FEA LET Forum 2022: the big trends in tableware and light equipment

Happy hospitality:
positivity the overriding theme at FEA’s 2022 Light Equipment and Tableware Forum
Plus: melamine, hygiene, colour, organic and sustainability, including a solution for ‘aldesko’ eating

What’s next in tableware?  Which gadget will chefs be lusting after later this year? FEA’s Light Equipment and Tableware (LET) Forum is the place to find out.  The annual event has had a two-year hiatus but was back with a bang at Whittlebury Hall, Towcester, May 10-11. 

The over-riding feeling of the event was positivity.  Steve Goodliff, chair of FEA’s LET Group, said, “It was an absolute joy to be part of this year’s Forum.  Dealers and suppliers are reporting a strong bounceback, some seeing sales even higher than pre-Covid.  But you know what?  Another reason for all the smiles was the simple pleasure of meeting people face to face again.” 

In terms of the big trends, melamine and polycarbonate were strongly in evidence.  Many foodservice professionals were putting this down, at least in part, to the huge increase in outdoor eating and drinking.  In addition, manufacturers have excelled themselves in developing new and exciting designs – many of them very much in keeping with another of the big trends: all things organic.  Textured melamine dishes and bowls, many in natural, uneven shapes, were the order of the day.  Meanwhile, over in ceramics, reactive glazes add to the natural, spontaneous ambience of the organic approach. 

Colours continue to fly.  Although white tableware will always be popular, delegates and suppliers alike attested to the popularity of colour.  Certain hues were clearly winning in 2022, though finding a common theme is not easy – the most popular range from rich, bright marine blues to muted sage.  Perhaps that just goes to underline another trend: the eclectic nature of table top presentations.  The mixing and matching of steel, wood, glass, ceramic, melamine, whites and colours … it’s no holds barred when it comes to the table top designer’s palate.  

After Covid, hygiene and safety occupy an even bigger part of the buyer’s criteria.  That was evident in, for example, buffet products that presented food in single portion, covered containers.   Similarly, suppliers noted strong sales for sauce dispensers that minimised the potential for cross contamination.  Personalisation is another clear trend, with many companies offering relatively inexpensive and low volumes on personalised products ranging from plastic squeeze bottles to wooden pepper mills.  And personalisation continues to play its part in Covid-safe hospitality, with products such as bespoke signs directing customers to help maintain social distancing. 

Sustainability is clearly going to be ever more important, both as part of product development and within buying selection processes.  Launches here includes low cost, reusable stainless steel cutlery (for ‘aldesko’ eating), highly energy-efficient grills, knife-life-prolonging sharpeners, scouring pads made of walnut shells, and compostable coffee pods. 

We all know about the supply issues that Covid and Brexit are causing.  Many of the suppliers commented on the steps they are taking to ensure they can maintain supplies for their customers.  “We’ve been focused on getting stock rather than developing products!” was one company’s response to the ‘what’s new?’ question.  Another reported that, pre-Covid, they ran at around £3 million-worth of stock, whereas currently it was almost £5 million, to give customers as many options as possible.   Meanwhile, things are improving: a manufacturer said that, at its worst customers had had to wait for up to 14 weeks for an order – that’s now down to 2 weeks. 

Meanwhile, several suppliers said that, during the pandemic, certain product lines had sold well – notably chef’s knives and barware.  It seems we were all learning how to cook and make cocktails. 

So, what did the suppliers have to show us?

The latest new product is a stainless steel pellet plate, used to keep standard 9 inch plates hot.  Though, as managing director Steve Goodliff pointed out, ‘standard’ is misleading as there’s more than one size of nine inch plate in the NHS!  However, he’d only found one that didn’t fit, and that was discontinued.  The pellet plate is made of a sandwich of aluminium with stainless steel top and bottom.  A choice of matching covers helps keep the food in top condition en route to the patient or customer. 

Frilich Contacto
Frilich was recently bought by Contacto in Germany and this was its first time at the Forum.  The range is available through Contacto UK.  The company specialises in buffet display systems with a focus on functionality and good looks.  On show was a clever cushion cooling system, which lies on the base beneath the display plate.  It chills effectively because the cushion is in direct contact with the plate.  Similarly practical is the adjustable sneeze guard, which allows users to fine-tune its angle to best protect the display. 

