Retail foodservice equipment is keeping pace with increased consumer demand and expanded menu options.
The recent holiday season saw shoppers taking full advantage of the bounty of deli and prepared foods available in the nation's supermarkets, and, in great measure, the equipment involved in foodservice preparation and presentation reflects the increasing scope and sophistication of this growing segment.
"Consumers value the convenience of ready-made meals, in-house concepts, healthier choices, and organic options that have become increasingly popular in supermarkets," says Jason Prondzinski, VP of national accounts at Troy, Ohio-based ITW Food Equipment Group. "As a result, equipment that is more frequently seen in foodservice operations today is becoming more common in food retail operations."
Prondzinski points out that the ITW companies — which include Hobart, Traulsen, Baxter, Vulcan and Wolf — cover nine product categories, including weighing, wrapping, cooking, baking, refrigeration, food prep, mixing, slicing, warewash and waste.
Over the past few years, Prondzinski says, ITW has seen a shift from traditional foodservice equipment in supermarkets, such as slicers and scales, to more application-specific foodservice equipment like combi ovens, blast chillers, warewashers, steamers and griddles.
"As it relates to foodservice, scales and labeling equipment are still critical to the supermarket operator, but cooking equipment such as combi ovens, steamers and rotisseries are increasingly popular," he says. "There also has been an increase in refrigeration equipment for point-of-use storage and worktops, as well as blast chillers. In addition, warewashing equipment has increased in popularity, as supermarkets have more items to clean than can be handled efficiently with the traditional three-compartment sink."
As an example, Prondzinski points to an increase in the use of his company's ventless door-type warewasher by supermarket customers. "The advantage of the ventless machine is that it can be installed in existing or new applications without the need for a ventilation hood, which is a cost savings to the operator," he says.
Down the foodservice road, Prondzinski sees retailers looking for reliable equipment that offers lower energy consumption and ease of use, with better-quality finished product and quicker service.
Robert Mullen, the Chino, Calif.-based global specialty products leader for Bridgeton, Mo.'s Hussmann Corp., points out that sales of store-made meals and prepared foods were up more than 7 percent in 2012, which he sees as a result of healthier eating habits and the lower cost of supermarkets' prepared foods compared with fast food or restaurant meals.
"At Hussmann, we are seeing more interest from our food retail customers in focusing on the prepared foods department," Mullen says. "The prepared foods department is fast becoming a strong destination zone within the supermarket, where in the past it was the core perishable departments such as produce, meat and dairy."
Hussmann makes refrigerated, service and self-service prep and display cases; hot-packed, hot and cold food-bar equipment; and dry solutions, according to Mullen, who notes that two of Hussmann's most popular products are Isla display cases and the Q3 Service Prep merchandiser. "The Isla line offers the flexibility to mix and match merchandising needs to meet the customer's selling strategies," he says, "and the Q3-SP provides the flexibility for developing prepared foods case solutions."
The Isla allows retailers to display refrigerated and hot and dry items in the same merchandiser, and enables configurations from two-, three- and four-sided islands to in-line and stand-alone cases, Mullen explains. The Q3-SP merchandisers offer smooth, seamless visual flow with precision fit, while LED lighting and Hi-Def glass provide a crystal-clear product presentation.
Straighten Up and Fry Right
Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Alto-Shaam Inc. offers a product portfolio covering an expansive range of oven cooking platforms, "but our true portfolio strength is a complete chicken program," says Kari Fulton, VP of national retail accounts. "We have three platforms accommodating high-volume combi needs, an attractive front-of-the-house exhibition rotisserie program, and an energy-efficient, wide-frying-surface 'back of the kitchen' chicken fryer. All these formats are complemented by a complete portfolio of back- and front-of-the-house holding and display merchandising. We are truly a turnkey chicken program supplier."
Further, Alto-Shaam has a "no-touch, automatic" grease collection function built into its combi, with nearby grease receptacles that capture separated grease from the water and deposit it into portable containers for easy disposal, Fulton says. "Combined with our automatic on-board cleaning system, the Alto-Shaam grease collection/cleaning program on all of our combi ovens provides an expanded collection of customer options."
Fulton says the next step in supermarket foodservice equipment will be an emphasis on green programs, noting that Alto-Shaam's combi ovens feature 40 percent recycled materials in their manufacture, recycled packaging, and a closed operating system that uses less energy and water.
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.-based InterMetro Industries, commonly known as Metro, offers a full range of foodservice products, including storage solutions, stainless steel prep tables, food prep systems, bun pans and tray racks, as well as heated hot-food holding cabinets.
The company numbers among its most popular supermarket foodservice products the Super Erecta Pro storage system, the SmartWall G3 food prep system, and C5 Series heated holding and proofing cabinets.
"Many of our storage and prep systems have unique characteristics, including patented corrosion-resistant finishes and proprietary antimicrobial product protection," says Terry Kevett, market manager. "The C5 Series cabinets feature Armour insulation and a patented external panel system that provides superior insulation, as well as remaining cool to the touch."
Metro offers a new complementary audit process in which the company's food retailing specialists provide free consultant services to retailers to improve their operations. "We review, interview and photo-document grocery operations, with the goal of uncovering opportunities to improve food safety, associate productivity and profitability for our customers," Kevett says.
Kevett sees the retail foodservice equipment of the future becoming more intuitive, and therefore easier to operate, as well as being more efficient, thus driving down the cost of operation.
Elkhart, Ind.-based Remis America offers insulated glass products to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) case manufacturers and such retailers as Sweetbay Supermarket, Bi-Lo, Whole Foods Market, Harris Teeter, ShopRite, Hannaford and Associated Wholesale Grocers.
Managing Director Matt Pletcher says Remis America's glass products cut energy costs by up to 80 percent and greatly reduce retailers' carbon footprints. "Our most popular products are our medium-temperature doors with minimal-edge profiles," Pletcher says. "Our RemiSafe T doors have been very popular, as they maximize the view into the case and show off the product. We developed this product with retail shoppers in mind; it delivers all the energy-saving benefits of Remis' robust Safe door, with a sleeker, cleaner look."
Remis debuted its Curve XL semi-vertical sliding glass-door solution for half-height multidecks at FMI 2012, and "so far, it has drawn a lot of interest from OEMs for various applications," Pletcher notes.
Pletcher sees the trend toward glass on open cases continuing because operators understand there are real and immediate energy savings, as well as other benefits to be had. "Supermarkets can create a better shopping environment with warmer aisles; they can extend the shelf life of products with more even cooling; they can showcase their products better with LED lighting," he says. "The list goes on."
"The prepared foods department is fast becoming a strong destination zone within the supermarket."
—Robert Mullen, Hussmann Corp.