It is the largest hospitality industry trade show in North India, and it is a perfect mirror of the trends in the market. A couple of years ago, Ahaar was full of ice cream machines that had been made in India, inspired by Italian gelati machines. Every second stall showcased imported commercial gelati mixes. This year, there was not a single gelato machine; only world leader Carpigiani was present. On the other hand, this time around, every second stall had combi ovens and induction heaters.
FHRAI (or whatever) magazine spoke to Rishi Dayal of Constellation Projects about his reactions to the fair. “It is a faithful mirror of the trends that are taking place in our industry,” according to him. In the last couple of years, quick service restaurants (QSRs) were the flavour of the month because of the hundreds of malls that sprang up across North India. Today’s trend is hotels – 35 in the NCR alone. Of course they will need state-of-the-art kitchen equipment.
The delightful aspect of Ahaar is that, by virtue of its location in centrally located Pragati Maidan, it is not only the cognoscenti that visit it. In fact, industry-watchers feel that food and beverage and hospitality is rapidly coming of age because of the sheer number of caterers that were seen at Ahaar this year. From Chandigarh, Indore and Delhi itself, most of them were not of the suited and booted variety that characterizes hoteliers, but as they shopped for cappuccino machines and holding ovens that kept cooked food warm for three hours without any loss of quality, you could tell that in a couple of years they will be a sought after community of customers in themselves.
Many of the equipment stalls were divided into those that were imported and those that were fabricated in India. So which did customers perceive as a better deal? Amit Amla of Mashrabbiya was gratified at being able to see all equipment manufacturers and traders (read importers) under one roof though he was shocked at the mark-up that many of them had for the show. “Go and visit these same people in their Kirti Nagar and Najafgarh offices and you’ll see a more realistic pricing structure,” was his reaction. And would he buy Indian equipment or imported? Pat came the answer: “Imported. The reason is that we Indians do not know how to make compressors that consume little power. It is more worthwhile to spend big bucks on imported machinery but to pay low electricity bills rather than vice versa.”
Rishi Dayal puts it down to the huge sums that western firms spend on R & D. One of the companies that Constellation Projects represents is Angelo Po, the Italian kitchen equipment company. With refrigeration, combi ovens and cooking systems as its specialization, the appearance of its equipment is almost poetic in its beauty: brushed steel, impeccably finished corners and no bulges or clumsy angles. “On the other hand, we are a nation of copiers,” claims Dayal, reiterating that no indigenous company would dream of spending on research. “Yet, the west has a radically different approach to kitchen planning than we do, because of the widely varying situations here and in the west. Labour is cheap and plentiful here, so our kitchens would not only have a large butchery section, our vegetable prep section would be generously proportioned too. In the west, no hotel could afford to hire staff only for butchery, because their salaries would be unacceptably high: pre-butchered cuts would arrive at the hotel. Likewise, their vegetables would be ready to cook.” It is Dayal’s case that Indian conditions require different design solutions from western ones and R & D is not only preferred but mandatory.
It is also a function of customer perception: few Indian customers would consider spending lavishly on Indian equipment when imported equipment is readily available and has a proven track record.
But there’s imported equipment and then, there’s imported equipment, and there is the perception in some quarters that Indian customers do not look too critically at what they are buying. Jason Jones, part of the technical support staff of equipment trading giant Continental’s coffee machines was scathing about some of the other cappuccino machines at Ahaar. “I will refrain from naming names but most of them have come to India with their entry level machines and the difference in the technical specifications is palpable. Astoria – the world leader in cappuccino machines who supply to Café Coffee Day and others in the country – have done the Indian market the courtesy of bringing their top-line machines.
Does it really make a difference? It would seem so. Italian Lavazza, one of the most popular blends of coffee, showcased their coffees elsewhere, but on machines that Jones would probably sneer at. The blend at Continental was, on the other hand, something that had been locally picked up just to be able to showcase their machines. The difference was enormous. A famous Italian blend, popular all over that country, tasted poor in comparison to a local blend that even the stall-owners could not identify when extracted in a good machine.
All the equipment did not consist of only machinery, however. Expectedly, much of it was table-ware. Feather Touch Ceramics, who has a virtual monopoly on the Indian market, had a huge stall, if only to reaffirm their presence at the Fair: there could hardly be a player, small, medium or large in the hospitality industry, who could not be aware of Feather Touch and its larger-than-life proprietor Harpreet Singh Sethi. Have any doubts about this? Next time you are at a restaurant inside or out of a hotel, turn your plate upside down and look at the logo. Chances are that it will be that of Feather Touch or one of its satellite factories, like Shan.
Competition is coming to Feather Touch not from within the country – even detractors of Feather Touch admit that this is impossible – but from outside. RAK with its tastefully appointed stall showcased its porcelain that is fired in Ras Al Khaima, 45 minutes’ drive from Dubai. The finish was impeccable – each piece was perfect, with no waves that showed up when held at an angle to the light. Bone china, especially when poorly made, can be seen to have concentric rings when overhead light falls on it. AK Khan, Area Sales Manager (South India Region) of RAK explains the difference between the two products. Bone china can be heated twice at 850 degrees Celsius; porcelain is heated three times to temperatures of 1050 degrees Celsius, added to which, metallic hardeners are used. This gives porcelain a virtual indestructibility compared to bone china.
In the hospitality trade, opinions are divided sharply between the two products. Varun Tuli of Yum Yum Tree, a recently opened Singapore Chinese restaurant in Delhi, said at Ahaar that he looked at all options, but decided against porcelain because of the colour. “I insisted on pure white, which you only get in bone china. The best you can do in porcelain is ivory.”
It was a delight to see the impeccable finish of Venus who has moved from just cutlery to chafing dishes and serving bowls. On the other side of the coin, there was no glassware at all from within the country: Ocean is still an industry standard at the base level with Bohemian Crystal at the top.