Signature FSE
The company recently launched the Alchimy cookware range from De Buyer.  The three ply pans (stainless steel, aluminium and stainless steel) are induction compatible and offer chefs superior controllability of the cooking process, as they conduct heat so quickly.  From Italian cutlery manufacturer Pinti Inox there were several new designs, including stainless steel designs with hard wearing PVD coatings offering colours such as honey, copper and black, and a choice of mirrored, stone washed and sand-blasted finishes.  There was also the ‘Use & Reuse’ range of stainless steel cutlery, designed to replace plastic disposables. 

Hospitality is a growing part of the Denby business, and the current trend for coloured tableware is a big opportunity for the company.  New products include the Kiln range, which exemplifies the vogue for texture and organic shapes.  The fact that their artisan products are ‘made in England’ is becoming an important sales benefit, as is sustainability.  The clay for Denby’s products comes from the area right next to the factory! 

Lifetime Brands Europe
Previously known as Kitchencraft, one of the product highlights was the Masterclass range of cookware.  Made of cast aluminium, it looks like cast iron but is much less expensive.  Its stainless steel base ensures it is induction compatible.  Another new line is La Cafetière, which has glass jugs made of hard wearing borosilicate and a contemporary metal sleeve.  From Mikasa Hospitality a new vitrified stoneware design is launching featuring a reactive glaze and a lifetime edge-chip warranty. 

T&G Woodware
The company specialising in wooden products and salt, pepper and spice mills says that a major trend now is personalisation.  It has invested in a laser etching machine that can work on wood and acrylic and offers an inexpensive service with a lead time of only 4 to 6 weeks.  Amongst recent launches is the Deco range, featuring 1920s inspired products including mills and boards, and a selection of revolving circular wooden serving boards with super-smooth, long-lasting ball bearings.  

PFR Revol and Spidocook
Most of the Spidocook range of light cooking equipment works from a 13 amp supply.  The latest product, the Barbeque Master, is a contact grill with ribbed, ceramic plates top and bottom.  Available in medium, small and twin formats, it features infra-red heating.  From high end porcelain tableware manufacturer Revol comes the No.W (no waste) Recycley range, which takes waste porcelain and glaze and turns it into stylish tableware.  Revol’s YLI porcelain tableware is moulded from wooden originals creating an organic, natural style. 

PFR Mercer Culinary and Barfly
According to PFR, the Mercer range is a ‘sweet shop for chefs’.  Alongside its wide range of chefs’ knives, PFR showed the Hell’s Handle and Hell’s Tools ranges.  The handles stay cool and don’t burn and high heat utensils such as spatulas are available in all HACCP colours.  The Mercer Safety Net is a set of tools with purple handles.  A big problem with kitchen cloths is storing them in bulk rolls.  BLU tablets are compact and easily stored, drop one into water and it turns into a machine washable cloth.  New Barfly products included extra heavy weight shakers, which don’t knock over easily, and a range of Day of the Dead skull-etched shakers.  

Two stand outs of the Eddingtons portfolio were the iconic Stetton range of beverage jugs and the Finex cast iron skillet.  The Classic Stetton jug is a designer product with timeless style that’s also workable, functional and ergonomic.  The optional rocker stopper opens as you pour and shuts as you stop, locking heat in.  The Finex skillet is pre-seasoned and has an eye-catching hexagonal pan that’s ideal for FOH.  On the sustainability front, scrubber sponges made of walnut shells made a big impression. 

The company announced its new brand strategy, focused on sustainability, family values and its Sheffield roots, underlined by the fact that new ranges have been named after Northern rivers.   Grunwerg has invested in six new cutlery designs, all are fully forged for superior quality, offering a premium feel at a mid-market price.  The Hero range includes everything you could need in a cutlery set, from cheese knives to fish forks.  There are twenty more new ranges on the way, including some that are stamped and offer very competitive pricing. 

Obviously best known for toasters, the company is continuing its move into coffee service in a big way.  Alongside its capsule machines the company has coffee bags.  Dualit also offers compostable capsules, made of corn starch.  Another eco-friendly product is the Eco Press – operators simply pop aluminium capsules in after use, and this clever unit separates the coffee from the pod – so they can put the grounds into the compost and the pod into the recycling. 

With the importance of giving customers a consistent and reliable supply in mind, in January Elia moved to a new facility in High Wycombe, doubling the size of the company’s warehouse as well as providing new offices and a bright new showroom.  They have up to 40 cutlery designs available from stock, as well as barware, crockery and beverage service.  New products included a smart, injection-moulded, non-slip tray and stylish new wine buckets. 

