Pinaki Banerjee, Director, Rational India, discusses the new Self Cooking Center 5 Senses, and the company‘s distribution, sales and service strengths, with Juhi Sharma
Rational’s Communicative Cooking System
The SelfCookingCenter 5 Senses is an intelligent cooking system that can sense, recognise, think, learn from a chef, and even communicate. It is different from the SelfCooking Center Whitefficiency (launched earlier), mainly in the usage of the 5 Senses technology, which is more sophisticated in the new model. The sensors can sense the current cooking chamber conditions and consistency of the food being cooked.
It recognises the size, load quantity, and condition of the products, and calculates the appropriate browning. It thinks ahead by determining the ideal cooking path to the desired result, that is, the manner in which a product must be cooked, during the cooking process itself. It imbibes the cooking habits of the chef and implements them, and also communicates with the chef by continually showing what it is doing to implement the chef’s specifications. For instance, if the chef is making chicken leg and chicken breast, where both require different heat settings, the machine can recognise the difference between the two pieces and their respective cooking methods and time.
Another important feature is that in case the chef is cooking meat on slow roast basis, he can leave it overnight, and the next morning, the meat will be cooked, soft and nice. The new cooking system is a big revolution for the bakery segment. It is capable of replacing all kinds of rotary ovens being used in bakeries and offers benefits such as energy saving, and better quality products. What’s more, the machine has an in-built self-cleaning system; cost of cleaning is less than Rs 100. It’s also more hygienic as no human touch is required.
How is Rational’s Indian subsidiary performing?
India was ranked 84th out of 100 in terms of maximum revenue contributions initially, and last year, the Indian subsidiary was ranked 49. I wish to take it to top 10 in the next 5 years. Out of over 25 global subsidiaries, the Indian subsidiary is the only one to grow by 136 percent in the company’s history of 40 years, and that too despite very low penetration in the Indian market. Globally, Rational has been growing by 10 percent every year.
In terms of distribution, we are present in over 19 cities across India, and plan to extend distribution to all 28 state capitals by end of this year. Our customer base has increased from 1,000 in 2013 to the current 2,500. We aim to have 10,000 customers in India within 5 years. I feel there is huge potential, given the fact food service industry is growing very fast. Our machines are priced between Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 24 lakh. At the service front, from August 24, 2014, we will be starting a 24-hour Chef Line, whereby any chef can reach us (on a common number) for any kind of assistance.
What has been your success strategy?
We are an activity-driven company and follow the AAA policy, which implies activity, activity and activity! One of our new initiatives is the Rational Cook Life wherein we identify our customers’ problem area or challenge and try to address it through our machines. As per our data, 50 percent of the people who come to see our demos buy our machines within six months, which is a high conversion rate. We are doing around 15 Cook Life sessions across 63 Rational centres in India.
We also focus on single unit sales and not just on high sales of hundreds of units to a hotel group or public sector. When a single unit is sold to a bakery or restaurant, it helps in building a relationship and increasing our market penetration. Last year, 50 percent of our sales were from repeat customers. For instance, we demonstrated how to make consistent high quality kebabs to Hyderbad-based Paradise Biryani, and to Delhi’s well-known Bittoo Tikki Wala (BTW) in making oil-free tikkis.
How do Rational machines meet Indian cooking requirements?
All our machines/hardwares are standard across the globe be it the White House in USA or Indore’s Pishori dhaba. But we do customise the programming/applications as required. Basically, it is making adjustments in the settings. For instance, we changed the setting for KFC’s fried chicken.
However, we have had to customise the technology in the machine for the Indian market, which experiences frequent power cuts. We understood the challenge, did some research, and developed an in-built device that protects the unit from sudden power fluctuations.
Some other changes we did include removing ‘beef’ from our marketing material; and demonstrating how vegetarian cuisines could be cooked in Rational machines (as Indians are largely vegetarian); which also eradicated the myth that Rational machines were suitable only for Continental and Western cuisines. We also launched an Indian cook book with over 100 Indian recipes. In fact, we test over 30 tonnes of food every year and include each and every delicacy in various states/regions of the country. We have customised the processes/applications in the machine to suit Indian cooking, for which, our in-house chef Gaurav Bajaj has contributed significantly.
Tell us about your distribution and service network.
My biggest limitation is reach, as I have got a team of only 40 members, and for a huge country like India, the team is very, very small. We have a network of 106 strategically located dealers, who understand their regions well and create brand awareness for Rational products. I call them ‘geographic gorillas’; 75 percent of them have already doubled their business. By end of the year we aim to increase their number to 150.
Dealers are encouraged to conduct demos and interactive events with their clients. For instance, we tell them to celebrate their birthdays and invite their key customers; the party is hosted by us and we cook the food in our machines. The dealers are also free to demonstrate other machines and equipments by other brands during such get-togethers.
We conduct quarterly training sessions with our dealers and their sales team, and periodically, our sales representatives exchange notes with them, analyse, and take corrective measures where required. Our sales directors are trained in Germany; they conduct training sessions and formulate policies for the regional sales managers and representatives. Even I visit our customers and prospective clients every week with my sales team.
We have initiated a programme called Kick Off; the first such meet was held in Goa. Here, we sign a Partnership of Winners (POW) agreement with our dealers, which states a plan of action for the coming years and the targets. We also give incentives such as a bonus or a (holiday cum work) trip to Germany.
Our team of 70 chefs (freelance) train clients on the use of our machines. For instance, when I visited the Victoria Secrets factory in Chennai, I was surprised to see young local boys operating our machines. Indore-based Pishori, which is a dhaba, is using our machines as well. So, these machines are not difficult to operate; one needs to simply understand their full potential and applications. Our machines can help increase revenue and decrease manpower. When Chennai-based Food Express started using Rational, their capability to serve went up from 2,500 customers to 15,000 customers.
We have 120 technicians across India for providing 24×7 service support. We offer an AMC, 2 year warranty for free labour, and 2 years for parts. Post this period, we charge for spare parts but not for general breakdown. We are currently expanding the network to emerging markets such as Coimbatore, Bhuvneshwar, and Raipur. We will also set up a strong base in Kolkata, which is a huge foodservice hub.
Which are your strongest markets?
In India, North India contributes 50 percent revenue, followed by the West, which generates 30 percent revenue, and then the South with 20 percent. We entered the South only 6 months back, but it is catching up fast; the market is more evolved here and the people are tech savvy. The North is very price sensitive. We have high expectations from the East, especially Kolkata, Bhuvaneshwar, Guwahati and Patna.
Markets such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal are also growing, and we will continue to develop these markets as well. Globally, our strongest markets are Germany, UK, Russia, followed by Sweden and Japan in terms of revenue. Important developing/growth markets for Rational are China, India, Brazil and USA. We are growing faster in India than in China as Indian food is more adaptable to our machines. Rational India has a market share of over 70 percent in the country, and globally we hold 54 percent market share.