Room service: Cold rooms panel debate

Cold rooms have become a key component of every catering scheme where operators need sufficient chilled storage space or deliveries are frequent.

But there is an art to effective cold room design and if the right set-up isn’t integrated into the kitchen it can have a limiting effect on the speed of operation. Catering Insight brought together a panel of leading cold room suppliers to outline how they see the market evolving.

We spoke to the following cold room suppliers:

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– James Connolly, business development manager at Celltherm Coldrooms
– Bob Littler, director of Porkka
– Paul Anderson, commercial director of Gram
– Malcolm Harling, sales and marketing director of Williams.

What sort of cold rooms do you typically specialise in and is there anything unique about your offering in this area?

JAMES CONNOLLY: Celltherm is one Europe’s largest manufacturers of modular and bespoke cold rooms. We specialise in cold room solutions for the hospitality, pharmaceutical, mortuary and environmental test chamber industries. Celltherm is one of the few, fully camlocked — walls, ceilings and floors — bespoke cold rooms on the UK market today. We are the only cold room in the UK with a fully camlocked partition wall that can be positioned within a multi-compartment cold room according to a client’s exact location.

We supply different finishes and colours, not just white boxes. We have the largest selection of different panel thicknesses, 80mm, 100mm, 120mm and 150mm, and the largest range of modular cold rooms available from stock in the UK — over 600 standard models in three different heights.

PAUL ANDERSON: All cold rooms are built for a purpose and, as such, need to fit within the existing lay-out of a room. Whether being sourced to replace old equipment or as a new storage unit, cold rooms should be made to individual requirements. Depending on the criteria, rooms can be made for the following requirements: chiller, freezer, quick chiller, quick freezer, thawing rooms, blast chilling or indeed blast freezing.

In addition, cold rooms can also be supplied for prep or production areas — the list is endless. All cold room specifications are then designed according to the build requirements. For example, construction, lay-out of remote plant, flooring, safety features and HACCP regulations.

MALCOLM HARLING: Williams offers a truly flexible cold room solution, with a range of panel sizes that allows designers to create bespoke rooms to virtually any size or shape. Our unique, removable POD refrigeration system delivers enhanced storage capacity and hassle-free maintenance. We also offer movable partition walls for dual compartment rooms. These can be moved to increase or decrease space depending on, for example, seasonal menu variations. Fully rebate doors eliminate the risk of trolley damage.

BOB LITTLER: Around 80% of our UK sales are for modular cold rooms and there are a number of factors that differentiate our range. For example, we offer a wider choice than other European manufacturers with over 80 different sizes, each available in three operational temperatures and two external heights with a wide variety of door options. A unique feature is our patented remote heat disposal system that collects waste heat from the refrigeration system and transfers it to the outside of the building.

This system is practically noiseless, which is invaluable where residential accommodation is adjacent to or above the catering premises. Porkka uses a flexible hose that connects the modular room to the outdoor unit, therefore no welding or brazing is required during the installation, saving time and money.

What are the key features that operators are asking for when investing in commercial cold rooms these days?

PAUL ANDERSON: In this current climate, cost is an obvious factor, yet return on investment and durability pay huge dividends on cold rooms. Camlock systems offer a much better fix and durability than normal construction, which can lend itself to increased thermal efficiency and savings for the catering operator, coupled of course with a very strong and durable design.

MALCOM HARLING: Sustainability is increasingly a key buying criterion. That’s why we’ve developed 90mm ODP zero foam insulated panels, which deliver optimum thermal efficiency. We are the only manufacturer to offer camlocked roof and wall panels, securely foamed into tongue and groove joints for a tight-locking, stable structure. They eliminate the risk of ice build-up in joints and ensure the ‘thermal envelope’ is 100%, assisting with BREEAM accreditation. To this end, Williams also offers thermal imaging, so that operators can confirm the efficiency of their cold room.

JAMES CONNOLLY: Operators want reliable, high quality and low-cost cold room solutions. It’s a tough brief given that quality comes at a price, but with Celltherm’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Gronau, Germany being one of the most modern in the world, we can provide a consistently high level of quality at a cost-effective price — effectively more for less!

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What factors most influence the type of cold room that is specified for a customer?

