Cadco Ltd.: Small Equipment, Big Vision

Cadco Ltd. (Cadco) is a foodservice equipment company headquartered in Winsted, Conn., that specializes in countertop convection ovens and other small equipment made available through dealers in the U.S. and Canada. Cadco does much of its own manufacturing at its Connecticut facility, and has been venturing into the production of foodservice carts, including warming carts designed for the healthcare industry to provide fresh menu items to customers.

Cadco moved into its current facility in 2000, four years after being founded in 1996 by Mike Shanahan and Mike Bosson. Shanahan, equipped with 40-plus years in the foodservice equipment business, still leads the company’s success as president. His daughter, Erin Shanahan, assists in reinforcing the company’s sterling reputation as a performance leader while gaining the company a presence in new market sectors as Cadco’s marketing manager.

Erin explains that the company’s 30 employees manufacture a large amount of its products domestically in its facility, including chafers, griddles and hot plates. Cadco’s convection ovens, meanwhile, are made in Italy, and the company imports a large shipment every other week. Using sophisticated tracking software, Cadco keeps an eye on parts so there is no downtime; components are ordered from suppliers in advance of the assembly and distribution timetable, assuring customers are never without the company’s signature products.

A Foodservice Industry Leader with Strong Customer Ties

Erin remarks, “Our countertop convection ovens are the bread and butter of our business; we do very well with those. We were the first company that introduced these countertop portable ovens about 12 years ago, and we’re definitely the performance leader with them. There are some copycat versions that look like ours, but the performance and quality isn’t there. Ours work well, just how the customer expects them to work.”

Cadco has built a solid reputation on meeting and exceeding its customers’ expectations over the years. By manufacturing and/or assembling many of its products itself, plus carefully vetting and clearing communicating with all strategic partners, Cadco can make specific changes in order to meet its customers’ needs. Erin explains, “It’s so important not to lose that contact with the end users of our products. We are all about developing new products because of listening to end users and determining what their needs are. They are the ones giving us feedback, and that feedback is the most important information when it comes to our new product development.”

For example, about three years ago Cadco began producing new warming buffet carts, which were a more mobile evolution of the countertop electric chafers that had already proven successful for the company. The development of this particular product was due in large part to feedback from end users in the healthcare industry, including nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and convalescent homes. Erin remembers, “We received feedback from our end users that the warming carts made sense, but that they would also like to see more capabilities.”

The company’s response was the development of its trademarked line of Mobile Serv hot/cold buffet carts. Erin describes the carts as having “… two hot compartments and one cold compartment, with drawers allowing servers to plate the dinners for the patients in their rooms. This allows the patients to be served fresh foods rather than receive the plate transports that you see in hospitals.”

Competitive Strategies

By focusing on a balance of durable, highly efficient, client need-focused products, Cadco has managed over the years to overcome the potential challenge of competing with cheaper imported goods. Erin observes, “Today, more than ever, people are looking for quality and for products that will last and that will help their businesses. It’s rewarding for us to know that our products help our end users’ businesses grow. If we can help them by offering them niche equipment that won’t break the bank, we’ve done our job.”

One strategy that Cadco uses to be in direct touch with its end users is regular attendance at trade shows. The company participates in around eight trade shows a year. Because Cadco sells through equipment dealers rather than directly to customers, it relies on other means to interact with them. Discussing the trade shows, Erin says, “Whether they are existing or potential customers, we’re educating people there and showing them what our equipment can do to help their businesses.”

Another competitive edge of Cadco’s is due to its status as a niche company. Beyond the healthcare industry, many of the company’s end users are catering companies and limited service hotels, which use Cadco’s electric chafers and warmers to serve hot breakfast buffets. Cadco was able to bounce back quickly from the economic crisis in 2009 because it sells smaller, affordable equipment that does not represent huge investments for its customers.

Looking Forward to Continued Growth

Just as Cadco has branched out into the development of warming carts, while still supplying its end users with reliable, high-quality countertop foodservice equipment, the company continues to look for ways that it can keep expanding its offerings to meet customers’ needs. Erin remarks, “Over the next few years, we will definitely go on with the continuous development of new products. We’re always trying to come up with something more innovative than what we developed in the previous couple of years.”

Cadco definitely sees foodservice carts as being a big part of its future going forward. The company has already started to design, produce and sell sampling and demo carts for grocery stores. Among Cadco’s customers for these carts and other equipment are wholesale clubs including Sam’s Club, Costco Wholesale and BJ’s Wholesale Club. The sampling stations, used by stores as they market new food product, allow workers to cook products in a small oven on a lower shelf while keeping them warm on the top shelf.

Erin observes, “We really want to expand our work with our sampling and demo carts in the next few years, and we have the ability to do that with the state-of-the-art manufacturing machines that we have now. We’re excited about the manufacturing that we’re doing now and about how much more we’re doing than ever before.”

Alongside its ongoing product developments, Cadco has also partnered with a consulting firm, F.J. Flynn & Associates, that comes in every few months to assess any areas where efforts or materials are being wasted, saving money for both the company and its clients. Given the strengths in manufacturing and marketing that the Shanahans’ company has displayed over the years, Cadco Ltd. is well-poised for continued growth.