Rethinking Your Equipment

Using tools to navigate pandemic roadblocks
professional chef and oven
Photograph: Shutterstock

ST. LOUIS —With COVID cases on the rise again and mask mandates reinstated in cities across the country, many are wondering what the future holds for the food industry. Pandemic roadblocks such as industrywide labor shortages and disrupted supply chains have seemingly left no sector unaffected, from farmers to convenience stores. Not to mention, rapidly shifting consumer behavior is forcing retailers to rethink their business practices altogether.

To stay responsive to consumer needs while simultaneously navigating new and potentially long-lasting challenges, it may be time to rethink the tools your business relies on. With the right equipment in place, c-stores can continue to provide customers with not only the food products they need, but also the quick and easy shopping experience that only convenience retailing can provide.

There’s a big difference between equipment that just works and equipment that really works for you. Consider these six key ways that the equipment and technology you choose can streamline your business practices and bridge the gap between staffing and demand.

Less Labor: With staffing shortages reported across industries of every kind, hiring can become a challenge of its own. Focusing on hiring efforts takes time, and it can be difficult to allocate the necessary resources when you are already stretched thin. However, with the right equipment in place, employees and leadership can spend less time on menial tasks and more time on things that matter, such as finding the right people for your business and providing customers with quality service. By letting machines automate repetitive manual tasks, such as inventory tracking or food preparation, you can get back to your core business: providing quality control that the public demands.

Faster Training: Once you find the qualified individuals to come on board your team, you will also need to properly train them. Proper training is essential to the safety and efficiency of your business, but it also requires putting aside time and money. Training should be quick and simple so employees feel equipped to provide excellent service, while keeping employee and consumer safety top of mind. Consider how the training your equipment requires affects overall productivity. Convenience stores may consider, for example, a small combi oven, which is great for small spaces and a smart budget option. Combi ovens feature intuitive controls that lead to better quality heated food products for customers, with minimal operator training and easy maintenance/installation.

Reduced Downtime: Between temporary closures, social distancing and budget concerns, your equipment may not be in use as frequently as before. With scarcity in resources and time, maintenance may have been reduced and downtime increased. Ensuring your equipment is in working order is crucial to the efficiency of your business, but taking the extra step of preventative maintenance can save time that you can’t afford to lose later. Consider equipment that requires minimal or easy cleaning, and investing in a preventative maintenance plan so you can spend less time on making sure your equipment works and more time on providing customers with what they need. 

Improved Safety: With mask mandates returning and a new variant on the rise, safety is top of mind for consumers. Aside from keeping staff trained on the correct cleaning procedures, you can also invest in equipment with auto-clean features. Additionally, machines like hot and cold deli merchandisers ensure products are consistently held at a safe temperature. Nutritious grab-and-go offerings replace a trip to the grocery store and can also reduce foot traffic and germs.

Increased Efficiency: By automating menial tasks such as wrapping or merchandising products, equipment can be the key to keeping efficiency high even with a skeleton staff. Additionally, machines that can prepare multiple food products can provide more variety to consumers and help reduce time spent prepping and preparing food. A smoker, for example, is a great option due to its versatility. It can prepare wings, chicken, sandwiches and ultimately, meals for busy families.

Additional Revenue: Ultimately, the right piece of equipment can allow you to bring new offerings to customers and new revenue to your business. Getting the best return on your investment is all about creating offerings that drive sales without significantly increasing labor. For a convenience store, it may be a rotisserie that provides new hot food offerings, or a smoker set up in the parking lot to pull in new customers and give existing ones a variety of new options. A Wisconsin c-store brand saw a spike in customer demand for more traditional grocery items like ground beef, chicken and produce. It responded by installing space-saving coolers to safely offer an expanded selection of grab-and-go grocery goods and meal solutions. Adapting to consumer needs is more important than ever.

Evolution and adaptation are nothing new for the food industry as it has battled economic recessions, rapidly shifting consumer sensibilities and more. Whatever challenges the industry faces, food consistently remains a symbol and source of comfort and togetherness. With the public craving both more now than ever, a strategic approach—not just to your business, but to your equipment—can lead to vast opportunity.

Rachel Herren is the president of Hess Meat Machines, a third-generation family-owned business based in St. Louis.

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