ORLANDO, Fla. -- Many of the trends humming to life at The National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) biannual trade expo in Orlando, Fla., were familiar. This year, however, they sprung a new set of wheels, a flashy screen or sometimes a robotic arm. The unspoken theme of the foodservice equipment and supply show, which ran Feb. 6-9, seemed to be connection—whether that be tapping into data, reaching consumers with a brand story or leveraging automation.
Read on to plug into the devices that signal the future of convenience-store foodservice ...
1. Hitting the road
Driving foodservice traffic into the store seemed to take a back seat to off-premise solutions at The NAFEM Show. Cocktail trikes, beverage tuk-tuks and battery-powered pizza oven trucks all parked on the show floor.
For instance, eTuk USA and Gallery, a cart and kiosk manufacturer, have teamed up to create electric foodservice vehicles modeled after the rickshaws common to Southeast Asia. The Denver-based companies have developed vehicles for operators such as Sodexo, Gaithersburg, Md., and Einstein Bros. Bagels, Lakewood, Colo.
As mobile foodservice innovates far beyond the typical food truck, the category’s national employment growth ballooned by 155.3% from 2008 to 2017, according to a report by The Arizona Republic.
At the next NAFEM Show, attendees might just see self-driving, eco-friendly foodservice vehicles.
2. Parts and labor
Operators’ grievances about the sweat-inducing labor market appear to have been heard. While the national unemployment rate continues to hover around 4%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly every booth was selling labor savers, ranging from ovens with preprogrammed recipes to robot prep chefs.
Sunkist’s Research Technical Services Division showed off a robot that can grab citrus straight from employees’ hands and cut the fruit into perfectly symmetrical slices.
The Middleby Corp., Elgin, Ill., touted a robotic arm that could mix up cocktails and pour hot and cold dispensed beverages.
3. Larger-than-life stories
Consumer-facing equipment screens seemed to be evolving, allowing retailers to tell their brand story from beginning to end.
Springfield, Ill.-based Bunn’s latest bean-to-cup coffee system has a touchscreen that’s a little larger than a traditional tablet. The machine also has an optional cashless reader that accepts both cards and mobile payment options. The Wi-Fi-enabled screens can be programmed to give consumers more details about retailers’ coffee programs.
Egro, a Rancilio Group brand based in Woodridge, Ill., has a machine in its lineup called BYO, short for “bring your own.” The device allows retailers to use their own tablets as a removable screen, so the interface can be customized and easily updated.
4. Everything internet of things
The internet of things seemed to take over The NAFEM Show floor. Manufacturers presented equipment including fryers, refrigerators, ovens and coffee machines that gather a treasure trove of data. The devices communicate through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but operators often have to use different programs for each piece of equipment. “There’s almost too much data,” said one exhibitor.
Rockton, Ill.-based Taylor uses a program called Atlas. The program connects to the company’s soft-serve and cold dispensed equipment to send out email alerts for malfunctions and troubleshoots issues. It also enables retailers to monitor temperatures, cleaning cycles and performance metrics.
5. Bite-size kitchens
Tiny footprints are nothing new for c-store foodservice professionals; however, new technology is helping eateries squeeze more high-tech equipment into their kitchens.
Alto-Shaam’s Vector Multi-Cook Ovens have four chambers that can cook food to different specifications. The chambers can cook independently because of structured air technology, which delivers high-velocity, focused heat. With a 21-inch width, the unit is adaptable in compact spaces. One client even put the oven in a former closet. “You can make a kitchen anywhere,” said Kellee Johnston, vice president of marketing for the Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based company.
Retailers can tuck Ovention’s UL-Ventless ovens under a prep table to optimize space. The Sturgeon Bay, Wis.-based manufacturer’s ventless equipment uses air recirculation and catalyst technology to turn grease and volatile organic compounds into water and carbon dioxide molecules.