National Restaurant Association Show announces 16 Kitchen Innovations Award recipients

The winners of the 2021 foodservice equipment innovation awards address top industry trends and challenges.
Photo courtesy of Antunes

The 16 recipients of the 2021 Kitchen Innovations Awards, announced by the National Restaurant Association Show this week, prove that innovation kept progressing despite the pandemic.

In fact, many of the cutting-edge equipment advancements address the challenges and trends that are currently impacting the foodservice industry. Manufacturers maximized technology to create winning products that promote safety, sanitation, waste reduction, back-of-house efficiency and productivity.

These are the 16 companies and products that are being honored this year with a Kitchen Innovations Award.

Antunes Touchless Sauce Dispenser is in sync with the demand for contact-free condiment service. Optical sensors provide touch-free portions and the equipment comes with a variety of nozzles to adapt to different food products.

Curtis was recognized for its GemX Narrow coffee brewer, a compact 10½ inch-wide machine that can fit into a smaller footprint. The fully automated coffee maker brews and dispenses twice the amount of coffee in the same space as a traditional single brewer.

Curtis coffee machine

Eastern Tabletop meets the need for high-tech, thorough sanitizing with its CleanLite system. The equipment uses antimicrobial LED light technology to protect against bacteria, fungi, mold and mildew. The lights are available as standing fixtures over work stations and pendant or overhead fixtures for larger areas.

Ecolab earned its award for a Cockroach Multi-Station—a discreet device with a curved design that is said to attract the pests. The glue board has been placed to achieve faster elimination of the roaches after they’re caught.

Eloma introduced a more flexible modular combi oven that can be configured with the control panels in different locations and the door opening on the right or left to better fit a kitchen’s flow. It features streamlined or advanced electronic HD touchscreen controls, three cooking systems and two cleaning systems.

Eloma combi oven

Frymaster/Welbilt’s new fryer ties into the current fried chicken trend. It’s designed to handle high volumes of breaded bone-in chicken pieces and features an automatic filtration system. The high-tech equipment easily connects to the internet for real-time data collection and remote diagnostics.

Hobart debuted a two-level dish machine that also features smart technology with its IOT (Internet of Things) app. The upper section of the dishwasher can deliver 80 racks of plates, glasses and other serving ware, while the lower section is designed for heavier pots and pans and utensils.

Hoshizaki is jumping on the craft cocktail trend. The compact, under-counter model turns out large ice cubes that are close to 2 inches in size to provide the right amount of chill without much dilution and an impressive presentation in the glass.

Manitowoc/Welbilt also garnered an award for its ice machine that produces larger size cubes. A reimagined evaporator design made it possible to downsize the machine from its former bulky footprint and a tech upgrade allows touchpad operation.

Minipack America’s new vacuum sealer speeds up multiple techniques, including sous vide cooking, marination and infusion with more precise controls. The compact machine comes in eight body colors for a designer touch.

Picnic created a robotic pizza assembly system that reduces food waste and labor while increasing sanitation. It offers touchless handling of ingredients; once a team member places the dough on a conveyor, the system follows the operator’s recipe to add sauce and toppings, then sends the pizza directly to the oven.

Picnic pizza robot

Rational USA employed advanced technology in its new iCombi Pro oven that gives the operator more control over the cooking process. Thermocouples adjust energy to match the desired result, whether it’s browning or steaming, increasing productivity by 50% and speed by 10%.

Sunshine Innovations targeted its new device to the increasing number of hummus fans. The fully automated Luccy produces fresh, warm, ready-to-eat hummus at a point-of-sale serving station. The Luccy is programmed with countless recipes, so the zero-touch hummus production requires no human intervention. 

Hummus maker

T&S Brass and Bronze Works’ water-monitoring system uses a smartphone-size device that straps onto a restaurant’s water line to detect leaks and promote conservation. It's equipped with AI to listen to the water flow and alert operators to identify any malfunctions.

TurboChef Technologies released Plexor, a new modular system that can stack a convection, impingement and speed oven—or any combination thereof—into one single footprint. All work off a single control panel and shared plug.

TurboChef stack

UNOX was recognized for its MULTI.Day Hot Vacuum system. In less than 60 seconds, the system vacuum-stores hot food in trays that can be transported without risk of spillage or outside contamination. The sealed trays can preserve food for days without refrigeration.

The KI Awards are selected by an independent panel of judges who work in the industry. Due to the cancellation of the live National Restaurant Association Show this year, the recipients will be featured on The Show To Go, a cost-free digital marketplace.


Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


This is why the restaurant business is in a value war right now

The Bottom Line: Same-store sales have slowed markedly for the past year as customers shifted to other options. And now operators are furiously working to get them back.


Saladworks-parent WOWorks is shopping for new brands to buy

The platform company is almost finished assimilating its existing six brands. Now it's time to add to the family, said CEO Kelly Roddy.


2 more reminders that the restaurant business is risky

The Bottom Line: Franchising is no less risky than opening your own restaurant. Just ask former NFL player David Tyree and the former president of McDonald's Mexico.


More from our partners