Self-made to order

Self-service kiosks, along with equipment for food preparation and presentation, keep things moving in the deli and bakery departments.

On a Sunday afternoon, the line at a supermarket deli counter can seem endless with shoppers preparing for the coming week. To streamline the process—and encourage customers to shop other departments while waiting for orders to be prepared—many grocers are installing self-service kiosks.

These kiosks are among the latest additions to the bakery and deli departments as grocers seek to improve their service and expand their offerings in these high-margin areas. They are also upgrading cleaning equipment, slicers, scales, mixers and other tools needed to keep these departments humming.

At first, some retailers were concerned the kiosks would alienate shoppers looking for staff interaction. Observers say the kiosks actually benefit those consumers as well, freeing up staff to spend more time with them.

“The bottom line is that technology is not going to replace staffers in the deli and bakery, but it is going to make them more productive,” says Juan C. Perez, CEO of ADUSA, Inc., a Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based provider of self-service ordering solutions. “There is a growing segment of customers who appreciate that retailers want to offer a high level of face-to-face customer service but they don’t necessarily want to take advantage of that.”

Consumers want to choose how, or if, they interact with bakery and deli staffers, observers say. “I want the option of going to the teller, an ATM or going online when I bank, and consumers want options at the supermarket as well,” says Jeffrey Olszewski, sales manager for NEXTEP Systems, a Troy, Mich.-based provider of integrated ordering systems. “In the deli in particular, many customers are brand loyal and about 60% of the orders are for items that these customers order regularly. If they can walk into the store and enter their list into the kiosk, this means they can spend more time shopping the aisles.”

Retailers are beginning to recognize that kiosks offer possibilities beyond enabling customers to order a pound of cheese without waiting at the counter, say observers. “We call it the Fresh Foods Kiosk because it can be used to place orders for any of the fresh food departments—salads, prepared foods, party trays or whatever the retailer wants to offer as a self-service option,” says Perez.

Observers say one of the biggest challenges when it comes to deli kiosks is integrating the kiosk orders with the orders being taken at the counter. Perez says the ADUSA’s Queue Management & Optimization system ensures that orders are processed on a first-in, first-out basis. An overhead LCD TV provides order status and estimated wait times for customers, who can also receive a text when their order is ready. “The added benefit is that the retailer can engage the customer at the same time with a loyalty message about an item that is on special that week,” says Perez.

Merging orders placed using various methods and encompassing multiple departments is going to be a key component of success going forward, say observers. “As supermarkets continue to drop mini restaurants and food courts into their stores, the integration is going to be even more important as they will need to send multiple fulfillment orders to the various fresh departments where customers are ordering,” Olszewski says.

In addition to innovations in customer-facing equipment such as kiosks and cue management, there are upgrades taking place behind the counter as well.

“Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest in specialty items made from superior-quality dough such as artisan breads and scratch-baked foods,” says Jenni Bair, Hobart brand marketing manager. Hobart is part of Troy, Ohio-based ITW Food Equipment Group, which also includes the Traulsen and Baxter brands.

In response to increased demand for fresh items, Bair says Hobart launched a website (www.getbacktoscratch.com) last year as a place for operators and the public to share their passion for scratch-baked goods. “Operators can sign up and post information about their signature items,” she says. “It is somewhere that they can talk to one another about deli and bakery trends.”

The site includes bloggers discussing how they deal with specific challenges in these areas. Consumers can also go to the site, share their experiences and research ideas on baking and cooking.

Sustainability is still at the forefront when evaluating equipment, say observers. Operators are trying to become more productive while using less energy and water. There is also a push to make the equipment more intuitive by providing easy-to-use resources and tools and updating controls.

However, retailers are examining more than just the cost of energy. More chains are looking at the total cost of ownership, meaning energy efficiency in addition to maintenance, longevity and installation costs,” says Daniel Lago, CEO of Revent, Inc., a Piscataway, N.J.-based equipment manufacturer.

Bair says that Hobart’s latest line of Legacy mixers includes enhancements to make the equipment easier to use. The SmartPlus Timer is a programmable recipe timer that allows operators to program up to nine different recipes with six steps per recipe on the 60-quart Legacy. On the 20-quart Legacy, the SmartPlus2 Timer also allows the operators to program up to four different recipes with five steps per recipe. She says the timer is beneficial for operations with multiple locations preparing the same recipes as it ensures consistency.

Cookies don’t crumble

As customers seek small treats that fit their lifestyles and budgets, cookies continue to gain in popularity. To capitalize on this trend, supermarket bakeries are looking for equipment such as cookie dough depositors that will help improve their output while maintaining consistency.

“We’re seeing a greater interest in cookie production equipment in-house,” says Jeff Salenger, sales, for pro BAKE, a Twinsburg, Ohio-based provider of commercial bakery equipment. This type of production equipment makes bakeries operate more efficiently and certainly leads to increased profits.”

The company’s Multidrop cookie machines are fast, versatile and provide a good return on investment, he says. “French macarons are very popular right now and we have had retailers purchase our machines specifically to produce them. In addition, our machines can produce many styles of cookies, including chocolate chip, butter cookies, éclairs, cream puffs, cakes and much more.”

Salenger says pro BAKE’s chocolate enrobing machine and bread-making equipment are also generating interest. “Artisan breads are extremely popular and we continue to see supermarkets look for smaller modular deck ovens for use in the store and higher-capacity equipment for baking at a central location.”

Observers say made-to-order paninis and hot sandwiches are items many supermarkets now feature in effort to expand prepared foods menus. With that in mind, the Globe Food Equipment Co., based in Dayton, Ohio, recently debuted a line of Sandwich Grills. The new models include a Single Grill with Grooved Plates, Single Grill with Smooth Plates, Double Grill with Grooved Plates and Double Grill with Smooth Plates.

