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ORLANDO — The incredible growth opportunities found in the convenience store market were reflected in the product development and strategic plans of many exhibitors at the 2017 NAFEM Show, held by the North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers at the Orange County Convention Center Feb. 9-11.
From oven units, to coffee brewers, to ice machines and beyond, many vendors reported an increased focus on catering to convenience store operators. Even some equipment manufacturers whose clients typically operate outside of the c-store segment stated they were already attempting to break into the market or had plans to do so in the near future.
"As lines have blurred, we all know they're fighting for that dollar," remarked Vickie Sims of Taylor Co., a foodservice equipment supplier exhibiting at the show.
Here is a selection of what Taylor and other foodservice equipment manufacturers were showcasing that caters to the c-store industry:
Antunes displayed multiple ways for c-stores to improve their foodservice programs with on-site cooking.
Its Egg Station unit occupies a small footprint and allows users to cook perfectly formed egg patties for breakfast sandwiches. Each egg can be cooking individually, allowing for staggered cook times and less waste, rather than producing entire batches at once.
Also of particular note for c-stores that operate in regions with a large Hispanic population is Antunes' compressed toaster for tortillas that provides pressed, hot tortillas in just seconds. The prototype unit is currently being tested at a c-store chain and has so far yielded positive results, the company told Convenience Store News.
C-stores that want to keep heat or cold from leaking out the door and don't have a vestibule can turn to Berner, which specifically designed an air curtain for the c-store market.
The unit provides energy savings by helping the store retain its air temperature when the door is opened, and also works to keep insects from flying inside, a company representative said. The air curtain even assists in drying the floor when customers track water in during rainy weather.
The launch of Bunn's Infusion coffee brewer series is part of an overall rebranding of the company's visual look. The sleek, modernized design of the twin brewer changes its function, as well as its form. The company focused on easy cleanability, as the top of the coffee drum comes completely off, allowing users to reach in and clean. The single handle on top of the drum also replaces the old design for an easy, one-hand carry.
At the bottom of the unit, the "gentle" heater provides a "very consistent temperature" rather than one that drops as the volume of hot coffee within it declines, a representative said.
Convenience stores that are interested in offering soft-serve ice cream, or even going upscale and offering fresh soft-serve gelato or sorbet, can launch a program for frozen treats while preserving counter space with Carpigiani's 153 Plus countertop unit, the company highlighted at the NAFEM Show. The machine houses two flavors at a time that can be combined for a twist serving.
The option to serve gelato and sorbet gives operators a method of distinguishing themselves by offering higher-quality or healthier desserts, according to Carpigiani.
ELOMA NORTH AMERICA
Two years after having virtually no foodservice equipment suitable for c-stores, Eloma is specifically targeting the channel with its Genius MT unit. Designed to provide the service and utility of a full-size combi unit in a pint-sized version, the unit has nine cooking methods, allows users to customize temperature and humidity, and saves 400 cooking and baking programs, along with remembering the last 20 cooking processes used.
"The versatility for c-stores is increasing tremendously," said Thomas Stegmaier, president of Eloma North America.
NAFEM Show attendees got a look inside Follett Ice's Horizon Elite ice machine, whose internal mechanisms were on display without an exterior metal shell. The unit offers a low cost of ownership and a new lime scale-inhibiting process that makes it particularly suited for areas with poor tap water quality.
Follett demonstrated the flexible setup capabilities of its ice machines by running pieces of ice through a plastic tubing section that ran along part of the booth's perimeter to a beverage station.
This provider of back-of-house innovations kicked off the "Year of the Smarter Kitchen" at this year's NAFEM Show. Its focal points were the automated Total Oil Management solution and its recently launched Automist, an automated hood, flue and fan cleaner. Restaurant Technologies' goal is to help operators cut down on time spent performing necessary but non-value-added tasks.
The Restaurant Technologies booth displayed a tower of plastic and cardboard packaging indicative of what is typically used in one month with a traditional oil management system. Conversely, its Total Oil Management utilizes a permanent setup that delivers oil to the fryer through pipes. The system tracks oil usage data, allowing operators to cut down on waste.
The Automist allows foodservice operators to achieve a "steady state of clean" in the hood through daily misting, rather than allowing grease and grime to build up and only be cleaned periodically.
"We believe foodservice operators will realize that being smart in the kitchen is no longer an option, but an obligation to address the evolving needs of a new workforce and diverse consumer mindset," said Restaurant Technologies CEO Jeff Kiesel, noting that the company expects to work with more c-stores in the future following its first appearance at the NACS Show in 2016.
The MagnaBlend series of blending stations from Taylor Co. relies on magnetic force to drive the blending mechanisms, rather than direct-contact mechanical gears that can eventually break down due to friction. Units have an average blending time of nine seconds in order to keep the behind-the-counter activity moving.
The unit-top ice compartment keeps the ice cold for an average of four hours, and the already-shaved ice that goes into the drink cup before blending ensures a smooth, well-mixed drink.
The MagnaBlend is available in smaller countertop unit for stores with restricted space, as well as a larger Pro version that works well in drive-thru operations, the company explained. The automated version allows employees to take another order at the counter while a beverage is blending.
"It takes a lot of the operation out of it," one of the product demonstrators said.
Convenience store retailers with high-traffic stores that are going all-in on a beverage program may be able to increase their efficiency through the Rinse-O-Matic Pro, a weight-actuated rinsing tool that can be used with both blender containers and lids. Users place a container upside-down on the spray tower, press the activator into each corner, and walk away as the unit does the rinsing on its own. The timed automatic shut-off lets them walk away to see to other duties during this process.
Company representatives also noted that according to Vitamix's "smoothie tracker" research, consumers are increasingly interested in buying smoothies that contain savory ingredients, and not just sweet smoothies.
With foodservice becoming a larger part of many c-stores' operations, safety in food packaging is a greater concern than ever. Vollrath's expanded LidSaver 2 line dispenses straws, cup tops and other items one piece at a time, while using barriers to protect them from germ transmission via physical contact. The design also cuts down on wasted lids.
According to a hygiene study, LidSaver was found to reduce total bioburden by more than 40 percent, including an over 80-percent decrease in yeast and mold counts, Vollrath said.
Formerly Manitowoc Foodservice, Welbilt attended the NAFEM Show as its first trade show under its new name. The company invited members of the media to attend a Friday morning mingle with President and CEO Hubertus M. Muehlhaeuser.
"Kitchen is the heart of our business," Muehlhaeuser said, describing how the company views the kitchen as more than the sum of its parts, and designs all its products with consideration of how they will work with one another.
Welbilt strives to reduce waste and improve energy with every piece of equipment, he continued, something that was true under the company's old name and remains so under the new one. "We have never stopped innovating."
The company intended to rebrand itself dating back to its March 2016 spinoff from parent The Manitowoc Co., but SEC regulations required them to wait.
Looking at the future, Welbilt is likely to grow through a combination of organic growth and acquisition. Muehlhaeuser said he believes the industry is still consolidating. He also praised the company's distribution partners, saying that it had "no chance" without winning their hearts and minds.
Welbilt also hosted training sessions for the duration of the NAFEM Show, during which brand and product trainers helped expand knowledge of the features and benefits of Welbilt equipment and how to sell competitively in 2017.