Balancing presentation and preservation

Front of house equipment is vital to make food appealing and transactions easy, particularly for cafes, schools and small independent chains, which are the most likely to require counters and server units.

Considering the smaller spaces and tighter budgets available, many manufacturers and distributors laid out their current developments to Catering Insight, as well as naval gazing as to the market’s future direction.

How is your product portfolio likely to develop in 2015?

Peter Brewin, marketing and communications manager, Victor Manufacturing: We have plans to re-launch our Jamaican modular counter range during 2015. It comprises hot and cold food service modules geared for the education, contract catering and general purpose markets. This will enable the caterer to customise each unit to meet their requirements, and through the application of CAD/CAM technology we plan to achieve this without having to increase manufacturing lead times.

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Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager, Valera: We have recently added a new range called the Twist, specifically for coffee bars. This range will offer the option of either a straight or curved front décor and can incorporate hot, cold and ambient sections as well as a support counter.

Sam Starling, group marketing co-ordinator, Parry: We have no plans to add any new ‘stock’ products to our portfolio. However with the space put aside for new and refurbished kitchens getting smaller all the time we do expect to see continued interest in our bespoke fabrication service.

Peter Wills, sales director, Counterline: We are in the process of setting up a full new marketing department in early 2015 to promote our products by the introduction of a new website, updated product catalogues and a more focused presence on social media platforms.

Shahida Bibi, marketing and media communications, Pentland Wholesale: 2015 will see the launch of the new Blizzard Sigma fresh meat counters, Blizzard hot and cold counter top displays, floor standing merchandisers, and many more products planned for later in the year. We will be offering new ranges from Mafirol – all available from our 2015/16 catalogue, effective from May 2015.

Heather Brooks, sales director, Primeware: Our new for 2015 ‘wood effect’ Hot Tiles butt up together like floorboards and can give counters a fresh look. Hot Tiles and our new Hot Trays for solid top counters present food well, plus offer long term value for money. These new products come hard on the heels of the launch of our silicone GN Flexepans. These display dishes are unbreakable, non-stick and can be used to freeze, bake and serve. We are adding two sizes to the range: GN1/1 20mm and GN1/3 65mm.

Yunus Sahin, director, DWM: We have now launched the Pico and Luzon ranges of refrigerated display equipment. These use straight glass held together by chrome brackets, fixing the top and side glass together to reduce accidental breakage. We have also launched a new line of serve overs called the Sumba. Slim at 94cm, the model has separately cooled under storage that is suitable for meat and a bigger display area that is cooled separately. Furthermore, we have introduced Gastroline Cube patisserie displays.

Mick Steele, technical director, Alan Nuttall: We are continuing to develop our Flexeserve portfolio, which includes enhancing our modifiable and interchangeable Flexeserve intelligent chassis counter system and an additional model of the Flexeserve Zone cabinet, our heated multideck which can offer a range of self-serve hot merchandising solutions in one cabinet.

Heather Beattie, Zoin brand manager, RB-Distributors: 2015 sees several additions to the Zoin brand portfolio, including the extended Harmony range. Harmony models are now available in a silver finish – offering an alternative to the more traditional wood-effect front panelled models. Available as both refrigerated and ambient serve over counters, Harmony comes in three different widths (GL591-GL596). Features include lit shelves for attractive display, an automatic defrost and evaporation system and two rear sliding doors for easy access and serving. [[page-break]]

What sort of trends do you see shaping the market for foodservice counters and serveries?

Sebastian Klane, sales director, TrakHupfer: On high profile projects an increased involvement of interior designers and architects seems to be playing a bigger role – leading to manufacturers having to prepare to deal with materials and finishes requirements. For serveries, the focus is on function and value for money, as well expectations of very quick turnarounds. Shorter lead times on both the drawing works during the design stage as well as in the production phase are expected and need to be adhered to.

John Wannan, sales and marketing manager, Moffat Catering Equipment: For bespoke design, combining eye-catching aesthetics and ultimate performance is an ongoing trend. As serveries and counters are often a high value purchase, they need to be specified to ensure that they compliment the design of the establishment and deliver on all areas of functionality. Caterers are increasingly looking for products that deliver more value for money, regardless of budget-size.

Shahida Bibi: The growth in independent coffee shops, speciality delis and farm shops has been widely reported and we see this continuing. They want to have a wide offering of hot and cold food items displayed at the correct temperatures in stylish equipment which sits in well-designed shops and eateries.

Sam Starling: Many larger premises and canteens are looking for modern solutions that provide an enhanced traffic flow, allowing them to serve more people, more quickly. It’s not uncommon for staff to have as little as half an hour for lunch and they don’t want to spend their entire break queuing! Furthermore, the correct flow could mean that a broader range of sections – such as pasta, stir fry, noodles or salads, can be added.

Peter Brewin: The education sector is one of our key areas of business and we believe that the introduction of UIFSMs in England and Scotland will continue to shape the market in 2015, as caterers look for flexible, versatile and cost effective equipment to suit their circumstances and enable them to cope with feeding more children at lunchtime. Alongside this, caterers are being squeezed to cut operating costs and they are also increasingly aware of their sustainability responsibilities.

Peter Wills: Thankfully for the planet, the buzz phrase these days is ‘environmental sustainability’. We have taken steps to reduce the power output of our displays and in particular we have reduced our heated equipment by up to 30% compared to similar units. State of the art digital controller programming, insulation methods, lighting systems, revolutionary blown air heating and cooling technology all help to facilitate this saving.

