Spinning profits

As usage occasions expand and equipment becomes customizable, retailers can get more out of their rotisserie ovens.

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

The chicken has been hogging the rotisserie for years. However, as consumers continually look toward the supermarket for prepared meals, it is time retailers make room on the spit for other items.

“Chicken is the No. 1 seller when it comes to items cooked in the rotisserie and it is obviously a great item for supermarkets,” says Andy Mayeshiba, a corporate executive chef for Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Alto-Shaam. “But in reality, customers aren’t going to buy rotisserie chicken three times a week.”

When it comes to expanding a retailers dinner menu—not to mention lunch and breakfast—industry observers say the possibilities are endless.

“Technically, a rotisserie is a convection oven, so anything that can be cooked in a convection oven can be cooked in a rotisserie,” says Tom Douglas, corporate chef for Eaton, Ohio-based Henny Penny. “Fish, ribs, any cut of meat that can be roasted and fits on a spit or in a basket can be prepared in a rotisserie.”

A rotisserie’s use is not limited to meat. Douglas says that side dishes such as roasted corn on the cob and baked potatoes can be prepared nicely in the rotisserie as well. As retailers become more open to cooking a variety of items in rotisseries, observers say they are showing an increased interest in accessories, attachments and customized models that can be adapted to rotisseries extended usage.

Alexandre Dumaine, regional sales manager for Champlain, N.Y.-based Inotech, says its rotisseries can be customized to suit a variety of foods. “We can provide custom-built rotisseries with the number of spits and the length of the spits to accommodate the needs of the user, along with a number of accessories,” he says.

The unlimited options have both manufacturers and retailers excited. Terry Flamant, CEO of Rotisol, based in Inglewood, Calif., says several Rotisol customers have already expressed interest in expanding the use of their rotisseries. “[That] is why we see such a strong future,” he says. “We have a wide variety of spits and baskets already available, as we have anticipated the market.”

The growing consumer interest in healthy eating also continues to be a boon to not only retailers, but rotisserie manufacturers as well. “When you talk about eating healthy, there is really nothing healthier than rotisserie cooking,” says Flamant. Later this year Rotisol will be introducing a rotisserie that enhances the diet-conscious, healthy aspect of rotisserie cooking.  Flamant adds that rotisseries can be more than just ovens for retailers—that there can be “magic” to them.

As grocers seek ways to get consumers to indulge in prepared foods more frequently, rotisserie manufacturers say that there is a keen interest in offering more options for lunch, dinner, breakfast and even dessert.

“If a rotisserie is empty, it is not doing its job,” says Alto-Shaam’s Mayeshiba. “If all a retailer does is cook a big batch of chickens for dinner and put them in a hot holding area and leave the rotisserie empty the rest of the day, the rotisserie is not doing its job of enticing customers and moving product.”

Observers suggest that grocers fire up the rotisseries first thing in the morning. “Often, breakfast is a forgotten part of the day when it comes to the rotisserie,” says Douglas. “Employees are working in the deli area early in the morning and there are customers in the store, but [many retailers] don’t start cooking until 10 a.m. [There is an opportunity to] have pastry going around in a basket, offering a special with a cup of coffee. The key is to keep the rotisserie a profit center all day long.”

He also says rotisserie-prepared desserts can encourage add-on purchases as hungry shoppers contemplate what’s for dinner. “I’ve cooked cheesecake in a rotisserie and it comes out great,” says Douglas.

Offering smoked products can also spark sales, say observers. For example, Gene Pritchett, national sales manager for Marion, Ill.-based Southern Pride says its rotisseries have wood burning capabilities that allow the operator to offer customers genuine barbeque items as well as signature smoked entrées.

“The most popular item for most grocery stores is hickory smoked ribs,” he says. In addition to ribs, smoked chicken is also a big seller and in a lot of cases they get an additional $1 per chicken for being smoked and actually sell more of them.”
Since most employees that operate rotisseries are not professional chefs and likely have little experience working with the ovens, there may be a need to train users. Most manufacturers are more than happy to provide the training and education needed to help grocers.

“It is a matter of teaching people how to use the radiant heat,” Douglas says. “If you are cooking something with a marinade in a rotisserie, it could scorch. But if you turn the radiant heat down, it will still look perfect.”