BOB LITTLER: The customers, and any constraints imposed by the customer’s premises and/or location, have a very strong influence on the type of cold room that is required. In the real world, the customer doesn’t pick out a standard cold room from a brochure or, at least, only very rarely. Instead they say, “I need to put a cold room in this space.”

This is why some years ago we moved away from the standard industry practice of saying, “this is what we make and this is how much it costs”, and reinvented ourselves as solution providers rather than suppliers. Now we to listen to the customer, understand what they need to achieve and come up with the best solution for them, taking account of their particular operational needs.

JAMES CONNOLLY: Products being stored, temperature required, space available, and the budget are the main factors which influence the type of cold room that is designed or supplied to a typical cold room customer. End-users are more informed nowadays and we aim to meet and exceed — through our dealer network — their client’s expectations. It’s not just good enough to turn up, install the room and disappear.

Clients want effective after-care and back-up along with expertise, reliability, sustainability and longevity of product. Celltherm has perfected this with our senior management team of six having over 120 years of cold room and refrigeration experience, 75 years of which have been with Celltherm alone.

MALCOLM HARLING: The menu, the type of operation, the available space and, of course, the budget all have an influence, as well as the location and accessibility. Many kitchens in city sites are in basements or upper floors where access can be tricky and a flat-packed, modular cold room is easier to bring in than standard refrigerated cabinets. The regularity of food deliveries will impact the size of cold room — remote sites with fewer deliveries will need extra chilled storage space.

What trends or issues do you feel are most prevalent for cold room designers and installers at the moment?

JAMES CONNOLLY: Stainless steel has started to make a return to the market, along with vision panels and low noise refrigeration systems, which Celltherm offers as standard, particularly in the medical and specialist environmental test chamber sectors. There is a bigger emphasis on thicker cold room panels now, as most operators are familiar with the benefits of thicker insulation at home, which saves energy and money. They are now looking to reciprocate this in their businesses with their new cold rooms. It’s a very small cost and quickly repaid within nine to 18 months depending on the application and cold room size.

Celltherm recently projected a client could receive up to 30% of its initial investment back in savings over a 10-year period just by increasing its panel size from 80mm to 100mm and its overall project cost by just a mere 3%. We challenge every sensible operator in the first instance to upgrade to 100mm or 120mm from 80mm and reap the rewards before diving into restrictive and expensive equipment.

BOB LITTLER: As the general public becomes more educated and discerning about food, professional caterers need to ensure they live up to these expectations, and cold room designers and installers have a responsibility to support caterers in achieving this. So we have to be able to provide equipment with the right design, the right specification, the right temperature and the right price for the right application.

In parallel, we need to do this while keeping an eye on environmental issues, which are certainly becoming more important. Energy efficient performance needs to be inherent in the design, of course, along with moving to environmentally-friendlier refrigerants like R209. Responsible disposal at end of life is also a key issue, so all Porkka cold rooms are now over 90% recyclable.

PAUL ANDERSON: Looking at ways of saving running costs is vital and also building the strongest of rooms while maintaining a reasonable offer to the customer. For more efficiency, it is essential to source the best and most cost-effective remote systems.

What is the biggest technical or market challenge that cold room suppliers face in 2013?

MALCOLM HARLING: One market challenge is cheap imports manufactured with thinner materials — some even use polystyrene as insulation. This type of product will be very inefficient energy-wise and will not last as long in a commercial environment. Buyers need to check the credibility of their supplier before committing to a purchase.

PAUL ANDERSON: Currently, the most talked about criteria is whether cold rooms can be added to the ECA list, managed by the Carbon Trust. This could prove very beneficial for the end-user as the cost of a cold room can be a significant part of an existing or new build. Details will follow in due course upon submittal of information to the government.

BOB LITTLER: In the current economic climate, our biggest challenge is to persuade clients that cheapest isn’t always best. Sometimes it may be a viable option, but usually it isn’t. However, going cheap can be tempting for a start-up catering company that is unable to secure any external finance.

Therefore, we have to listen to our customers’ particular circumstances and help them get the best value from their investment. It is important that a cold room gives many years of reliable performance. Buying a ‘budget’ cold room every three or four years or having continuous ongoing repair costs is a false economy.

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