Cookin’ up a storm

The money-saving features found in today’s deli and bakery equipment are helping retailers offer more fresh products.

Fresh departments such as deli and bakery are focal points in many grocery stores today. Retailers remain under pressure to produce high-quality products fast and easy as possible in less space and without breaking the bank while doing it.

Sandwich_RATIONAL-high-res-imageGrocers are also looking to strike a balance between efficiency and creating a more pleasant shopping experience. Industry observers say retailers are looking toward equipment and technology as a means of offering fresh product and excitement at the same time.

“Any time you can leverage production and theater you improve the customer’s perception, interest and traffic flow in the store,” says Acacio Rodriguez, sales and marketing managing director for BE&SCO Manufacturing, a San Antonio, Texas-based company that offers a line of tortilla making equipment. “The demand for freshness has driven both grocery stores and Mexican restaurants to embrace the fresh concept approach by investing in equipment, ingredients and supplies that allow for in-house, theatrical production of product. They understand that today’s consumers prefer to purchase fresh tortillas over other options.”

Within the grocery channel, BE&SCO’s popular machines are the Beta 450 E Combo, Beta 900, Betamax and Grandemax Combo. According to Rodriguez, the units provide mid to high production within a limited space and low labor requirements. With its glass-encased ovens, these units provide both a fresh tortilla product and visual theater for shoppers, he adds.

Observers say retailers are also looking for efficient, durable, high-quality equipment. ITW Food Equipment Group, based in Troy, Ohio, offers Hobart, Traulsen, Baxter, Vulcan and Wolf equipment. Jason Prondzinski, vice president of national accounts for ITW, says all are ENERGY STAR partners and have been given the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year-Sustained Excellence Award the past four consecutive years.

Collectively, the companies offer more than 500 ENERGY STAR qualified units and continue to push forward in uncovering new energy-efficiency opportunities and technologies for foodservice and grocery operations, he adds. “We’ve long understood that helping foodservice and grocery customers design and operate sustainable kitchens that are more efficient, productive and environmentally sound wasn’t better just for the environment, but for our customers’ bottom line as well,” says Prondzinski.

Hobart and its sister companies offer a number of choices in foodservice equipment for grocers looking to reduce operating costs and meet consumer demand for ready-made meals and healthier food choices. Officials say the Traulsen Blast Chiller with Epicon visual interface enables the operator to safely and easily chill food items for later use. Most recently, Hobart applied its patented Energy Recovery technology to their under counter dish machine and launched the ENERGY STAR qualified Advansys LXe dish machine, available in high- and low-temp models.

Others agree that technological advancements have helped drive energy efficiency features in equipment. However Steven Snitkin, director of key accounts for RATIONAL USA, based in Schaumburg, Ill., says operational features that can make life easier for grocery personnel are also fueling interest in equipment purchases. He adds that retailers are investing in better equipment because they need high-quality, consistent results, while still looking for the best return on investment, longer life out of the equipment and a savings on labor costs.

Snitkin says these reasons have directly influenced the popularity of Combi units, whose versatility, combined with the reduced space needed to produce multiple types of products with multiple types of cooking methods, in a reduced footprint, hold much appeal for grocers. “The cost of real estate has risen and back room areas such as kitchens are being asked to handle more within a smaller space,” he says.

As retailers incorporate more fresh and local products it puts an even greater onus on them to consistently offer quality cooking every day, say observers. Given budget constraints, many retailers are looking for equipment that will grow with their business. “Retailers are looking for maximum results with the simplest operation and ease of cleaning,” says Snitkin. “Our self-clean feature, for instance, not only cleans the unit, it looks brand new after every cleaning cycle.”

Ease of use is also important as many retailers have either high turnover rates or a large amount of part-time employees. “Our equipment is designed to be easy to operate and easy to service,” says Mark Pierson, food equipment business director for Oliver Packaging & Equipment Co. based in Walker, Mich. He adds that Oliver’s reputation and long heritage is helping it expand into other markets, including packaging and smaller slicers for bagels, baguettes and small loaf sizes.

