Heat attack

In a market where combination ovens tend to hog the limelight, it is easy to overlook the role that the dependable convection oven can play in the right commercial catering environment.

Some notable names have dropped out of the category in recent years, but there is still a hearty throng of high profile and respected brands eager to impress with fan-assisted offerings capable of fast and efficient cooking.

Demand for convection ovens tends to be driven by a large cross-section of the end-user market, but whether it is a professional chef in a busy restaurant or a provincial pub delivering a modest menu, most are lured in by the appliance’s labour-saving functionality and increasingly compact footprint.

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While every manufacturer has a varying opinion on how dealers and distributors should promote their technology, the reality is that the newest units on the market are packed with so many features that they almost sell themselves these days.

Standex Food Service Equipment has just begun distributing the Magnifico range of multifunction convection ovens in the UK after signing an agreement with Italian manufacturer Giorik, which its sister company BKI owns a 20% stake in.

Malcolm Morris, distribution sales manager at Standex, insists the sustained growth of the bake off and hot food-to-go sectors is providing strong opportunities for the sale of convection ovens.

“Cafes, sandwich shops, convenience stores, forecourt outlets, quick service restaurants and bakers are all potential customers for this range of convection ovens,” he comments.

Another company that has just launched a new convection oven range in the market is Sirman. Its latest Aliseo 4 and 2/3 models are stocked in the UK by FEM and, Mark Hogan, marketing manager at the distributor, claims it is seeing fan-assisted ovens “dominating” the market at the expense of those without fans. These models, he says, enable a wide range of menu items to be produced faster and with less energy.

Hogan says the Aliseo ovens contain a number of key features that give it real credibility in the convection oven space.

“These stainless steel convection ovens have a seamless, round-cornered chamber for ease of cleaning,” he comments. “Their double-glass door provides excellent insulation and, combined with internal lighting, allows chefs to see what is cooking. A double fan ensures excellent heat distribution throughout the oven cavity while the thermostat controls the temperature over a range from 25°C to 300°C.”

Simon Lilley, hot products category manager at Electrolux, says that from Electrolux’s perspective, combination ovens have outsold convection ovens by around five to one in the past year, but he believes the market is full of opportunities in the right sectors.

“I don’t think the market in the UK for convection ovens is anywhere near as big as it is for combi ovens but there is still a gap there that needs to be filled,” he says. “A bakery doesn’t need to have an all-singing, all-dancing combi oven, and in a lot of cases it is going to come down to a cost situation. If I am looking at the list price of a 10-grid convection oven it is £5,500 versus the list price of a 10-grid combi oven, which is £9,500, so there are big savings to be had.”

Electrolux Professional manufactures a variety of gas and electric convection ovens under the Crosswise brand, which takes its name from the way in which the pan is supported to allow the chef clear and unobstructed views to the products that are cooking inside.

“With our combi ovens we have them length ways, but with our convection ovens we have the pans going left to right, if you like, rather than back to front, which just makes it a little bit more stable,” says Lilley.

Nick McDonald, marketing director at Lincat, agrees convection ovens are ideal for bake off applications in particular, allowing caterers to produce a wide range of freshly baked goods without the need for large production areas, specialist equipment or extensive training.

He says dealers selling Lincat should be pointing out the water injection facility on its systems. “This gives a professional finish to breads and pastries,” he remarks. “It’s also important that our ovens can accommodate half and full-size 400mm x 600mm baking trays or gastronorm dishes. They all feature efficient air circulation to produce even heat and perfect, consistent results.”

McDonald suggests it never does any harm to remind customers that ready-made frozen dishes can be taken from the freezer and re-heated to perfect serving temperature in a powerful convection oven, without the need to invest in a combi steamer.

“As such, they allow any kitchen, including those with minimal storage or preparation space to produce tasty, hot dishes, whoever is doing the cooking. And since you only cook what you need, waste is reduced to a minimum,” he says.

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Burco, part of GDPA, currently has two convection ovens in its range: a larger version for busy kitchens with a high turnover of food and a smaller counter top model for kitchens tight on space.

“Based on the growing popularity of convection ovens, coupled with the success of our two existing models, we are currently looking into developing a larger, hard wired version of our large convection ovens that will be more heavy duty,” reveals brand manager Diane Ho.

In contrast, Lincat isn’t planning on adding to its convection range this year, preferring instead to focus on the three existing core models that continue to serve it well in the market.

