Food can never be out of fashion: Vikram Goel, RATIONAL
"As a supplier partner, we see these times as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our customers and take it to the next level by offering them support which is unmatched in the industry."
In an exclusive interaction with BW HOTELIER; Vikram Goel, Managing Director of RATIONAL International India Private Limited talks about the COVID impact on food and beverage industry and shares the company's preparedness initiatives. He also sheds light on the 'road to recovery' for the industry.
According to you, how is the pandemic impacting your industry and the hospitality industry?
The coronavirus pandemic is the most challenging crisis the world has faced since World War II. Undoubtedly, the hardest hit sectors are aviation, hospitality and tourism which are inter-dependent on each other. I anticipate that the following months will be tough for the hospitality industry too. The lockdown and now the partial opening of food & beverage outlets along with restrictions in domestic and international travel has impacted the food service industry in a big way. The NRAI anticipates that 20 lakh people will lose job in the restaurant sector alone. Many well-known chains are closing shops and the ones which have managed to stay afloat have an uphill task in front of them.
What are the key challenges that you face as the leader of your business? Enumerate some of these challenges and obstacles that need to be handled to restart.
In these unprecedented times, the challenges undoubtedly are many. But I strongly believe challenges also give way to innovations and new learnings. However, what augurs well for RATIONAL is the core DNA of our product line. RATIONAL units by default take care of all major SOPs such as contactless cooking and social distancing that the food industry will have to abide by. The multipurpose equipment such as RATIONAL SelfCookingCenter® can take care of 90 per cent of all common cooking processes in the kitchen, thus eliminating the need for huge manpower.
The main challenge as always remains to keep the business owners and chefs well informed about the RATIONAL products. They should understand that these smart appliances generate better ROI for their businesses due to their sheer efficiency. The second major challenge is to change the mindset of the customer. RATIONAL units are not just appliances, they are wise investments that each professional kitchen must spend on to re-build their businesses. Simultaneously we need to work very closely and compassionately with our dealers/partners and help them restart their businesses which would also have a direct impact on our financial goals.
The hospitality industry has been on an expansion mode and that being stalled, what is the impact in your view and how much and when do you see the industry coming out of this downturn?
With operations being shut for almost three months, the Indian hospitality industry is undoubtedly one of the biggest casualties with demand plummeting like never before. Though the year 2020 started on a fantastic note with 2019 being a record year for the hotel industry, the pandemic soon started spreading its tentacles in India too. According to a recent survey, the overall occupancy in the branded hotels segment in 2020 is estimated to decline by 16.7 – 20.5 percentage points over 2019. The food service sector estimated at Rs.4,23,865 crore in India too has seen a massive hit, according to the NRAI.
In my opinion, travel bans across the globe will fully roll down only towards the end of the year, though domestic travel is slowly trying to come back to normal. All sectors are taking baby steps, but by when will the industry be back in form is anyone’s guess at this moment. The silver lining is that the crisis has brought multiple bodies across travel, tourism and hotels to collectively make representations to the Government. We are also hoping that the government will soon announce measures to revive and support the distressed sectors, with specific focus to the hospitality sector.
You are a very prominent supplier partner, how are you geared to support the industry? Do share some preparedness initiatives.
As mentioned earlier, the RATIONAL appliances by default fit into the new normal of professional kitchens and as industry leaders in this segment we are fully geared up to support the industry. Kitchens will have to adhere to the new norms of social distancing and high standards of food hygiene; and combi-steamer products such as the SelfCookingCenter® fully fit the bill.
Yes, we have taken many initiatives keeping in mind the post-COVID scenario, few are listed below.
* With a vision to find new ways of touch points with our customers very early into the lockdown, we adapted our sales process to newer ways with focus on virtual touch points including virtual visits and virtual RCLs. Regular webinars were hosted and though it took some time initially for our teams to learn the ropes, we did a fairly good job.
* We also recently did a soft launch of a facility to lease RATIONAL units. Leasing of kitchen equipment is unknown in India and we are the first ones to bring this concept into the Indian market. With this we are now ready to give an option to our customers to eliminate their entire Capex cost & fix the operational cost of the unit(including maintenance) to as low as Rs.18000/month. This is surely an attractive deal for customers with 0% interest charges.
* We have restructured/re-aligned a lot of our major processes to be more efficient and productive by maximizing our existing resources.
