By Carol Radice
Suppliers continue to look for that WOW! factor with deli and bakery equipment offerings. Historically, equipment designed for the deli, bakery and kitchen strictly played a functional role. Today equipment represents much more, for one simple reason—it has to. Modern cooking and food prep equipment is now called upon to handle multiple tasks. It needs to be smaller to accommodate tight spaces, easy enough to be used by anyone, able to increase product output and speed up the task at hand. Not only does the equipment need to perform, it must be reliable, cost- and energy-efficient and safe to use. “Home meal replacement needs have grown and many of today’s food trends have increased the need for a greater variety of items to be offered,” says Steve Snitkin, director of key account sales for Rational USA based in Rolling Meadows, Ill. “Versatility is an absolute must when it comes to cooking equipment.” It was with this in mind that Rational created its SelfCookingCenter. Company officials say this one piece of equipment can replace traditional equipment, such as rotisseries, grills, steamers and smokers. “The ability to do all those tasks with one item greatly reduces the needed footprint of the kitchen without reducing the overall menu capacity,” says Snitkin, adding that the SelfCookingCenter also offers up to 25% faster cooking times on most items and requires very little monitoring of the food being cooked, freeing deli staff to do other tasks. As retail menus evolve and expand, having the right equipment becomes critical. Officials at Fort Worth, Texas-based Traulsen say that grocers are not only offering more items, they are being asked to offer more varied and complicated items as consumer demands drive the need for more vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and locally raised and farmed options. “These foods require a lot more skill and time to create than what we would have considered for deli or bakery items in the past,” says James Piliero, product line manager for Traulsen. Although the meal replacement trend has been on the rise for many years, Piliero says today it is bigger than ever. “It continues to be the biggest factor changing the grocery environment. We are hearing from our customers that whatever we can do to the equipment to make it easier to use so that they can focus their time on the customer is much appreciated,” he says. Another consumer trend affecting the deli, bakery and cooking areas in grocery stores is the fresh food movement. As such, many stores are turning toward non-traditional advertising to promote these programs. Industry observers say this “roadshow” concept was pioneered by club stores, which had to figure out a way—without a traditional meat or seafood counter—to highlight a smaller amount of fresh meat or seafood, instead of large, frozen quantities. “Retailers are basically placing a refrigerated cabinet out on the showroom floor to merchandise around and highlight smaller quantities of fresh foods,” says Piliero. Traulsen developed specialty equipment for this practice years ago and is continuing to evolve these refrigeration units as more traditional grocery stores start to adopt this merchandising tactic. The amount of on-site prep required as the deli/bakery menu expands has grown significantly in the past few years, say observers. As this has occurred retail leaders and staff are continuing to push for high output at a lower cost while also continuing to incorporate new and unique menu items. These items include produce and other fresh items that require more prep work than in the past. A larger trend toward offering more artisanal breads and other made-in-house, small-batch baked goods is also influencing equipment needs. “There is still room for expansion and profit in these areas and grocers are now interested in equipment to help them with these new challenges that they didn’t need in the past,” says Kimberly Eros, marketing director, food machines for Hobart Corp., based in Troy, Ohio. Mixing it up Officials at Hobart have also seen a consistent demand for mixers in grocery. More recently that need has turned to smaller mixers. “Smaller mixers can not only tackle smaller batches and artisanal baked goods, but can also be used for a variety of tasks behind the deli and bakery areas, including icings and other desserts, cheese spreads, dips and popular items in the prepared food section of the deli,” says Eros. She adds that interest in food processors is also on the rise as retail staff members realize the ease at which it enables them to prepare fresh vegetables and other labor-intensive foods. Having the right equipment and technology is imperative if retailers are serious about expanding their menus and growing their foodservice sales, says Todd Griffith, vice president of marketing for Alto-Shaam, based in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Not only can the right equipment help retailers appeal to a wider consumer base, Griffith says it can help them more efficiently deliver product to consumers, help them offer additional value-added services and establish themselves as a competitive presence. “In many cases, the technology exists to do all of this and it becomes a question of whether the retailer is willing to invest in the technology, taking into account the differences between price and return on investment,” says Griffith. However, it seems as if retailers frequently base these decisions on price and not necessarily value. Griffith says that operating costs during the first year can often exceed any cost savings achieved with the initial purchase of the equipment. Support resources, he adds, are critical as retailers embark upon greater investment in program and concept development. “Having the ability to source and take advantage of supplier partners that are willing and able to collaborate, that take a vested interest in program development and success is critical in today’s competitive marketplace,” Griffith says. Alto-Shaam offers dedicated resources which include in-field service and store operations support, culinary research, development and ideation, engineering and design support, dedicated customer service support, training and material development assistance. Gene Pritchett, national sales manager for Southern Pride, based in Alamo, Tenn., says smokers offers grocers an opportunity to generate profits, increase store traffic and differentiate themselves from the competition. Features in Southern Pride smokers include gas