Ecogroup recently joined NAFES. We interviewed Chris Kenny – Ecogroup Managing Director to find out more about his business and why he joined NAFES.
What does Ecogroup do?
Ecogroup is a 100% owned Australian manufacturer of stainless steel products serving the food and beverage, construction and medical industries.
We have 4 distinct divisions.
Ecocanopy is our Aussie designed and manufactured low velocity exhaust canopy division.
Markforce VE is our veterinary products division and Markforce is our commercial kitchen division.
We recently launched a new business called Bradford Products which manufactures stainless steel swimming pools for high rise installations. Stainless steel pools are widely used in the US and other parts of the world but it represents a new product offering for the Australian market.
What inspired you to start Ecogroup?
I have a background in accounting and manufacturing and have always enjoyed being involved in product design and manufacturing. Whether renovating houses or helping design our products, being hands on and creative is what I enjoy most. A
After many years working with some large manufacturing companies, I decided that being a business owner in the manufacturing sector was what I wanted to do. In 2005, I took the plunge and purchased Markforce which was a well known commercial kitchen contracting company established in 1985. I cannot believe that it has been 15 years, but it has been an amazing journey of diversification and reinvention as we evolved to become Ecogroup.
What attracted you to become a member of NAFES?
As our business changed from contracting to marketing and manufacturing standard products, so too has our customer base. NAFES will enable us to share ideas and information with like minded companies. I’d like to think we can add value to the industry by being an active participant in NAFES and also help support other businesses in NAFES that have common goals.
What challenges have you faced during COVID-19?
Uncertainty has been the biggest challenge as a business. Under normal circumstances we can plan and prepare for the year ahead but at the moment, it feels as though we are on a roller coaster ride, not knowing when the ride will end. This means we are planning and reviewing our short- term goals much more regularly and developing contingency plans and “what if” scenarios without really knowing what the next 12 months will hold in store for us as an industry.
Innovation is a large part of your process. What projects are you currently working on?
We recognised many years ago that being innovative and focussing on niche markets was going to be the key to our success. Thinking outside the box is critical to stay niche and therefore spending time and resources on innovation is very important to us. Our main issue is not trying to take on more than we can manage.
At present we have a number of projects on the go focussed on continuous improvement. I am a strong believer in CI and making sure our production is always as efficient as possible.
We also have some great new products being developed to add to our existing range. I cannot give too much away, but you will see one of our new patented products featured in one of the world’s leading fast food chains very soon…
Where do you see the food equipment industry in 5 to 10 years?
I am hopeful that once we get through Covid, we will see a quick recovery. International travel will be off the radar for a while, so I think we will see people enjoying the amazing resorts and food and beverage businesses that we have here, in our own backyard. Consumers will be keen to get out and support business so I believe we will experience a steady rise in sales as trading returns to normal.
The way some restaurants have innovated to cope with Covid has been inspiring. This has resulted in a real shift in how people see take away meals. Just last week, a mate of mine spent $400 on a take away meal for his anniversary. Spending $400 for two people on take away 12 months ago would have been unheard of. I think the smart food and beverage businesses will embrace this change even post Covid and develop a second revenue stream for premium in home dining. This could be the start of seeing restaurants become more profitable which would be awesome for our industry. The rise in take away volume will also see a rise in venues opening Dark Kitchens and as a result of this, I think we will see demand for bulk cooking equipment increase as well as automated equipment as operators seek to increase volume without increasing labour costs.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
My wife and I are lucky to have 3 great kids aged 12 – 19. Like most parents, my time is spent being an “Uber” driver taking them to sport and other activities. When I do have some free time, I love staying at our property in Briagolong which is a piece of paradise surrounded by the Great Dividing Range. If I am not there, catching up for a meal and a lovely red wine with family or friends is my next best thing to do.
Top 3 items on your bucket list?
Wow, that is hard to narrow down.
- I love running a business and helping others, so one day I would love to be a sounding board or mentor to other business owners to help them achieve their goals. It can be incredibly stressful and isolating owning a business, so being able to listen and provide advice based on what I have done wrong and sometimes right over many years, would be incredibly rewarding.
- Travel and more travel. I love travelling and experiencing different cultures so visiting many more countries, especially more of Europe is high on my list.
- 4WDing around Australia…. I was lucky enough to go on a three week adventure across the Simpson Desert and Central Australia last year with eight of my closest mates. I’ve caught the outback bug now so going around Australia in a 4WD and seeing more of our amazing country is certainly on my list