Flamant says that Rotisol supports retailers through an extensive offering of recipes and its network of dealers; which have trained chefs that can work with supermarkets to develop and enhance their prepared foods programs. “Our goal is to be the best partner possible with supermarket chains who want to show a difference,” he says.

In plain view

Observers also note that shoppers are taking greater interest in the ingredients and cooking process when choosing prepared meals. That has prompted many retailers to station their rotisseries in view of shoppers.

“One of the unique ways grocers are employing rotisseries is with display cooking,” says David Sager, product line manager for Troy, Ohio-based Hobart Corp. “Prepared foods are booming. More consumers are interested in seeing their food prepared and cooked, so some grocers are modifying the way they operate, moving parts of food preparation previously handled in the back of the house to the front of the house. Using rotisseries is a great way to invite consumers into the kitchen.”

One reason that the rotisseries have been in the back room is that is where the ventilation is often located. However, many rotisserie manufacturers are now offering ventless options so that the rotisserie can be positioned where it will attract the most sales.

“The rotisserie is a great marketing tool, but that has sometimes been limited by ventilation issues, forcing the rotisserie to be positioned in the back of building or back of deli,” says Pete Barnecut, director of sales for North America for BKI Worldwide, based in Simpsonville, S.C. “But that isn’t the case any longer.”

Some grocery stores install Southern Pride’s equipment inside the store with the face of the oven flush mounted through a wall that is visible to the consumer, according to company officials. “This is very effective because it is a show-and-tell opportunity when items are being loaded or unloaded and it promotes fresh daily cooked product,” Pritchett says.

Grocers also want stylish-looking equipment to attract consumers, say observers. “Our equipment is made with high-end materials and can be customized to match the décor of the store,” says Inotech’s Dumaine.

Ernst Goettsch, managing director for Carol Stream, Ill.-based Fri-Jado, says the company is updating the look of its rotisseries, which have had a distinct curved glass design.

“Everyone has copied our curved glass design, so we’re going with a different look that looks more like a flat-screen television,” he says. The new design will debut later this year.

The company will also be adding a feature that can automatically adjust the cooking time based on a number of factors, including the size of the batch and the size of the chickens. “Chickens are probably one of the most unstable items you can cook, as sizes change and the supplier may have said the chickens are fresh, but they’re frozen when it is time put them on the spit. That is why we developed the cook correction technology. Retailers may program the oven for a full batch of chickens, but perhaps they start the day with three-quarters of a batch. Our latest technology will make the necessary adjustments.”

Quick cleanup

While observers say health and food safety should always be top of mind, keeping rotisseries clean is of utmost importance when they are in public view.

“To be honest, cleaning rotisseries is not fun, but it has gotten better,” Barnecut says. “We have designed our machines so that they are easier to be clean and the parts are removable to speed up the process.”

Mayeshiba says Alto-Shaam’s rotisseries can be broken down in less than one minute. “All the staff has to do is take everything out and put it in the dishwasher,” he says.

Some manufacturers offer a self-cleaning option such as the Hobart KA7E Self-Cleaning Rotisserie. “In the past, employees could spend hours cleaning a rotisserie,” says Sager. “Now its done at the touch of a button.”

Quality, consistency and proper cooking temperatures are also key to meeting food safety standards and customer demand, say observers. In response, many manufacturers offer programmable options to simplify operation.

“Because the skill levels of the operators vary, we offer supermarkets consistency through the programmable options on our rotisseries,” Mayeshiba says. “Our systems are very programmable and we offer the ability to start cooking at a lower temperature, raise it toward the end of the process to provide the desired crispiness and then bring it down to a hold temperature.”

Operating costs remain a key concern for grocers as well. Many are looking for rotisseries that are easy on energy consumption.

“Everyone, including grocers, is interested in sustainability, so equipment manufacturers should heavily consider sustainable elements in rotisserie design,” says Hobart’s Sager. “Hobart has always believed that equipment has to be more than efficient. It needs to save grocers costs and make their job easier.”

According to Hobart officials, the KA7E cooks up to 22% faster than traditional rotisseries, and that speed converts directly to saving energy costs. “Our research indicates that the KA7E can save grocers more than $3,200 a year in energy and labor costs,” says Sager.

Manufacturers are also offering rotisseries in a variety of sizes to match demand, which observers say can help keep operating costs in check. “We have equipment that can cook 80 chickens in an hour or nine chickens in about an hour and 20 minutes and options in between,” says BKI’s Barnecut. 

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