solutions for there.
We are far ahead of the game in terms of technology and are spending considerably on our R&D. The second thing that is important to us is to offer additional services. We are committed to the Indian market and want to see every kitchen in the country using the combi-streamer technology.
How has Rational’s journey in India been so far?
We started our operations in India five years ago. Till last year, we had eight staff members; today it has gone up to 20. The aim is to have 50 people working for us in the next two years. Apart from this, we have our own subsidiary — our private limited company. We have really picked up a lot of pace in the last two years and have also developed a self-cooking centre focussed majorly on Indian cuisine.
Tell us about your product range in India.
We cover 95 percent of the product basket in India. We just make one product worldwide. There can be variations within the product according to the customer’s needs, but the basic product is only one. There are few companies in the world who with just one product focus have a market capitalisation of almost four times their turnover. There is an incredible amount of focus and support on technology. And being a German company, we pride ourselves on the superior technology we harness.
The SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency replaces almost all the appliances traditionally found in a professional kitchen. It can grill, steam, gratinate, bake, rise, roast, braise, simmer, stew, poach or blanch. The unit independently determines, controls and monitors the optimum cooking process – just by the push of a button. At the same time, the SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency requires significantly less energy, water and raw materials. It is not only a standard for western food but also for Indian and Arabic cuisines.
What is your assessment of professional kitchen equipment in India?
So far, the combi-steamer technology is not well established throughout India; however,
trends are moving towards even more efficient production, while quality has to remain constantly high. The demand for ‘green’ energy saving products increases within the kitchen industry. Space also plays a major role in every Indian kitchen. All the traditional kitchen equipment needs to be placed in a very limited space. The combi-steamer technology offers the perfect solution with maximum application flexibility but minimum space requirement. Increasing salaries of experienced chefs and kitchen staff is a challenge in the hospitality business. Hence, it is very important for kitchen equipment to be user friendly. New technologies allow for the best cooking results even with untrained staff. For instance Rational has created a software solution that makes operator errors almost impossible. With the software ‘MyDisplay’ functions, which are not required, are removed from the appliance’s user interface so that every user only sees what he is supposed to see. Finally, HACCP standards such as food and hygiene safety will always be a critical point that has to be considered in every kitchen. The Rational’s SelfCookingCenter Whitefficiency makes it possible to ensure hygiene safety with documentation of HACCP and automatic cleaning of the unit.
What is the USP of SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency?
The SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency will pay for itself in the shortest time possible: On a footprint of just 1 sq.m., it replaces or cuts the workload of 40-50 percent of all conventional cooking appliances and thus reduces the space required by more than 30 percent. Additionally, compared to our previous model, it consumes up to 20 percent less energy and shortens the production time by up to 30 percent. Even purchases of raw materials will be reduced by 10 percent on an average compared to the previous model – by precise regulation and cooking processes ideally matched to the product. At the same time, the SelfCookingCenter Whitefficiency stands for high quality made in Germany and is supplied with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty. Overall, we can say that the profit exceeds the finance costs right from the very start.
Compared with conventional appliances, Rational’s SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency requires significantly less energy, water and raw materials by transmitting heat to the product by means of steam, hot air or a combination of the two. In terms of figures, this means that the use of raw materials is reduced by up to 20 percent through optimised cooking processes compared to our previous model. Furthermore, the unit requires up to 70 percent less energy compared to the equipment traditionally used in the kitchens without any combi-steamer.
The SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency is also flexible and easy to use. This is what makes it unique. A mere fingertip on the desired result of any dish is enough for the SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency to independently determine, regulate and monitor the optimal cooking process. Chefs only have to take care of their food again when it is ready. Sensors detect the size of the food and the load size. With up to 60 check measurements per minute, precision control of the cooking process is ensured. Even typical national preferences are taken into account.
However, it is not only the product that makes Rational unique. Even Rational’s service portfolio with a number of free pre- and after-sales services is unique in the market. Customer benefit is Rational’s top priority.
What new initiatives have you started that reinforce your commitment towards the Indian market?
We have set up a team of 120 trained technicians in India who have undergone extensive training. We also keep all the spare parts of our equipment here. When a unit breaks down, it automatically conveys the problem and the technician can be called to fix it. Our commitment is that if the equipment is not repaired within four hours, we will change the unit. And, this has been a success. We have also introduced the Chef Line, wherein any problem in cooking something with our equipment is addressed by expert chefs. They give instant guidance.
You claim to have a market share of 54 percent globally. What is your market share in India?
The problem with the Indian market is that nobody announces the statistics at this point of time and we do not have any published data. So it becomes very difficult for us to give any accurate estimates. But if I go through India and see the amount of Rational units installed, on a conservative side, I will say it is above the 60 percent mark.
What is your target market?
We provide services to modern restaurants, Indian restaurants, three-, four- and five-star hotels, mess caterers for staff canteen units and institutional catering. To summarise, Rational can be found at all places that have commercial cooking.
What are the challenges?
Educating people has been a major challenge. People think it is a complicated machine to operate. Apart from this, I think it is a very exciting market for us. We are witnessing a triple-digit growth rate in India, which is absolutely phenomenal. We have a single manufacturing facility in Germany, and we import every single unit into India. If the Indian government could lower the import duties, it would be beneficial for customers as they could get the unit at a lower price. This could also help us reach tier-II and -III cities, where people cannot afford to buy equipment worth Rs 5 lakh but can purchase it at a lower price. And normally there is no local manufacturing of such equipment, so one needn’t to protect this industry from import duties.
How is the Chinese market different from the India market for Rational?
The Indian market is easier to operate in. In India, we have covered 95 percent of the cuisine, but we have just reached the 50 percent mark in China. The Chinese cuisine is much more complicated.
Are you customising the products to suit the Indian market?
In terms of technology, it is absolutely the same. What is important is to make your equipment adapt to the local cuisine, and that is where the application becomes very crucial in this business. This is why we are the only company in the world who is testing and trialing 25 tonnes of food every year. We have 250 masterchefs constantly testing and trying to develop the right food. We have created an application team in India by combining the German technology and the Indian requirements together and have a win-win situation at our hands.
How are you marketing Rational in India?
I think Rational is the only company that has the highest spend in terms of promoting events in India. We are present in all major exhibitions and support a lot of industry events. We even launched a cookbook on Indian cuisine. Apart from this, we conduct a lot of in-house events to promote our products.
Where do you see Rational five years from now in India?
Our goal is to have over 10,000 satisfied customers in India from the current 1,000. We want to enter emerging metros as well.