Fryers don't have to be the 'Billy No Mates' of the kitchen

"The issue here is getting the message across that with the right oil, temperature and food, fryers don’t have to be the ‘Billy No Mates’ of the commercial kitchen.”

So says Andy Piggin, sales director of Gamble Foodservice Solutions, the Imperial fryer importer, in response to the populist view that the humble fryer could have less of a role to play in an eating-out market where the penchant for fresh and healthy menus is growing.

“It’s an established fact that frying gives food a distinctive, arguably more delicious taste, so in theory every commercial kitchen would benefit from having one,” continues Piggin. “In fact, since 2003, we have seen an increase in frying unit sales and we are selling 20% more fryers, partly due to being able to offer a comprehensive range that produces better quality, healthier food.”

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Other manufacturers also offer up sales statistics that suggest the market has expanded even though the health implications of fried food have been well publicised.

“Frying can be a healthy way to cook food providing you have two key elements: clean, good-quality oil and at the correct temperature,” insists John Shepherd, international brand manager at manufacturer FriFri. “If you have these, frying is a great way to cook food. It’s when either or both of those is missing that you have an unhealthy cooking process.”

While few can argue with the assertion that it is hard to replicate the taste of fried food using other cooking methods, the lack of a reasonable frying substitute hasn’t led brands to rest on their laurels. Huge sums of money continue to be poured into creating appliances that push the boundaries of frying technology.

In-built filtration systems, advanced controllers and intelligent features designed to extend oil life are now standard fare within the machines produced by the leading suppliers.

“The fryer market remains vastly competitive with an emphasis on oil management,” says Piggin. “We are also seeing a shift towards ventless fryers as the demand for kitchen space with all the appropriate ventilation is becoming a sought-after commodity, so caterers are thinking outside the box and taking their food offer to the streets, literally.”

You perhaps wouldn’t expect them to say anything different, but the top brands refuse to believe that the growing emphasis on healthy eating spells the end for the fryer market.

Shane O’Neill, field marketing manager EMEA for Frymaster, the brand owned by Manitowoc, hits back: “The consumer trend towards healthier and cleaner foods doesn’t mean customers are abandoning fried food altogether, but rather instead looking for restaurants that can provide the best quality fried food possible. What’s important is that food is cooked under the assurance that oil is regularly filtered and cleaned, and that the fryer used has the most superior oil quality and safety.”

Valentine Equipment offers an ‘Eco’ setting on its Evo machines, allowing caterers to save on energy costs by heating the oil at a slower rate when first switched on ahead of service.

“This not only reduces the energy required but can also decrease the amount of oil degradation,” explains national sales manager, Steve Elliott. “An additional extra for the Evo range is a sensor which monitors the oil temperature, analysing peaks and troughs in the cooking process so the fryer can cook the food at the optimum temperature, reducing oil absorption and leading to a better quality of food.”

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The debate around oil usage is something that oil filtration system provider Vito knows all about. The company’s UK director, Iain Addison, says there are some clear trends in the market when it comes to filtration.

“Not only are customers looking for smaller, more energy efficient deep fat fryers, they are also looking for fryers with filtration, but not just gravity filtration as with most built-in models — they are looking for pressured filtration to clean oil down to that magic figure of ‘5 microns’, which in turn doubles the life of cooking oil, which in turn is helping the environment with less wasted oil.”

Addison reveals that the company has just introduced the Vito X1 model to the market, which is going down well. “It is a larger oil filtration machine suitable for food production sites or real heavily-used fryers,” he explains. “We have sold one of these to a holiday park through our South West distributor Aspen Services — the principals are exactly the same as our Vito 50 and 80 just on a bigger scale.”

Michael Eyre, product director at Jestic Foodservice Equipment, the Henny Penny importer, insists that QSRs, pub chains and higher-end restaurants are all bidding to improve the quality of their fried menu.

“Buying habits are starting to change where operators are looking at the total cost of frying, including oil and energy savings,” he comments. “This means that although buying a more expensive fryer may have a marginally higher initial cost, the energy and oil savings plus improved food quality equate to a rapid return on investment.

“Interestingly, we are also seeing growth in pressure fryer sales as operators seek menu innovation with chicken, fish and other foods. These can have crispy- or soft breadcrumb-style coverings and are proving to be very popular in a wide range of establishments,” adds Eyre.

As kitchens get smaller and the demand on the catering workforce increases, manufacturers anticipate seeing more customers request slim or small footprint fryers.

When all said and done, though, the market is really split into two groups, says Shepherd at FriFri: “There are those who are influenced by price, who usually end up buying cheap, imported fryers, and are prepared to compromise on quality and reliability, which is not the FriFri market. The other group looks for well-made, good quality products that will produce a crispy fried food and are reliable and easy to clean and maintain.”

