Retail Foodservice Equipment Keeps Pace With Growing Demand
The pandemic-driven shuttering or limiting of restaurant operations has thrust the supermarket foodservice segment into an accelerated role, and equipment suppliers have responded with innovations to prepare, hold and deliver quality food.
Jeri Austin, strategic account manager, grocery, at Intermetro Industries Inc., in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., notes that her company has added a heated shelf platform. The Super Erecta hot heated shelves and heated self-enclosure kits are “a super-flexible and convenient way to keep food hot for carryout, delivery, grab and go, and [back-of-house] staging applications.”
Intermetro has also developed Metro2Go Hot Stations to keep food hot, organized and ready to go, according to Austin, who adds, “With the increase in online orders, grab-and-go products and meal orders for grocers to handle, they need products that are not only efficient, but meet food safety requirements.”
The new heated shelf does this by integrating into an existing shelf system or becoming an entirely new unit. “The product line is super-flexible, and you can add a heated holding solution for packaged ready-to-go food virtually anywhere,” Austin points out.
Although the Super Erecta hot shelves and Metro2Go Hot Stations are just being introduced to the grocery world, they’ve already been well received by the quick-service restaurant sector, and, as Austin asserts, “grocery stores are pretty much doing a lot of the same things when it comes to takeout and delivery orders.”
The equipment can also be used in other supermarket areas, like the heated food display section, to entice customers to add hot food items to their carts, and behind the counter in the restaurant/deli area, to help keep items warm during prep and other operations.
Austin sees the integration of hot and cold holding equipment in center store as part of the future of supermarket foodservice innovations. She believes that equipment with technological advances allowing for less human interaction will be necessary with the shrinking labor force.
Greg West, SVP of marketing and food innovation at Broaster Co., in Beloit, Wis., says, “During this unprecedented time of disruptive change in the retail foodservice industry, equipment has played a role in satisfying operator needs to meet channel growth demands.”
To help meet those demands, Broaster has introduced two equipment innovations: the E-Series 18G pressure fryer and the SmartTouch Ventless fryer. The E-Series 18G offers more than a 25% reduction in gas usage, multiple days of increased fry-oil life, and ease of use, while the SmartTouch Ventless fryer doesn’t require a hood and features an intuitive operator controller.
West notes that pressure-fried chicken is the best for overall taste, and that “grocery has a huge opportunity to significantly expand their fried chicken offerings for carryout and curbside in the pandemic, but also in the future.”
He adds that fried foods are best when they aren’t oven-baked as a shortcut, and that Broaster has the expertise to deliver great fried food programs.
Something in the Ovens
At Alto-Shaam, Inc., in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Director of National Accounts-Retail Tami Olson notes, “Whether designing a curbside, grab-and-go or meal-kit program, it's important to choose equipment that drives profits and exceeds customers’ quality expectations.”
As a prime example, Olson cites Alto-Shaam’s Vector Multi-Cook Ovens, which provide up to four ovens in one unit and whose Structured Air Technology allows retailers to cook four separate food items simultaneously at different temperatures, cook times and fan-speed controls, with zero flavor transfer.
“Cooking food two times faster than conventional technology, Vector ovens keep up with the demand to execute new food program opportunities,” she observes. “With programmability and ChefLinc remote connectivity, Vector ovens are intuitive and easy to use, reducing training time and improving deli workflow.”
Olson adds that Vector ovens are available in countertop H Series models, which are ventless and feature a compact 2-inch footprint. Additionally, Vector F Series ovens can be stacked with the company’s Combitherm combi ovens.
Alto-Shaam also makes heated shelf merchandisers for grab-and-go and meal-kit programs. They feature radiant Halo Heat technology and are customizable to a store’s branding. “Customers who are using our heated shelf merchandiser have seen an average increase of 8% to 10% in hot prepared food sales,” Olson says.
Heated holding cabinets are another Alto-Shaam innovation, according to Olson, who notes that retailers can keep product at a perfect serving temperature and hold it for hours without its overcooking or drying out, further helping to increase shelf life. “Casters also provide easy mobility for an expanded supermarket curbside pickup program,” she adds.
Gregg Brickman, corporate executive chef at Henny Penny Corp., in Eaton, Ohio, sees simplicity as key to the successful use of retail foodservice equipment. “The easier the piece of equipment is to use, the more often it will be appropriately utilized and consistently maintained,” Brickman explains. “The average cook or sales clerk needs to maneuver through the equipment without too much supervision.”
Brickman notes that Henny Penny’s Velocity pressure fryers filter oil after every load, allowing the frying oil to last four times longer.
“In some situations,” he says, “it is not so much about new, trendy pieces of equipment, but more [about] trends based around different cooking styles. Combi ovens can handle massive production needs for a large variety of cooking methods. Everything from traditional rotisserie-style cooking to slow cooking to air frying can all be done in a combi oven. Small kitchen spaces are a major challenge for our customers, too. Our Space$aver Team Combi addresses this need by providing two independent cooking chambers with an integrated hood, all in one 22-inch-wide space.”
Brickman believes that smart cooking is the future of supermarket foodservice equipment. He predicts that ovens and fryers will be pre-programmed, and that the equipment faces will match what smartphones look like, because people are familiar with this type of communication and learning style, and respond well to apps like programs on cooking platforms.
Time to Experiment
In Columbus, Ohio, Dan Poor, VP and business unit leader at Amtekco Wasserstrom, asserts, “Foodservice equipment will need to adapt to support the quickly developing variations we are seeing in operations and delivery.”
His company has seen a significant need for modular service-level conversion options for its equipment, according to Poor, who says, “Equipment that was only used for self-service is now being converted as needed for full-service or grab-and-go operations. We are also seeing an increase in full-service kiosks offering products and services that consumers found in traditional restaurant destinations.”
Poor continues: “The desire for convenience and limited social contact has led to increased experimentation and adaptability in the marketplace. We believe consumers will continue to search for options and the brands that can deliver freshly prepared alternatives, coupled with a convenient experience, will see increased sales.”