Renu Oommen is the Chief Marketing Officer of RAK Porcelain, one of the world’s largest and fastest growing makers of commercial flatware. He spoke to The Pro Chef Middle East about trends in the industry and what you can expect to be serving on next.
RAK Porcelain was set up ten years ago, drawing on the established expertise and resources of parent company RAK Ceramics. In the decade since, RAK Porcelain has grown to be a global player, with production capacity heading for 30 million pieces a year, and distributors in 135 countries worldwide.
What do you see as the key trends in tableware in both the fine dining and more casual dining sectors?
Trends change and we constantly innovate and reinvent our strategies to create trends and keep abreast with market requirements. We at RAK Porcelain constantly provide more and more products that give customers new tools to create a differentiated dining experience that also reinforces the trends of casual as well as fine dining experience. Although standard ivory porcelain remains the firm favourite with chefs who prefer it for the fine dining experience, over time there has been a shift towards subtly coloured matt glazes, with more handcrafted, rustic feel, and these are hotter right now. To respond to this latest trend we launched our new series “Neo Fusion” which is a highly playful collection of vibrant matt colours, an exclusive creation of the RAK Porcelain design studio which is sure to lend a touch of class and sophistication to an outstanding dinner experience.
Are chefs turning more to simple tableware to show off the food? Who then sources the more elaborate, gold-plated dishes?
Simple tableware is a classic trend and we still feel that majority of chefs prefer plain. But these days in order to capture the attention of the guest and to present the dish in a more eye appealing way, chefs have shifted their interest to more ‘designer’ plates to show off their food. Traditionally, gold plated tableware indicated richness and super luxury in a social symbolism. The gold plated tableware is exclusively designed for the niche segment of the market and, with the Middle Eastern region being the hub of all luxury business, there is huge demand for high end luxury products. Such gold-embellished tableware is most commonly used for Royal Weddings to indicate lavishness and enhance the gratification of guests. At RAK Porcelain we invite you to enter a world of luxury with our golden collection tableware, which is designed with the latest technology and blending it with the traditional skills of master craftsmen to create a product of complete glamour and prestige.
Are demands different in different territories?
Definitely, since different territories serve different cuisines based on their culture, and eating habits require different product shapes as well as diverse presentation techniques. RAK Porcelain has made many ranges that were especially crafted for various cuisines. For example Mazza Collection aims at covering the Lebanese cuisine, Nano and Minimax cover Asian cuisine, Nordic is for the rich Scandinavian cuisines, Anna with its complete range suits the European segment, and many more.
How much is RAK Porcelain’s business developing?
RAK Porcelain is in its tenth year of production and has shown a remarkable record of growth over the period. Production capacity has been increased from 15 million pieces to 25 million pieces annually, and by the end of 2015 we will be reaching 28 million pieces.
You use European designers. Are there any plans to develop tableware lines specifically for the Middle East?
Our European designers are the industry’s finest. These designers draw inspiration from chefs’ needs and create products that are both practical and creative. Alain and Dominique Vavro, from Lyon in France, create designs for the leading gastronomical destinations of the world. Among the most fascinating models developed are All Spice, Nordic and Ska, and timeless yet ever contemporary collections Fine Dine and classic Gourmet. Mikaela Dorfel, another designer with a great reputation, develops each product line around a concept. For RAK Porcelain, Mikaela created Lyra, the elegant line that plays on the contrast of object softness and precise contours. Gemma Bernal designed two beautiful collections, Marea and Giro, which feature different pieces for tapas dishes, main and side dishes to enhance the culinary presentation. Her work has been tremendously influenced by Mediterranean atmosphere. Franciouse Boeur is actively involved in creating designs for the top hotels in the Europe as well as the Middle Eastern region. She is active in creating and fully developing custom designs on porcelain tableware for prestigious clients all around the world.
What are your most popular lines?
Delivering outstanding products using cutting edge technology that withstand the test of time has long been our purpose. Our popular lines All Spice, Fine Dine and Mazza are a testimony to the fact that a good design will always be popular and hot. The All Spice range is a perfect match for the most sophisticated culinary creations of chefs. This year we have added a separate category called inspirational dining and we have added miniature plates to All Spice making this range more exciting. The unique Mazza range, which elegantly adorns many fine dining restaurants, is further enhanced with the addition of cups and saucers to complete the pristine ambience of the dining experience.
What percentage of your business is replacement orders compared to complete new ranges?
Replacement business varies from outlet to outlet and in relation to the usage of the tableware in the restaurants. Although replacements have not been a major source of business, they do contribute between 5 and 7% to our business. However, chefs these days constantly innovate in terms of menu and redesign the ambience of the restaurant and this sometimes calls for completely new tableware.
What are the potential threats to your business?
Having business model which is spread across the world, RAK constantly faces threats with low cost products which are manufactured and sold locally in many of the countries. But these usually poor quality products with no control on reliability or continuity are usually more localised. Actual threats are coming now from some manufacturers who are now competing with Chinese manufactured products but branded by them. Moreover the rapidly falling Euro also has contributed to the increased competition from these companies. But I strongly believe this is a temporary phenomenon with customers getting more informed with such tactics and the Euro strengthening again. At RAK we constantly innovate and are fully capable to meet any threats head on and grow on that to be a market leader in porcelain tableware.