British catering equipment manufacturer Parry foresees the appeal of electric fryers becoming more significant due to the costs involved in the installation and regulations associated with gas products. But the real emphasis, predicts managing director Gary Rose, is firmly on reliability and after-sales support.

“We feel that developments in technology will focus around energy efficiency, which will undoubtedly improve running costs but equally a fryer that is easy to use and maintain will save on labour and training, so developments should be kept as simple and cost-effective as possible,” he says.

Over at Lincat, development chef Paul Hickman acknowledges that most caterers want fryers that are powerful, easy to clean and simple to use.

Oil monitoring is becoming more common in chains and supermarkets, while other methods of extending cooking oil life, such as on-board filtration, remain prominent.

Hickman says: “More attention is being given to oil management and we advise customers on how to get the most out of their oil, which is an expensive commodity in a kitchen. Tips such as not changing oil unnecessarily can help extend the life of oil and reduce costs. Frying in good quality oil at the correct temperature produces the healthiest food as well as the best possible results.

"Wide temperature fluctuation can, by contrast, cause significant problems. High temperatures can break down the oil, create carcinogenic acrylamide and present a fire hazard — especially with old oil. Low temperatures create soggy results. All Lincat fryers feature accurate temperature control to produce crispy, healthier food and prolong oil life.”

Caterers continue to seek innovation in equipment that can reduce waste and maximise output. Ultimately, fried food should not be labour intensive, but neither does it mean that it has to be low in quality, insist manufacturers.

“As customers demand higher quality and longevity, it is up to manufacturers to be innovative and provide best-in class solutions,” agrees Stuart Flint, Electrolux’s training and demo manager. “Fried food, by its nature, demands a quick turnaround with consistent results every time, so equipment must be able to meet these demands.”

Flint says that energy consumption and oil life will remain important issues for buyers moving forward. The company launched its high productivity fryer earlier this year with a view to meeting both those criteria.

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“The high productivity fryer contains special heating components and the cool zone is designed to further minimise oil deterioration,” he explains. “It is also well insulated to make the most of energy consumption and performance in every function. This is where dealers should be focusing a lot of their sales efforts as it is one of the most competitive aspects of fryer equipment.”

Whatever happens with future culinary trends, fryer makers are adamant they are coming up with enough innovation to guarantee their place at the commercial kitchen top table for many years to come.

Oil management is key, insist suppliers

What is it that is firing up the R&D engines of the leading commercial fryer producers these days? Or, more importantly, what are buyers likely to be looking for when they make their investment decisions?

Michael Eyre at Jestic says that in order to enhance the quality of the fried product and extend the life of the oil in the frypot, filtration is quickly becoming a must for buyers when sourcing commercial fryers.

“With operators placing greater emphasis on energy saving, cost saving and overall efficiency, distributors should be making the most of features that can highlight the savings and efficiency achieved. Of course, the quality of the fried product is vital,” he says.

Shane O’Neill at Frymaster (below left) comments: “Restaurants need to consider a range of factors such as energy, food quality, consistency and oil consumption when purchasing commercial fryers and look at the longer-term benefits to their business associated with investing in quality equipment.”

Middleby-owned Pitco says that first and foremost a fryer has got to be able to do the volume of output that the operator needs, while built-in filtration is now par for the course.

“It is still the buyer’s priority that the product produced from the fryer is high quality,” says Kenny Smith, sales director at Middleby UK (below right). “They are still looking for fast, high volume fryers but the key change now is that users want longevity of the oil,” he adds.

Gamble Foodservice Solutions’ Andy Piggin says that if there is one important feature distributors need to highlight to operators, it’s the recovery time of the oil temperature. This, he insists, really matters when chefs are under pressure during a busy service.

“There are a lot of fryers on the market that will slow the kitchen down during peak periods, exactly the time when you need your kitchen to be working as efficiently as possible. This costs the operator money through slow delivery of covers, not to mention the added frustration during fraught service periods. A hot, inefficient kitchen is never a good place to be.”

Sometimes, though, the best gains that operators can make come from simply making sure they fully utilise the equipment at their disposal. An operator needs to look at its menu and plan which kit is needed to deliver the required food output, says Valentine Equipment’s national sales manager Steve Elliott.

“For example, a restaurant that serves a high quantity of fish and chips at lunchtime will need two fryers — one to cook the fish, and one for the chips. If they choose a twin pan fryer for the chips, one pan can be turned off at less busy times. The correct choice of fish fryer can reduce the oil capacity from 30 litres to 18. To further cut energy costs, the fryer should be turned on only when needed.”

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