Equipment Suppliers Keep Pace With Foodservice Growth
ANAHEIM, Calif. — With foodservice sales growing faster on a percentage basis at convenience stores than at restaurants, it’s no surprise that many exhibitors at this year’s NAFEM Show — held here Feb. 19-21 by the National Association of Foodservice Equipment Manufacturers — were showing products to improve the operations of c-store chains.
From quick-cooking ovens to new coffee systems to iced tea makers, c-store retailers were sure to find something new and exciting to help them grow their foodservice business.
Guy Strayer, foodservice director for Country Fair Inc., the Mid-Atlantic convenience store chain owned by United Refining Co., told CSNews Online he attends the NAFEM Show so that he is “aware of all the many facets of equipment and services provided to the foodservice industry.”
This was Strayer’s third time at the NAFEM Show. His goal this year was to find services that would make his company’s foodservice operations more efficient and productive.
“I have always found something unexpected that has given our company an opportunity to become more profitable,” he said.
COFFEE, ESPRESSO, ETC.
“When it comes to espresso in the c-store world, retailers are trying to figure out if they are competing with McDonald’s or if they are competing with Starbucks,” said Jon Shalen, president of Espresso Soci, an importer of premium espresso machines. “They are torn between self-serve and employee-served systems.”
The company recently installed its Faema XI espresso machine with patented auto-steam technology at about 100 QuickChek stores. Shalen said QuickChek Corp. is expected to roll out the machine chainwide by the end of the year. The employee-served machine is so easy to use that he remarked: “I trained a QuickChek manager over the phone.”
Meanwhile at the Bunn-O-Matic Corp. booth, Strategic Account Manager Randy Vickery said specialty drinks and regional coffees (think blends from Sumatra, Ethiopia, etc.) are in greater demand by consumers, and c-stores are broadening their hot coffee offerings to meet this demand.
Bunn was showing two units of particular interest to c-store retailers: the Trifecta, a brewer that uses air infusion to brew a superior cup of coffee; and the Sure Temp, a self-serve espresso machine with an intuitive touchscreen interface for easy use.
Another popular c-store supplier of coffee brewing equipment is Wilbur Curtis Co. Getting a lot of attention from retailers at the company’s booth was Curtis’ TFT Freshness Monitoring System. The system includes a digital timer, volume indicator and flashing LED lights to alert store employees to refill the urn, ensuring fresh coffee is always available to customers.
Frozen yogurt continues to be a rising trend in the c-store industry, said Tricia Bennett, senior director, global marketing for Rockton, Ill.-based Taylor Co., which makes a broad range of foodservice equipment for frozen treats, frozen dispensed beverages and grilled specialties.
Fun and tasty treats, like frozen yogurt and frozen carbonated beverages, get the coveted Millennials involved and offer them the ability to customize a frozen treat of their choice, Bennett added, predicting that smoothies are likely to become the next big c-store hit in the not-too-distant future. These products can create an environment for repeat traffic visits that customers enjoy, while increasing daypart sales for the c-store operator.
The growing use of blenders to make a variety of products, from smoothies to specialty coffee drinks, was not lost on Vitamix Corp., which introduced a new line of color-coordinated blender containers at the NAFEM Show. The containers make it easy, by sight, for operators to keep food and drink ingredients separated to avoid cross-contamination. All the containers work with the company’s The Quiet One blender, a popular c-store item.
Vitamix was also showing its Modular Blending System (MBS), which debuted last October at the NACS Show. Taking up only 30 linear inches of countertop space, the MBS provides precise measurements of ingredients, improves speed of service and reduces waste, while being able to make a wide variety of customizable drink options.
FIT TO A TEA
Despite recent news reports about research extolling the healthful benefits of coffee, tea remains consumers’ top-of-mind choice for a healthy beverage, according to Larry Greenberg, director of national accounts, Western U.S. and Canada, for FETCO Corp.
“Hot water is not sexy, but its revenue streams are,” said Greenberg, pointing out that the company’s Temperature On Demand instant four-temp machine can be used for a wide variety of menu items, from tea and soup to ramen noodles, oatmeal and even instant mashed potatoes.
Brewed iced tea is also becoming more of a year-round beverage in many parts of the country, said Greenberg. “It’s no longer just a summer drink in many markets.”
A few years ago, Ovention Inc. introduced its Matchbox fast-cook oven and then its Shuttle conveyor oven — both of which have become mainstays of c-store foodservice programs.
This year, the company is introducing the Matchbox 360, its smallest footprint rapid-cook oven yet. Ovention can only hope to match the success of its earlier models — QuikTrip has installed two Shuttle ovens in all of its foodservice model stores, while the Matchbox is a mainstay at such c-store industry giants as Speedway and Kum & Go.
A lot of companies at the 2015 NAFEM Show were displaying new equipment inspired by smartphone technology as well. Digital operating interfaces were everywhere.
“Buttons are expensive and they break,” said Chad Vendette, director of marketing for Broaster Co. The company’s popular line of pressure fryers, for example, features new touchscreen digital controllers and even has USB connectors to allow for easy and quick reprogramming of each unit.
Alto-Shaam Inc. also introduced a new high-speed oven called Xcelerate Hi-Speed, offering one-touch programmable cooking with product photos on the display.
“This is a new category for us,” said Kellee Johnston, director of marketing for Alto-Shaam. “C-stores are a small, but growing part of our overall business.”
When it comes to clean up, Rubbermaid Commercial Products Inc. has it covered, especially with its new Maximizer color-coordinated mop that is billed as 25 percent lighter than a normal mop, while offering 30 percent more floor coverage with every sweep.
Rubbermaid was also showing its line of Slim Jim utility bins; its Brute line of heavy-duty refuse containers; and its new Executive series of cleaning carts, the X-Cart and the Quick Cart — a line of products that looks more like luggage than a holder for cleaning tools.