USED for more than 500 years to keep food warm, the chafing dish has been given a 21st century upgrade by Carlow company CBL Equipment by the addition of an energy efficient catalytic burner.
The resulting patent pending Castle Chafer is, according to company managing director James Kearney, 75% more energy efficient than other chafing dishes on the market and also works more efficiently than them by keeping food hotter for longer.
Selling in Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom since it launched in late 2015, the company has, this month, signed an agreement with US company Steelite International — one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of tableware.
“They are now our exclusive UK distributor and in February we will expand the agreement to cover the EU and the Middle East,” said Mr Kearney.
CBL Equipment is run by father and son team, Jim and James Kearney. Jim Kearney, an industrial chemist with 20 years experience in the gas tool industry, established the company in early 2014.
“He’d previously developed a gas burner while working for another company but saw an opportunity to develop an energy efficient one,’’ said James Kearney, a former officer in the Merchant Navy who came on board in 2015.
Market research, conducted by the Kearneys, had revealed that there are in the region of 25 million chafers in use globally and that five million of these need to be replaced every year.
Research also showed that existing chafer models, which use a gas burner to heat water which in turn heats a stainless steel dish containing food (the chafer), typically cost €1 an hour to run.
“In creating the Castle Chafer we removed the water, replaced it with a high thermal diffuser that spreads the heat around the food pan, insulated the system and reduced the cost to 25c an hour,’’ said Mr. Kearney.
By the end of 2015, the Carlow-based company was ready to demonstrate its new prototype to distributors and to chafer users, mainly hotels which use them to keep breakfast buffets hot for guests.
It was at that point that the Kearneys discovered that the key selling point for their new chafer was not its energy efficiency but its ability to “ generate the all important sausage temperature of 70 degrees”.
“The system keeps sausages moist and plump not dried and it keeps eggs fluffy — hotels which are using them have told us that this is more important to them than energy efficiency,’’ said Mr. Kearney.
By the end of 2015 the company began selling through a distributor in Ireland, gaining feedback which helped it refine the chafer. Since then, CBL has sold 160 units including 40 in Germany and 40 in the UK and is completing a fundraising round which will enable it to employ an additional four staff, develop sales and begin development on a range of new products.
“With the help of Enterprise Ireland, South East BIC, and local private investors we have raised over €450,000 so far,’’ said Mr Kearney who plans to draw down €200,000 in High Potential Start-Up funding from Enterprise Ireland this year and to raise a further €50,000 in private investment through an EIIS scheme.
During 2015, CBL Equipment also won €10,000 in prize money and a special award in the annual Intertrade Ireland Seedcorn competition.
The chafer dishes are being manufactured for the company in China and the gas burners are added at the company facility at Pollerton Business Park in Carlow. In 2016 CBL took on a third employee to handle quality control.
Mr Kearney expects the distribution agreement with Steelite, which sells in 140 markets, to be hugely significant for the company.
“In February we will attend a trade show in Germany where Steelite will introduce us to distributors in 25 markets,’’ he said.
He says the key emphasis for this year will be on the UK market and on gaining recognition for the Castle Chafer by demonstrating it to distributors and end users at trade events in mainland Europe and the UK.