fired/wood burning capabilities, versatility and large cooking capacities. “Restaurant quality authentic BBQ and smoked meat products are among the hottest items in foodservice today and smokers are the driving force behind accomplishing these goals,” says Pritchett. “Our units perform a number of tasks from BBQ and smoke to roast, rethermalize and hold, all in one piece of equipment. They offer retailers the chance to expand into new opportunities and profits.” Many of the newer, efficient pieces of equipment were created with employees in mind. For instance, Snitkin says retailers that use the SelfCookingCenter often need less staff on hand to fill the hot food cases each day. Rational’s key account team provides training materials to help train employees to operate the unit. “The MyDisplay feature allows operations to customize the unit and remove everything on the panel that the staff does not need. This gets them up and running very quickly after the initial equipment change,” says Snitkin. Observers say ease of use, in terms of both operating and caring for equipment, is important, especially as menus get broader. As areas of responsibility for staff increase while hiring slows, Traulsen’s Piliero says easy-to-use equipment is critical. He says Traulsen created its blast chiller, which was designed so operators do not have to press any buttons. “With our newest blast chiller, staff simply has to put a temperature probe into the hot food and the machine does the rest,” says Piliero. “We’ve minimized training time and also room for error, which is critical in this segment.” Anything that can be done to reduce the amount of labor it takes to prepare food is usually a top priority in today’s prep kitchens. As menus expand, observers say retailers are dedicating more time, money and staff to handle food prep and cooking/baking needs. “These additional costs have been a challenge for retailers, as is making sure they are providing quality foods and experiences for customers,” says Hobart’s Eros. “Our focus at Hobart has been on introducing products that help them with these challenges.” Pritchett says Southern Pride’s smokers are fully automatic, reliable and easy-to-use without requiring the constant attention of highly skilled employees. Recognizing that space can be an issue, the company has a number of models to fit a variety of space and capacity needs, for inside or outside the store. “Our grocery store program and training are the keys to a retailer’s success,” he says. The Condo, offered by MIWE America, was created to address the need to have one piece of equipment that can handle several tasks at once. It is available in various models and sizes to fit a range of production needs. According to Harry Jacoby, president of the Hillsborough, N.J.-based company, the unit is programmable, making it easy to operate, energy efficient, easy to clean and each deck is independent allowing for different products to be baked at the same time. “We find that supermarkets want to bake good artisan-style breads at store level. To do this they need a deck oven that is compact, flexible, bakes well and is easy to use,” he says. The VarioSmoker is one of the latest additions to Rational’s line of accessories. Snitkin says the VarioSmoker cooks ribs in 90 minutes without the messy cleanup traditional smokers often require. This year, Traulsen is highlighting its prep tables, which company officials say offer up to 15 hours of NSF 7-Certified temperature performance, keeping food safe all day without human intervention. Piliero says this allows staff to transfer their attention from continually taking temps and rotating product to the customer. “Your operation only gets one chance to provide a great experience, so anything you can do to shift attention to that experience, the better,” he says. Aside from positively affecting the customer service experience, Piliero says this type of equipment also creates efficiency and lowers the risk of error. While much of the equipment talk centers on prepared foods today, slicers remain a pivotal centerpiece of the deli, says Eros, adding that Hobart’s new HS slicer provides higher yield and is easier, faster and safer for staff to clean. “This slicer has several exclusive features, such as zero knife exposure as well as a removable knife. We also created it with ease of cleaning in mind to support NSF 8 and sanitation goals,” she says. Griffith says Alto-Shaam is in the process of launching a new generation of Combitherm Oven technology. He says the new CT PROformance’s three power modes, which include Turbo, Eco and Reduced Power settings, allow for speed of production as well as maximizing efficiency during operation. Safety features include the CoolTouch3 technology, which increases oven efficiency through thermal retention while maintaining exterior door temperatures below 100 °F. The patented SafeVent technology vents the oven cavity completely at the end of a cook cycle, safeguarding operators from potential exposure to high temperatures and steam when opening the oven door. Other features include five-speed reversing fans for precision finish on foods and Absolute Humidity Control giving the operator full control over the oven humidity during cooking. Simple and intuitive controls also make the oven easy to interact with, offering single touch menu selection and many other cooking functions,” says Griffith. Southern Pride recently introduced its new Gas Fired/Wood Burning Stationary Rack. Officials say the model offers a large cooking capacity in a small footprint, fits through a 36-inch door and can be installed inside a store under a standard 48-inch vent hood. It offers cooking versatility (BBQ, Smoke, Roast, Rethermalize and Hold) and has a flexible Stationary Food Rack System to maximize capacity. “The unit features a Two–Speed Convection Fan System and Moisture Infusion System that insures maximum yields and product consistency,” says Pritchett. “And it has the Southern Pride unique, wood burning capability for producing authentic BBQ and smoked meats.” Henny Penny, based in Eaton, Ohio, recently introduced its FlexFusion Combi Ovens. According to Jason Moles, field marketing manager, the FlexFusion Combi Ovens combine different cooking methods into one piece of equipment with the flexibility to cook nearly everything on a menu to perfection. What really sets FlexFusion apart, he adds, is its ease-of-use. “Operators just tap the app for everything from cook-and-hold to cleaning and trouble-shooting,” he says.