Yunus Sahin: The shapes of counters and especially the serve over market are having a face lift. The old curved glass leaning onto a light box and a rounded body has served its purpose, although it still has its usefulness in some decorative themes.

Mick Steele: We expect demand for greater flexibility and less shop fitted counters and equipment. Modular counters will keep growing, while reusability is going to be even more key as operators look to maximise their investment in capital equipment. Counter displays that enable operators to move with the times and be ‘future proof’ will be the most valuable. Consumer trends will become more of a driver in a world where there’s going to be greater amounts of self service.

Kurran Gadhvi: There seems to have been an increase in demand for units with straight glass. This is part of a general return to the ‘retro’ fashion of the 70s and 80s when virtually everybody had straight glass. Secondly, straight glass is a lot cheaper than curved glass and so this appeals to any operator on a tight budget. One other trend of note is the increasing use of the undercounter area for refrigeration and open storage, possibly as a result of kitchens getting smaller. [[page-break]]

What are customers’ main considerations when it comes to specifying counters?

Heather Brooks: Budget, look and size available for display. Customers need to ensure they work with a specialist who listens to their requirements and comes up with a scheme that meets their aspirations.

Sam Starling: It is fair to say that customers ‘eat with their eyes’ and so glass fronted counters that make food both visible and attractive are most popular. However, any counter must meet food safety requirements and hold food at the correct temperature. A thorough understanding of both the menu and the method of serving is required before specifying any counter/servery.

Kurran Gadhvi: Requirements will vary from site to site and will largely depend upon usage and the menu. Effective use of space is a big issue and as a result we are seeing more customers using specialist counter and servery suppliers/manufacturers who know how to maximise every aspect including the layout, display area, and finishes as well as adding touches such as matching decors/end panels, rather than entrusting this to a general shopfitting company.

John Wannan: The main consideration is how the counters are going to be used: for self-service or assisted-service. The ideal arrangement will not just look good, it will also present the food in the most appealing way, allowing customers to choose items and be served quickly and efficiently to provide optimum throughput. Other considerations include the type of customers using the counters and whether they have any specific requirements.

Shahida Bibi: Selecting a supplier who can offer a versatile range to meet their requirements that looks great and suits their budget, within a reasonable time scale.

Peter Wills: Other than ensuring an aesthetically pleasing, customer attracting design, all clients want reassurance that they buy into a well made product, built to specification, that will provide longevity and trouble free service. Any downtime can be costly to income revenue and customers want comfort that in the event of a breakdown, a fully qualified engineer direct from the manufacturer with in depth product knowledge and a stock of the necessary components will arrive and usually repair in a singular visit.

Sebastian Klane: Customers are making a major investment and expect a product will last many years. Therefore proven and tested standard equipment is required, especially when it comes to refrigeration where food safety and hygiene plays an important role. Many counters and their built-in food display units resemble each other in appearance. Specialist materials and creative shapes are asked for.

Mick Steele: Versatility, flexibility, modern materials and energy conservation are all main considerations of customers today. They want counters that move with the times and with changes in demographic and customer trends, and rightly so. Inflexibility can prove expensive, whereas a counter display that can be put together and easily dismantled like a ‘theatre set’ if an operator wants to change premises can save them a small fortune.

Peter Brewin: Factors include whether hot or cold food is served, or a combination of the two; if food will be served by a staff member or be self service; the length of time the counter will be in use; and whether food needs to be stored close to the servery area or whether trays will be replenished by the kitchen. It’s also important to consider the volume of diners to be served, as this will impact the number and size of trays and units selected. [[page-break]]

What are the main challenges for suppliers and installers of foodservice counters?

Sam Starling: The main challenges will be environmental impacts – ensuring that units are not situated close to a draughty door or next to a heater for example. Making sure that they are kept clean every day and that they are easily accessible to both staff and customers is also important. Regular maintenance is also vital if the unit is to stay in peak operating condition.

Peter Brewin: Time is a significant challenge for suppliers and installers of foodservice counters, as many establishments serve food seven days a week so it is important to reduce downtime at installation. BIM can help us tackle this, by flagging up at design stage any installation issues that could potentially slow the job down.

Peter Wills: The challenge this year for suppliers is to maintain margin on an increasingly price competitive product and absorbing the consequence of delayed payments and retentions. Raw material spend is predicted to rise significantly this year. Manufacturers have had a slight respite last year with steel prices falling, however every indication is that this is going to be reversed in 2015.

Kurran Gadhvi: The recession has seen budgets cut and as a result people have begun to buy smarter. If privately funded establishments need to borrow money for a refurbishment then the availability of credit could be an issue. However, interest rates are low at present and so if they can borrow the money then now is a good time.

Mick Steele: There is a smaller window of opportunity to carry out installations, while from a manufacturer’s perspective, there is an increasing need to produce ever more cost effective equipment. We also need to ensure we are always one step ahead of the competition when it comes to manufacturers outside the UK.

Sebastian Klane: The main challenge to be mastered by suppliers and installers might be quicker turnaround times required by clients – especially in new buildings where the foodservice counter manufacturer can only start certain parts of his work after builders have finished walls, etc. and final measurements can be obtained.

John Wannan: One of the most common challenges is ensuring that installation timescale is achieved. Any delay to completion can be costly. It is important that customers take into account installers’ skills and experience, for example do they have the proper accreditation to install the counters in a safe and proper manner.

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