Its countertop LCO convection ovens measure just 555mm by 488mm and are ideal for smaller outlets, including cafes, bars, outlets, petrol forecourts, exhibitions and mobile units. The 2.5kW units can be plugged into a standard 13-amp supply and used to produce a steady supply of delicious baked pastries from fresh or frozen, while the fact it is fan-assisted facilitates roasting too.

For larger bake off operations, Lincat recommends its ECO8 and ECO9 convection ovens, which are made of heavy-duty stainless steel construction and offer exceptionally even heat distribution that helps to minimise waste by ensuring that everything within the appliance is cooked to perfection.

“The ECO8 is a convenient plug-in unit which is ideal for a wide variety of establishments, even relatively small cafes,” says McDonald. “The ECO9 is larger and more powerful and may be used more as a specialist oven specifically for baking off chilled or frozen convenience bakery products, such as baguettes and croissants. Both models can be installed on a countertop or on an optional floor stand.”

Beyond the headline benefits of fast cooking times compared to conventional ovens, more even heat distribution and lower cooking temperatures, equipment dealers should look to examine and promote supplementary features, such as cook and hold, where possible.

Burco’s Ho says the durability of a convection oven is also important as cheap or sub-standard models are unlikely to be able to stand up to the rigours of a busy kitchen.

“It is features such as [durability] as well as the messages of time and labour saving, which dealers can push to really get the benefits across to the end-user,” she counsels.

All manufacturers agree that flexibility is a vital component of any convection oven — and Standex insists the Magnifico series it has just begun distributing has that in abundance. The ovens can provide core probe cooking, reheating and holding functions, and range from three-grids to 10-grids.

Morris says the units can be operated through a manual controller or touch pad programmable panel, with digital readout. The latter offers the capacity for 99 recipes, with nine sequences, which may be uploaded through a USB port, while a two-speed fan and steam injection options are also available.

He believes the portfolio provides distributors with opportunities to address a broader range of markets with equipment from a single source.

“The Magnifico range has something for everyone: from small coffee shops seeking to develop a hot food offer to large bake off operations aiming to increase capacity and expand their product range. The cooking flexibility of the ovens means that operators can maximise their use throughout the day for increased sales and greater profit. The ovens may be used for morning products, lunchtime breads, baguettes and hot savouries, as well as pastries, cakes and confectionery for afternoon teas.”

It might have inadvertently found itself in the shadow of its combi steamer sibling, but there is enough activity in the market to suggest dealers aren’t short of options when it comes to making a good business out of convection ovens.

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Pushing the envelope

With suppliers working hard to fine-tune their convection oven offerings over the last few years, the technology would appear to have reached a stage where it is a challenge for manufacturers to optimise it further without compromising on price or power consumption.

The quest to make convection ovens more powerful and less energy heavy, while reducing its physical footprint, has been the motivational force for many of the models that have been launched in the market.

Lincat’s marketing director, Nick McDonald, insists the manufacturer’s strategy has been to focus on “getting the basics right”, rather than “investing in innovation for innovation’s sake”, and he says this approach has achieved results. “In other words we’ve concentrated on achieving efficient and even air circulation, accurate temperature control and robust stainless steel construction. We’ve also ensured that they’re easy to clean and safe to use. As a result, they easily meet stringent European safety regulations which, for example, limit the temperatures that surfaces and control knobs can reach,” adds McDonald.

Mark Hogan, marketing manager at FEM, which distributes the Aliseo convection ovens from Sirman, predicts that the desire to build systems which consume even less power than they do now will drive the way that suppliers spend their R&D budgets.

“Manufacturers are looking at ways to improve efficiency,” insists Hogan. “This is usually through the design of the fans and increased insulation. The rise in the cost of electricity will drive the market to produce energy efficient convection oven models.”

Diano Ho, brand manager at GDPA, owner of Burco, has a different take on the market’s direction. She reckons a change in dining trends will ultimately determine the fortunes of the convection oven sector.

“With more consumers favouring the gastro pub experience over the fine dining experience, there will be increasing demand for a convection oven which offers more flexibility in the kitchen and additional time savings, yet is able to turn around perfectly cooked high quality food.”

Ho says there is no getting away from the fact that busier, smaller kitchen teams will need kit with improved cooking times.
“Technology can always be bettered from an energy efficiency point of view too and it is these areas that drive innovation and product development,” she concludes.

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