CHICAGO — Amid a mountain of paper straws, a tsunami of cold-brew coffees and a landslide of faux meats, innovation in foodservice equipment stood out during the National Restaurant Association Show held May 18-21 in Chicago, and much of it was designed with convenience-store retailers in mind.
"A lot of convenience-store retailers are new to foodservice," Dean Meyer, director of product management for Duke Manufacturing, told CSP Daily News, "so they're open to new tech solutions in the category."
Duke’s innovation included new technology that allows retailers to push out menu updates from an office computer or even a smartphone without having to travel to each store.
Other innovations on the show floor included speeding up preparation times, enhancing the consumer experience and building an eco-friendly halo.
“We’re looking at innovation under an umbrella of sustainability, and whenever we innovate, we keep the c-store in mind,” said Alec Frisch, vice president and general manager of foodservice for GP Pro, which unveiled several eco-friendly products and equipment at the show. “We are focusing less on products and more on being thought leaders for the industry.”
Here’s a look at 12 equipment innovations from the restaurant show …
Cold-brew coffee has been growing by double digits in recent months, and there were dozens of cold-brew coffees on the show floor. Cue Wilbur Curtis Co. to debut the Curtis Essence machine, which reduces the time it takes to make cold-brew coffee from 18 hours to 10 minutes. Partner it with the Curtis Nitro Infuser (pictured), and it becomes a compact and simple way to pour thick and creamy nitro cold brew, according to the company.
2. Broaster Co.
Broaster Co. introduced its new Rock County Smokehouse program that gives operators the ability to quickly and conveniently serve freshly smoked barbecue. Rock County Smokehouse uses real wood to smoke meats such as ribs, chicken, pork or brisket in a third of the time of a conventional smoker. With no skilled labor necessary, the program uses Broaster's new Smokaroma pressure smoker to cook and brown meat to the proper temperature resulting in authentic smoky barbecue, the company said.
3. Coca-Cola Co.
Coca-Cola Co. unveiled its latest update to the Freestyle dispenser. The Freestyle 7100 is the next generation of the company's countertop model. It includes a large, high-definition touchscreen and more than 60 beverages across six categories, including more than 30 low- and no-calorie options and more than 40 caffeine-free choices, some of which are available exclusively through Coca-Cola Freestyle. Coca-Cola Freestyle 7100 comes equipped with a camera and Bluetooth connection, for future consumer engagement capabilities. The new dispenser will begin testing later this year and will be commercialized nationally in the second quarter of 2020.
The Ovention Shuttle is two ovens in one: a conveyor and an enclosed small-batch oven, using Ovention's Precision Impingement technology. During peak periods, the Shuttle can operate as a traditional conveyor for maximum throughput. At other times, the conveyor openings can be closed to provide custom oven temperature, time and independent top and bottom blower speeds for each item. The Ovention Shuttle is ventless, stackable and one-third more energy efficient than traditional countertop conveyors, according to the company.
5. GP Pro
GP Pro, a division of Georgia-Pacific, displayed a variety of new products meant to keep retailers costs down while keeping the environment in mind. Dixie Paper Straws are available now, providing a sustainable alternative to single-use plastic straws. This summer, GP Pro will launch Dixie 100% Recycled Fiber Hot Cups and Dixie Ultra SmartStock Compostable Cutlery. And this winter, the GP Pro Automated Sealing Machine will provide a convenient way to seal dispensed beverages, making them spill- and tamper-resistant.
6. Duke Manufacturing
Duke Manufacturing featured its modular serving counters, work tables and production centers, offering a variety of options to fit a small footprint while making it clear a store is in the foodservice business. Duke's equipment includes thermal technology, ambient refrigeration, ergonomic design and modular flexibility for a variety of solutions, according to the company.
Bunn featured its bean-to-cup capabilities with three all-in-one (hopper, grinder, brewer and dispenser) units, including the new Bunn Crescendo (pictured at right above). The Crescendo holds more than 2 pounds of coffee and provides up to nine fresh-brewed beverage options, including espresso, cappuccino, latte and americano in a variety of flavors.
Cornelius' IDC Pro is an interactive drink dispenser that features two dispense points and flavor-shot options for hundreds of beverage combinations. A scrolling interface makes brand selection interactive. An LCD screen provides a large digital merchandising and promotional space.
The Lancer DraftServ is an add-on to a fountain that uses barcodes to facilitate drink refills or loyalty programs. Originally used on self-service drink dispensers on cruise ships, the unit measures the amount of drink being poured for accurate charging. As a loyalty system, the unit allows customers to prepay for a certain amount of refills or unlimited use for a certain time period with a reusable cup.
Alto-Shaam's Vector Multi-Cook oven allows simultaneous preparation of a variety of food. Using structured-air technology, the unit can act as up to four ovens in one as each chamber has independent temperature, fan speed and cook time control. Operators can cook up to four different food items simultaneously with no flavor transfer, the company said.
Cup manufacturer Whirley-DrinkWorks highlighted a number of RFID-enabled cup and dispenser options to help retailers create prepaid fountain offers. It also featured the latest in Stripes convenience stores' Selena collectible cups. Available in three designs, this year’s limited-time cups hold either hot or cold beverages and are double-wall insulated, dishwasher-safe and BPA-free.