On the slicer end of the equipment equation, Globe offers its Quick-Clean coating as an option on its line of premium food slicers. This special coating enhances the slicer’s surface, making it much easier to clean, especially when using the unit to slice sticky products such as cheese, say company officials.

Durability is a key attribute for slicers since they can take a beating in a high-volume deli department. Rice Lake Weighing Systems’ new Rice Lake 300/350 deli slicers are made entirely from the safest food-grade material available—304 grade stainless steel—for rigid strength, waterproof performance, smoother lines and fewer moving parts to keep clean, say officials for the Rice Lake, Wis.-based company. The slicers feature Dadaux’s patented VARIOCUT ratcheting thickness adjustment to provide a precise, consistent cut with every use. Officials add that a detached dual-action sharpener maintains a perfect cutting edge and smooth, ergonomically safe slicing motion, while preventing the possibility of trapped food or premature blade wear.

In many stores the slicers are located against the back wall, limiting the opportunities for staff to interact with customers. This can often be a challenge for retailers looking to provide high-levels of customer service. To remedy that, officials for Mettler Toledo say the company’s Fresh Look Promoter, a web-based software package that creates promotional content to be displayed on Mettler Toledo’s line of service counter scales, targets customers as they wait for their orders to be filled.

“Retailers can benefit from store branding opportunities even when the scale is not in use to capture the attention of the casual passer-by,” says David Ciolek, network product manager for Columbus, Ohio-based Mettler Toledo. “It also works well for cross-promotional opportunities. If a store associate puts sliced turkey on the scale, for example, the system can display a message that there is a special running on Swiss cheese. This is particularly powerful, as the consumer is highly engaged at that point in the process.”

Keeping it clean

As supermarkets continue to dedicate resources to cooking and baking from scratch, deli and bakery areas are bound to see greater foot-traffic.  As grocers add equipment and expand their offerings, cleaning becomes a larger task as well.

“The biggest goal of retailers is to move product, so ware washing is not always top of mind, but it is a necessary task and they are looking for ways to be more productive in this area,” says Barry L. Bergstein, vice president, worldwide distribution, retail for Power Soak Systems, Inc., based in Kansas City, Mo.

Power Soak offers a continuous motion ware washing system that eliminates virtually all forms of manual hand scrubbing, say company officials. The Power Soak cleans by a combination of constant rolling motion, heated water and low-foaming soap. “Typically we save 50% of occurring labor over hand washing,” Bergstein says.

One of the challenges of standard ware washing systems is that they were designed for specific tasks, such as cleaning dinner plates. Of course in the supermarket environment there are a mixture of items such as sheet pans, different size stainless steel hotel pans, display pieces, big pots and pans, mixing bowls and wire whips. Bergstein says Power Soak has customized solutions for the supermarket industry—such as inserts to handle high volumes of rotisserie skewers and a sheet pan racking system—and the Produce Soak for power-assisted washing and sanitizing of produce.

Other cleaning options, such as the JEROS Sheet Tray Cleaner from TNN-Jeros, Inc., replace the traditional pan-washing equipment with a dry method of cleaning. “Retailers not only want to use less energy as they look for sustainable solutions, they want to put less waste water back into the environment,” says Jens Hedegaard, vice president, sales, for the Byron, Ill.-based equipment manufacturer.

The JEROS Sheet Tray Cleaner line uses nylon or steel brushes to clean the trays, eliminating the need for water or chemicals say Hedegaard. “This is particularly important as more retailers want to offer more environmentally friendly products,” he adds.

Pleasing presentation

Prepared foods are often impulse items and customers can be drawn to the sights and smells in front of them. Thus, presentation is key.

While the food has to appeal to the senses, it also has to be kept at the proper temperatures. Inglewood, Calif.-based Rotisol offers open heated granite top merchandisers and cold display cabinets. The company also offers customized concepts for display and food presentation. The granite drop-in mechanisms for heating and cooling can be added to existing displays, say company officials.

“We have a strong technical background,” says CEO Terry Flamant. “We can provide a finished product or the parts necessary to rejuvenate an existing piece of equipment.” He says that the granite drop-ins can be added to carts or mobile displays to offers tastings at various points around the supermarket.

A simple task such as slicing bread can become theater, according to officials at ITW Food’s Baxter division.

The company offers a number of bread slicers with either manual or automatic operation in a range of freestanding and countertop sizes.

“These slicers can accommodate a wide range of loaf sizes offering worry-free slicing regardless of bread type,” says Tom Moore, director of sales and marketing for Baxter. “In addition, Baxter slicers can slice up to 2,000 loaves of bread each day, freeing up staff for more productive activities.”

Even the packaging makes a difference as innovative labels bring added value to the brand and the product, say observers. Mettler Toledo’s UC-LP high-speed prepack printer can help retailers maximize marketing potential through innovative and creative labels, as well as meet customer expectations and comply with government labeling regulations, according to company officials.

“The machine ensures label regulation compliance, allows for unlimited creativity with label marketing solutions and fully integrates into existing PC-based systems,” says Stephanie Rose, prepack product manager. “Retailers can capitalize on the fact that it is a windows-based system and take advantage of a wide variety of fonts and the ability to incorporate high-quality graphics.”

Observers say future developments will continue to focus on sustainability, durability, ease of use and marketing opportunities.

“We will continue to work with operators to observe how the use our equipment and continue to enhance the intuitive nature of the equipment,” says Hobart’s Bair. c

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