Space is also a concern, particularly with the ever-shrinking footprint in the backroom. “Space constraints are pushing grocers to focus on equipment that is efficient in terms of the tasks it performs and the energy it requires to operate,” says Barry Bergstein, vice president of worldwide distribution for Power Soak. The Kansas City, Mo.-based company, recently acquired by Unified Brands, produces a line of continuous motion ware washing systems, featuring a patented rear jet design. Bergstein says Power Soak replaces the typical three-compartment sink and creates a continuous motion and rotation of pots and pans. This results in a much cleaner and consistent plastic or metal ware item, thereby virtually eliminating the need for hand scrubbing, he says. It can also handle oven parts, grease filters and other hard to clean kitchen items.

Retailers are also looking to identify and employ more effective sanitizing methods. “Our Power Soak units clean and sanitize much better than an individual person,” says Bergstein. “This allows employees to place their entire focus on making products, not on washing pots and pans.”

Officials at Power Soak say their latest offering, the Produce Soak, can perform the duties of both a ware washer and three compartment sink, which means among other things that it uses less water, chemicals and energy to do the same job two units would. Designed to be a gentle, hands-free answer to fruit and vegetable washing, company officials say that in a few minutes of washing with an anti-microbial solution Produce Soak can help eliminate more than 99% of bacteria.

While efficiency is often the name of the game in designing equipment, food safety is an overarching concern as well. Take deli slicers: recently enacted sanitation regulations call for all slicers produced after November 15, 2012 to have enhanced cleaning and sanitation features.

Suppliers such as Globe Food Equipment Co., based in Dayton, Ohio, were among the first slicer manufacturers to meet the new standards. “Every step of the way, we engineered our products, controlled our material costs and focused on designs to boost operator productivity and highest product yield,” says Kevin Woods, vice president of sales and marketing for Globe. The company has added several enhancements to its slicers, including moisture-proof, easy-to-clean direct contact start/stop touchpad controls.

Bake on
Bakery directors say one challenge they consistently face is identifying innovative and creative ways to get more customers into their departments. With that in mind, Oliver has introduced a new oven specifically designed to bring theater to supermarket bakeries.

“Deli departments have done a great job with rotisserie chickens so why shouldn’t the bakery have the same theater to compliment bakery products?” says Pierson. Oliver designed its Bakefresh Oven to bake products in front of the customer and self merchandise warm par baked goods. A bakery employee or someone from the service counter can load the simple-to-operate oven with very little experience. “It is an easy way to offer fresh baked goods—and that great bakery smell—into stores and boost sales at the same time,” he says.

While the bakery production area offers the opportunity for great theater, it can be difficult to staff when most shoppers are in the store. Taking this into consideration, Oliver officials say their self-service slicer allows bakeries to merchandise artisan bread products whole, which is more visually appealing to customers. Shoppers can then slice the bread before they leave the store.

While the aroma of fresh baking bread creates a warm inviting atmosphere, not every retailer has the footprint or budget to accommodate an in-store bakery. Automation For Food and More (AFM) has addressed this issue with its Ovomatic fresh baked product delivery systems.

The Sterling Heights, Mich.-based company offers several models that can produce up to 15 varieties of fresh baked goods including loaves of bread, pretzels, bagels, rolls, croissants and baguettes on demand. Features include a first-in, first-out system which helps guarantee freshness and reduces product waste, automatic start and live connect for remote diagnostic and sales figure reporting. Its on-board intelligent control system tracks, stores and analyzes sales to regulate the amount of baking during peak and off hours.

Additionally, AFM’s systems provide the shopper with convenient product selection, along with nutritional and price information. “Our systems offer convenient, reliable, low cost, hygienic, one-hand operation and allow for fast product changes, giving retailers the flexibility to adjust to consumer tastes,” says Michelle Graf, administration and marketing manager for AFM. Graf says that the Ovomatic also reduces labor cost and is easy to load and maintain.

Equipment that proves complicated to use or is prone to breaking down means lost revenue and margin erosion in the deli and bakery. With that in mind, officials at Globe say that in addition to precision slicing and superior sanitation their 3000 and 4000 series slicers provide reliable performance.

“Consistency and precision are vital to uniform slices, higher product yield and increased profits,” says Woods.

The ability to identify the size and quantity of the products being cooked thanks to automatic processes is one of the key features Snitkin says makes the RATIONAL SelfCookingCenter with climatecontrol a standout among retailers. “Operators don’t produce the same amounts of food day in and day out. Having to choose half load or full load programs forces the employees to continually make important decisions. With our unit operators just hit the chicken button,” he says.

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