With space and budget dollars at a premium, grocers are looking for economical deli and bakery equipment.
By Kim Ann Zimmermann
Whether via money, space or both, grocers continue to look for ways to economize. When it comes to the deli and bakery departments, more and more retailers are finding that the best way to save both money and space is with equipment that can perform multiple tasks, while still providing the quality prepared foods and bakery items that consumers expect.
It remains a delicate balance however, as retailers are still mindful of energy costs, thus sustainability and efficiency are top of mind as well. Equipment manufacturers say the good news is that they can provide grocers with equipment for these vital areas of the store, as grocers look to improve their margins and compete with other retail channels that offer fresh items. It seems many are taking manufacturers up on the offer.
“[Grocers] are investing in deli and bakery equipment again,” says Ernst Goettsch, managing director for Woodridge, Ill.-based equipment manufacturer Fri-Jado. “Certainly supermarkets across the country are in different stages of planning and development when it comes to their deli and bakery departments, but we’re seeing interest at many levels. Some supermarkets find themselves in the position of looking to improve their margins, so they want more efficient equipment. Others are looking to upgrade their deli and bakery offerings and they want equipment to take them to the next level.”
Industry observers say that grocers are thinking about the long-term implications of their equipment investments. “Today, everyone has a boss who is asking ‘How long will the equipment last?’” says Don Hall, chief operating officer for Kingston, N.Y.-based M&E Manufacturing Co. “They want to know what the lifetime cost of the equipment is, as opposed to some numbers on a savings report.”
Hall says M&E is seeing a reduction in new store counts, which highlights the need for strong collaboration between manufacturers and retailers. “We’re seeing more retailers that are interested in project work that will help them solve problems,” he says.
As supermarkets face stiffer competition from convenience stores and other channels in the deli department, many are looking to improve customer service at the deli counter. Hall says that M&E’s Deli Buddy, a face-to-face slicer mounting system, improves customer service by reducing wait times and the number of customers who walk away, speeds transactions and enables suggestive selling, among other benefits. “What we do in the deli is put our client’s workforce in a position to become part of the sales force,” he says.
The bakery, which despite its shrinking footprint in some stores, still has the same production needs. Observers say in order to meet that expectation retailers are looking for space-saving equipment. M&E offers its Z-FRAME Nesting Racks for commercial rack ovens and rotating ovens to meet that need.
Merchandising equipment that enhances the product and fits into the store décor can also help drive traffic to the deli and bakery, add observers. Goettsch says that the Fri-Jado’s customizable heated and refrigerated merchandisers, which have been popular in Europe, are expected to make their way to the U.S. in 2012. “The idea is to present the product in an inviting and exciting way while staying true to the store’s design,” he says. “What we are going to offer is a modular way for retailers to have a design that suits their needs and is quicker and more affordable than completely customized solutions. We will offer cases with a curved or square look, for example, in some standard lengths that can be customized in colors to fit the retailer’s décor.”
Features that provide for enhanced merchandising are important for deli and bakery cases since these types of cases tend to lend themselves to busy shoppers who want to grab merchandise, check-out quickly and be on their on their way home to feed their families.
Mechell Clark, marketing communications manager for Kysor/Warren, a Columbus, Ga.-based manufacturer of refrigerated display merchandisers and other equipment, says that retailers are looking for cases with enhanced merchandising features such as larger display areas that do not require a larger footprint. This allows grocers to prominently display their products while making it easier for shoppers to select items and maximizing existing floor space. “This is especially important because all floor space is valuable to grocery retailers,” Clark says. “So equipment that can allow a supermarket to maximize both merchandising and floor space is a win-win situation for the store and shoppers.”
Grocers also want flexibility when it comes to configuring merchandisers, she adds. “Retailers are looking for equipment that can provide merchandising flexibility which includes having display cases that can be used for multiple applications,” says Clark. “Whether it be sandwiches, prepared, ready-to-go meals, meat; produce or cheese/dairy products, variety is important. This allows the store to obtain the best functionality from its equipment making the best use of the display cases.”
Clark explains that mobile, self-contained cases offering quick and easy installation are popular in a number of departments, including deli and bakery. “These type of display merchandisers are also perfect for seasonal in-store promotions including the holidays, Super Bowl time or summer grilling.”
On the cooking side of the equation, observers say that retailers are looking for equipment that can cook faster and accommodate the growing portfolio of prepared foods such as individual pizzas, chicken nuggets and baked potatoes—often in one unit. They say combi-steamers and rotisseries continue to gain favor with retailers.
As the name suggests, combi-steamers can be used in a multitude of ways, providing added value to retailers. “Supermarket delis are looking for ways to use their equipment wisely and profitably,” says Tom Douglas, corporate chef for Eaton, Ohio-based Henny Penny Corp. “A combi-steamer can be used to roast, broil, bake, stir fry and sauté. It all comes down to the pan that you use.”
While a wider range of offerings can bring in hungry shoppers, safety and cleanliness are also valuable tools used in driving sales. “We don’t just drop the equipment at the back door,” says Douglas. “We take time to work with our retailers on how to use and clean the equipment.”
Features such as built-in temperature probes and baskets that automatically lift out of the fryer when food is done can help ensure quality and safety. “Making sure that everyone understands safe food handling practices and how to clean the equipment is very important,” says Douglas. “Retailers just can’t grab something from the shelf in the cleaning aisle to clean the equipment.”
Pushing the energy envelope
While grocers want cooking and merchandising equipment that will raise the profiles and profits of their deli and bakery departments, they do not want them to raise their energy bills.
“U.S. Department of Energy regulations on commercial refrigeration equipment are tightening in 2012 and will continue to do so in the years ahead in an effort to reduce the energy consumption in supermarkets and all stores that display refrigerated food products,” says Carl Petersen, marketing and advertising manager for Zero Zone, Inc., a North Prairie, Wis.-based manufacturer of refrigerated display cases and refrigeration systems.
He adds that energy reduction, and the operational savings that result, are of increasing importance to retailers—with or without that DOE mandate. “We are seeing some retailers opt to take a stop gap measure by retrofitting glass doors onto their old multi-decks. While the promised result is a significant reduction in energy consumption, the industry needs to keep in mind that the base case, though modified with doors, still operates at unnecessarily high energy levels, still using the same high wattage fan motors and other high wattage components designed for open cases.”
Putting glass doors on existing open cases is just putting a bandage on the problem, he explains. “Even most glass door cases are not designed specifically for medium-temperature products, since they are generally freezer cases running at warmer temperatures,” he says.
He says that Zero Zone’s Crystal Merchandiser is a case designed and optimized from the ground up to be for medium-temperature product display only. “The energy savings that retailers have realized with the Crystal versus open multi-decks is as much as 84% annually.”
LED lighting and standard EC motors are also boosting energy efficiency, according to Kysor/Warren’s Clark.
Some other changes retailers will see may include options on display cases such as T8 lighting and heated glass on medium-temperature merchandisers, which may cause the case to exceed minimum levels of energy performance, says George Parsons, director of engineering and product development for Kysor/Warren.
“New ideas, such as LED lighting, will need to be implemented to solve problems,” he says. “The bottom-line is that grocery retailers are looking for more than just pieces of equipment from their suppliers, they are looking for partners who understand their business needs and can provide refrigeration solutions.”