WITH an annual turnover of around £3.5m, Instanta's core expertise is water boiling. Its best-selling products continue to be no-nonsense countertop boilers with consistent temperature and output performance, typified by the best-selling 1500 water boiler, a compact and competitively priced (£335) table top unit with 27 litres/hour output, continuous automatic-fill, five litre immediate draw-off and 13 amp plug operation.
While Instanta has stayed closely with the products it knows best, it has steadily widened and updated the product range, a notable advance being the award-winning 1000 series with computer controlled boiler and warning devices for scale detection. Wall-mounted boilers have also appeared as a neat way of maximising space usage in smaller catering premises.
Other developments include steam injectors and combination water and steam boilers such as the Supreme, where one appliance can carry out tea-making and also jobs such as milk frothing and rapid production of scrambled egg.
Instanta originated in 1957 but ownership by members of the Brassey family dates back to 1970 when Bill Brassey took over the business. Present managing director John Brassey and his brother Peter took up the reins in 1988 and since 1999, when Peter retired, the company has been run by John and Marion Brassey.
Since 1993, the company has made its products at a large complex in Southport on a 1.1 acre site. The factory currently employs 37 people and is focused on small batch production.
Instanta has so far resisted the temptation to get involved in coffee brewing apart from a basic pour-over filter coffee machine and a combination machine, the CF200, which neatly links a water boiler and pour-over coffee brewer; combined output is 25 litres/hour and list price is £865.
John Brassey admits that the pour-and-serve sector is now relatively static. The difficulty of preventing the brewed drink from "stewing" is a factor but Instanta can, he points out, provide a unit which brews into vacuum flasks to optimise coffee quality.
The company also makes a few ancillary items suitable for coffee service, notably cup carousels in ambient versions from £285 and heated from £315.
In terms of distributing its products, Instanta relies on maintaining good links with a nationwide network of around 250 active UK dealers. In 1996, the company was overall winner in the Best New Products Awards of CEDA, the Catering Equipment Distributors Association.
Instanta also exports in a small way. Main market is Ireland but some products also go to Cyprus (primarily military bases), St Lucia, South Africa (mostly cup warmers) and Hong Kong (mostly frothers).
"We are not a big exporter but is is growing steadily," John Brassey comments. "Since we have been on the Internet we have been getting enquiries from places like Abu Dhabi and have even sent some products to North America."
A novel feature of the company's site (www.instanta.uk.com) is a product selector facility where users are asked to tick basic questions about their requirements (eg do you want steam? how much water do you need in one rush? what is peak hourly requirement?) and can then quickly locate the best product choice.
Another important sales development in the past year has been in lengthening warranty periods. Return-to-factory warranty now stands at two years on 100, 1000 and wall-mounted boiler series and 30 months on pour-over coffee-makers.
The extensions on the former one-year periods were a direct result of low failure rates; there were, the company says, only two pour-over machine breakdowns in 1999.