Here’s what boggles my mind when I walked the exhibit floor at the NAFEM Show, which ended last Saturday in Anaheim: How do the exhibitors get those gargantuan walk-in refrigerators and flight dishwashers—equipment that could easily take over a typical New York City studio apartment—set up and ready to view within a few hours? I still don’t know the answer, but I did notice that while those big pieces were in full view, many manufacturers are downsizing their equipment to fit smaller foodservice footprints. And while full-service restaurants are still a major market, suppliers seem to be targeting their goods to what they believe are growth concepts: c-stores, kiosks, fast casuals and QSRs.
These are some other trend I noticed happening on the show floor.
There were coffee machines that grind the beans, make the coffee and suck up milk from a refrigerated cabinet below—allowing customers to order a barista-style latte at the touch of a button. Self-service smoothies, advanced condiment stations and other DIY equipment is leading the way in customizing a food or drink item to anyone’s specs.
Design drives menu innovation
I heard from several manufacturers that restaurants and other foodservice venues are keen on ramping up LTOs and seasonal changes. Suppliers are adapting their equipment to that demand. High-tech ovens, blast chillers and specialty machines such as smokers, waffle makers and panini presses make it more cost-effective and convenient to add an LTO or new item that can set a menu apart. Front-of-house condiment and saucing stations add more value.
Waste reduction was a big theme at the show. Grinders and pulpers that dehydrate food garbage and reduce the volume by 85 to 90 percent make it easier to be green. The package of waste can then be turned into compost—even if there are such materials as milk cartons mixed in with the food. One model moved the waste into anaerobic tanks for communities to recycle into energy. This manufacturer told me that the large tanks were better suited for health care facilities or universities, but why not place them in strip malls where several chain restaurants are located and they can share the tank to make it more cost effective?
Disposable serving ware made of eco-friendly bamboo have been around for awhile, but new to me were plates that combined melamine and bamboo in 50-50 ratio. These are as sturdy, attractive and dishwasher-safe as any dinnerware.
Slow vs. fast
Speed cooking is still going strong, as evidenced by the many new and more powerful microwave and combi ovens on display. But some suppliers were slowing down processes in step with the handcrafting trend. One of the most impressive: a coffee machine that automatically makes pour-over coffee. The sleekly designed machines were installed in a coffee bar setup where customers could sit and talk to the barista as they watched their artisanal cup of java being prepared—but all the barista had to do was push a button, then wait for the steaming water to pump up into the coffee grounds and drip down. Typically, pour-overs have to be fussed over and carefully monitored by a human. The process still requires a 2½-minute wait, but an operator can turn this into an interactive experience—even installing the machines on a cart that can roll up to fine-dining customers.
Just so cool
Ice machines won’t become obsolete, but a couple of manufacturers found another way to keep food icy cold in display cases. A quartz material captures the humidity in the air to create a thin layer of frost on the surface. It’s a cool idea for salad bars, sushi stations and dessert displays.