Cooked— and cleaned—to perfection

Retailers are looking for cooking equipment that is easy to use and simple to clean.

Many people like to cook, but few enjoy cleaning up afterward. That is true regardless of the location of the kitchen—at home or in the supermarket. Retailers are seeking equipment that is easy to operate and maintain as they up their game in the prepared foods arena. Cleanliness is especially important as more supermarkets are putting rotisseries and other equipment in view of customers to entice them with the sights and smells associated with cooking.

One of the most popular prepared foods offered by supermarkets—rotisserie chicken—is also one of the messiest.

“Chicken is gold in supermarkets, whether it is prepared in a combi-oven or a rotisserie,” says Kari Fulton, vice president, national accounts, retail for Alto-Shaam, a cooking equipment manufacturer based in Menomonee Falls, Wis. “Supermarket operators tell us that the top qualities they are looking for in cooking equipment are speed of cooking, hands-off operation and maintenance and safety and ease of grease collection.”

To get away from handling trays of hot grease, Alto-Shaam will be showing new grease collection systems for its rotisseries and electric combi-ovens at several upcoming trade shows, including the upcoming Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI)’s FMI2012 and the National Restaurant Association (NRA)’s NRA Show 2012.

For the electric combi-ovens, the company offers a grease collection pump. For the rotisseries, a gravity-fed system collects the grease in an adjacent cart. “This takes the operator away from handling trays of grease, which are not only messy but a safety issue when dealing with hot grease,” Fulton says.

Francis Delpech, president of 1515 Design & Manufacturing, an equipment provider based in Inglewood, Calif., says the company has introduced a self-cleaning as well as a steam cleaning system for its electric rotisserie lines.

“Basically, end users are looking for a rotisserie that provides fast cooking, high volume and easy cleaning,” Delpech says. “Our complete line, either gas or electric, are perfectly adapted to fit into these parameters.”

Sustainability and durability also remain top concerns among retailers, putting increased pressure on manufacturers, say industry observers.

“Because of the global economic downturn since the end of 2008, we have had to adapt to new challenges,” says Delpech. “We have to offer cutting-edge technology where energy consumption is key, while maintaining the highest standard in materials, design and performance at a very competitive price. We continue to innovate with new and original designs using lighter and stronger structural materials, the latest lighting technology and modular systems allowing a more efficient use of space.”

Equipment manufacturers are also focusing on simplicity, say observers. Officials for RATIONAL USA say retailers need equipment that can be operated quickly and easily. “Retailers are looking to increase their home meal replacement business, but they need a piece of equipment that will enable the staff to hit a button that says ‘lasagna’ and cook a lasagna,” says Steven Snitkin, director of key accounts/corporate chef for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based cooking equipment vendor.

The company’s SelfCookingCenter whitefficiency includes RATIONAL’s latest innovation, the HiDensityControl. It has a 30% greater capacity with the same size oven space, say company officials. Resource consumption is also 20% lower by comparison with conventional combi-steamers.

The range of applications has also been significantly expanded thanks to HiDensityControl, says Snitkin. In addition to the ability to prepare fresh pasta products thanks to the newly designed, powerful steam generation, retailers can also use the equipment to bake full loads, say company officials.

Retailers also need to react to the flow of business, he says. “We have been able to reduce the cooking time by an average of about 25%. In addition, you don’t need to keep the oven on all day. Our equipment preheats very quickly—for most items it is less than 5 minutes.”
With the hectic environment and high employee turnover rate in supermarkets, observers say it helps if the equipment is intuitive to operate. Observers call it the “Apple” effect, as today’s workers are accustomed to the touch screens of the iPhones.

“We certainly see a big push for easy-to-use controls,” says Jason Prondzinski, vice president of national accounts for Troy, Ohio-based ITW Food Equipment Group, which includes the Hobart, Traulsen and Baxter brands. The company will be introducing new controls at FMI2012 and NRA Show 2012. “There will be symbols to make operation easy and we are looking to make our controllers have a common look and feel across platforms,” he says.