Thunder Group
The simple things are selling well, according to Thunder Group, including, for example, portioners.  With 45,000 square feet of warehousing in Sheffield, the company offers 2,000+ skus.  The dramatic rise in al fresco dining has led to considerable interest in the company’s melamine tableware and polycarbonate glassware, particularly the heavy-duty designs. 

The company showed lots of new lines including Pulito, a chic, heavy weight melamine tableware range that was developed for a customer to duplicate the ceramic products they had been using, which they loved but kept breaking!  Also new were induction-ready chafers in stainless steel, with a PVD coating and a clever ‘stay anywhere’ hinge.  Barware launches included attention-grabbing PVD-coated shakers that are dishwasher safe.  Another popular line is squeezy bottles that can be personalised. 

Mitchell and Cooper
Trending products included the HotMix EasyGiaz.  Chefs store their pre-prepared stocks, purees and gelato in the freezer in the EasyGiaz beaker.  When they want it for service, pop the beaker under the EasyGiaz and its blades grind exactly the portion they need – the rest can go back in the freezer.  The HotMix Gastro is a cooking mixer that’s ideal for soups and sauces and also offers smoking and sous vide options.  Meanwhile the popular Nexmox gelato maker is now available with R290 green refrigerant. 

The company has 4,500 lines and plans four product launches each year, with 100 skus in each – so there were plenty of new things to see!  From Hendi came the latest plug and play cooking equipment, while on the tableware side Nevilles showed its new Seafoam design, a 24-piece collection of hardwearing vitrified porcelain with reactive glaze.  New additions to the company’s popular vintage steel range were also on show, matching the trend for steel to be used to serve on the table – a trend underlined by the attractive etched steel chip cups shown alongside. 

The company will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2023 and showed some of the latest launches from the market-leading brands it distributes.  Cambro’s new GN trolley is just as tough and practical as the company’s Cam shelving.  The latest Sirman ceremic grills heat up in a few minutes and, says FEM, save 36% on energy, compared to conventional designs.  From Hamilton Beach Commercial were new blenders and FEM has put together a guide, ‘which blender is right for you’? which offers dealers and their customers a useful and practical way to choose the right product. 

The company honed in on its new Pro Kitchen Knife Sharpener, from Tormek, which very much ticked the sustainability box with delegates.  Rather than grinding knives it reshapes them, which means they are still sharp but last a lot longer, since no unnecessary steel is removed.  As well as being suitable for standard knives, it can also be used on bread knives.  It’s easy to set the angle of the sharpener for different knives, and there are plenty of optional accessories, including a tool for sharpening kebab knives.   

The company focused on the range of products manufactured by Carlisle.  Its latest anti-microbial polycarbonate trays are available in a wide range of colours, are shatterproof and suitable for washing in commercial dishwashers.  Meanwhile the latest anti-slip tray is anti-stain, too.  The trays feature drying lugs so they can be stacked after washing.  Alongside the huge range of polycarbonate glasses are jugs with clever pouring lips that stop ice or garnishes from getting into the glass.  In melamine there were organic shaped, heavy weight tableware designs. 


How was it for you?

From the delegates:

Leanne Firth, United UK LLP: “This is my first visit – it’s been a really, really good experience.” 

Jo Pethard, United UK LLP:  “It was most enjoyable and educational. I am sure we can generate more sales from the knowledge we learnt at the event.”



Jade Dukes of Russums: “The Forum is really informative and really enjoyable, too.  I would definitely come again.”

Diane Kinkead of Bunzl Catering Supplies: “I’ve been coming for many, many, many years.  I think it’s a brilliant forum, both for people who are experienced in the industry and those who are new.” 

Rebecca Varley and Laura Comrie of Brakes Catering Equipment: “It’s great to get the product knowledge.  We’d definitely do it again.”   

From the suppliers:

Mark Toy of Denby: “The Forum is a very useful opportunity to meet and have conversation with colleagues in the distribution trade, to present Denby and to discuss our new products.” 

Steve Kirkby of Tablecraft: “I can’t knock it, the delegates are very engaged.”

Phil Boardman of Lifetime Brands: “We need to meet face to face with customers – this is a brilliant event.” 

Ross Gibson of PFR:  “It’s always excellent, very much on point. If we only did one event per year, this would be it.”

Gareth Osborn of Thunder Group: “I’d encourage everyone to attend, you always take away something with you.  You learn new things about products you think you know, and see things you didn’t know!”   

To find out about the 2023 LET Forum contact FEA. 


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