How has Rational efficiently utilized this lockdown from a review and planning standpoint?
These few months of lockdown gave us a lot of time to evaluate and re-model our strategies. Being a German company we spend a lot of time in the planning process enabling seamless implementation of our business strategies. Very early into the pandemic, we were able to re-align our expectations and strategies for the coming months and had started making changes to restructure ourselves towards maximum efficiency. These are challenging times but we are optimistic to come out strongly. I have personally attended various industry webinars and am motivated to see the industry stakeholders across the board voicing the need to restructure existing/new kitchens with technology taking the front seat. I am delighted to see SelfCookingCenter® being accepted as one of the equipment which can deliver in these changing times and hence foresee an increase in demand.
Additionally, we utilized the time to engage in in-house coaching on the new way of doing business and spread positivity within teams which is further carried forward to partners and customers during our interaction. Lot of time was spent to offer support to our existing customers in the form of online technical/application training.
From your perspective, what steps do you suggest for the industry's recovery and on what horizon?
Change is the only constant. The hospitality sector is considered to be the epitome of the service industry and will need to figure out strategies to continue providing a high level of service keeping in mind the social distancing norms. The road to recovery is going to be bumpy wherein an eye has to be kept at the cash flows. With huge job losses within our industry, managing anxiety levels of existing workforce will be the key. Most important in my opinion will be customer confidence. The industry will have to showcase a safe and hygienic environment to give them confidence to start visiting restaurants again. Engagements by chefs on the social media platforms will go a long way in boosting their confidence. In this crucial time, Government support to bring out policies encouraging positive vibe around the hospitality sector is much needed. Initiatives such as tax concessions, renewal & extension of licenses at concessional rates, loans at reasonable interests will go a long way in reviving the industry.
What would be the time-bound agenda that you would set for your team and cross functional colleagues to support the industry’s urgent need to restart?
With more and more professional kitchens adapting to smart appliances, I see an increase in demand for RATIONAL products and this leaves a lot to be done by all our teams. While the marketing team is spreading awareness about the benefits of RATIONAL products and how its use can make following WHO food safety guidelines really easy, the sales team have to perform at ground level. Our applications team are regularly giving virtual demonstrations and providing assistance to all our existing as well as new clients. I am glad that the advanced technology used to build RATIONAL products can actually help the industry jump back to action by aligning to the principles of food hygiene.
What would be critical maintenance, procurement, or must fix items/issues that you envisage the industry may face.
The biggest change required is to strengthen community based economic activities. The day-to-day income of the grass root level supplier in the value chain has completely vanished. The industry needs to come together to engage this community and map the process to exert a psychological boom that makes a positive impact on the attitude of risk taking.
Hospitality owners will need to optimize asset strategy, refurbish or renovate high potential assets, and enhance asset competitiveness to cater to the changes in customer needs. For the under-performing assets, these need to be managed properly in order to preserve the core value of the asset portfolio. In response to change in consumer-thinking, the industry will need to make timely adjustments, e.g. strictly follow HACCP guidelines, and promote the importance of hygiene within the organization. With high hygiene standards in place, hotels and food service outlets will have to make extra efforts in maintaining all round food safety in order to gain customer confidence. The existing service offerings needs to adapt to the changes in customer experience, e.g. promoting contactless delivery for in-room-dining, or restaurants and designing menus in single portions rather than a sharing size to name a few.
What is your message for the industry as a supplier partner: Share some positive pointers for better times ahead.
Food can never be out of fashion. Innovative thinking and maintaining high hygiene standards will surely help in reviving the industry. As a supplier partner, we see these times as an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our customers and take it to the next level by offering them support which is unmatched in the industry.
RATIONAL today has the best sales and service infrastructure in the country, we have worked hard for the last 10 years to educate the market about the combi-oven technology and while doing so created an unmatched infrastructure in our industry to support our customers.
It's now time for our customers to leverage this infrastructure to their advantage. We would be happy to lend support in the redevelopment of our partners and customers in all possible ways.
Any other pearls of wisdom to cheer up the industry and anything that we may have missed but needs to be addressed.
All I can say is - if you want to have a bright future, ignite your desire, fill it with action and move ahead. Your faith and positive attitude will not only empower you to let go “what was” but will encourage you to accept “what is” NOW. I am confident, this too shall pass and a bright future awaits all of us. Let us all stand together at this defining moment.
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