Prondzinski also says there is a move toward tighter integration between cooking equipment and other equipment in the back room. “The chicken has bar codes that can be scanned to take the guesswork out of food preparation,” he says. “When the bread is done, a signal could be sent to the scales to print out labels. Seamless integration is the future.”
Efficiency can play a part in the decision-making process as well. Ovens in particular produce a large amount of heat that causes retailers to compensate with air conditioning.

“One of the top issues with all types of ovens is the heat they generate,” says Jim Silcox, vice president of new business for XLT Ovens, a conveyor oven and hood equipment manufacturer based in Wichita, Kan. He says the company’s AVI Hood is a popular add-on that captures the heat from the oven and sends it directly to the exhaust fan system.

“Many systems just remove the heat from the kitchen by using high CFM rates sometimes as high as 3,500 cubic feet per minute [CFM],” he says. “Our AVI system captures 10% of the heat from the oven using 400 CFM per oven. With our system, there is as much as 30% less cubic feet per minute of heat being extracted from the store.”

This boosts retailers’ sustainability efforts, as the make-up air needs to be conditioned, Silcox says. “At the end of the day, your operation is greener and employees and shoppers are more comfortable, all with a two-year payback,” he says.

While grocers are looking for efficiency, they are also looking for versatility. Although XLT Ovens focuses on pizza ovens, Silcox suggests that retailers can use them for more than just pizzas. “These ovens are a terrific baking platform,” he says. “They are great for all types of pastries, cookies, cakes, breads and much more, including crab cakes.”

While the equipment is becoming more versatile, supermarkets continue to operate with lean staffing. The result is that those using the equipment do not necessarily have a culinary background.

“While the equipment can cook anything, store personnel are not necessarily trained,” says Terry Flamant, CEO of Rotisol, which has U.S. operations in Inglewood, Calif. “Retailers continue to face pressure to operate with few people. We continue to work hard to simplify the operation of our equipment.”

He says that users also have access to recipe books and recipes on the company’s website and Facebook page. “People want to eat healthier and food prepared in our equipment offers them a very healthy way of eating. They also want quality ingredients and great-tasting recipes and it is important for retailers to offer tasty and healthy prepared meals as they compete with restaurants and other retail channels.”

Southern Pride’s new combi-oven has more than 40 programs that an untrained person could select by simply punching a number, says Gene Pritchett, general sales manager for the Alamo, Tenn.-based manufacturer.

Southern Pride will be introducing the Yield King at NRA 2012. In addition to offering convection and steaming modes for baking, grilling, roasting, steaming, holding, warming and low-temp cooking, the Yield King combi oven has an optional smoker to infuse an array of wood, herb, fruit and juice flavors into memorable menu items, say company officials.

“Our digital control panel on the gas fired rotisserie ovens allows anyone the opportunity to be a success, by selecting time and temp and then it goes to hold at a hold temperature,” says Pritchett. “It also lets you smoke long-cycled meat products overnight. The smoker will run overnight and hold at the correct temperature without being manned.”

Space savers
It also helps if equipment is economical when it comes to use of space, which is at a premium in a supermarket kitchen. Eaton, Ohio-based Henny Penny offers the Space$aver SmartCombi ESC-605 and the Space$aver Plus SmartCombi ESC-610. “Essentially they are the same height and width as regular combi-oven but not as deep,” says Henny Penny corporate chef Tom Douglas.

Grocers are also looking for equipment that can perform multiple tasks as a way to streamline the kitchen, he says. “If you have a combi-oven, you might not need five or six pieces of cooking equipment.”

For many retailers the ultimate goal is to reduce labor, improve productivity and reduce shrinkage. “We have settings that can perform cooking overnight, and this can reduce shrinkage,” says Douglas, adding that food cooked during the day might experience 25% shrinkage, but if it is cooked overnight at a lower temperature, shrinkage may be 10%.

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