Slim is in for refrigeration designers

The ever-decreasing footprint of the commercial kitchen is a modern phenomenon that distributors have quickly become accustomed to dealing with.

Striking the right balance between choosing the equipment a customer needs and making sure it fits the workflow requirement is the secret to success — but it can be a painstaking task to get there.

Prime cooking equipment has to be powerful enough without using up valuable floor room, multifunctional appliances have to be carefully considered and layouts must be planned to perfection in order to keep chef movement to a minimum.

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But where does refrigeration fit into this whole planning process? After all, operators will always require a certain level of on-site refrigerated storage space. It is simply an aspect of the design process that can’t be ignored, stresses Glenn Roberts, managing director at Gram. “Space is an issue that greatly affects a kitchen’s design and layout, and as an essential piece of kitchen equipment, refrigeration needs to be carefully considered,” he says.

Due to the pressure on kitchen space, manufacturers are being asked to produce refrigeration with similar capacities to what operators have previously known but wrapped in a smaller package — and that goes for coldrooms and counters, too. Those that need to make every inch count can now source units with depths as narrow as 500m.

Liebherr has developed a range of models with a large nett-to-external size ratio, which is targeted at customers that don’t want to sacrifice storage space. “The GKV 4360, for example, fits into a 60cm footprint and has 434 gross/406 net capacity, which is the largest in the industry,” claims national account manager Stephen Ongley.

He believes there would be less confusion over volumes if there was a true and accurate standard of net capacity measurement for end-users to make an informed decision: “Performance should not be compromised — even the smallest Liebherr solid-door undercounter fridge will run at +1°C in a 43°C ambient temperature.”

Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager at Valera, says slimmer cabinets will continue to grow in popularity but they won’t get too slender because storage is vital to most caterers. “Smaller units inevitably mean less capacity,” he says. “But the power-to-capacity ratio is what counts here. Most single-door units will have the same size compressor as a double-door one, so essentially the same amount of power is being used to chill a smaller volume.”

Dean Simpson, operations manager at Pentland Wholesale, believes that unit price and running costs are still more of a priority than size in most cases, although the company has moved to introduce a new range of undermounted cabinets to address this need.

“We’re seeing a growth in the pop-up cafe, fast food and event catering markets that do have a priority on space,” reveals Simpson. “As well as reducing footprint it’s important to consider the mobility of units and their durability. With the varied use of these cabinets, they have to be able to survive regular transport and use in differing conditions, as well as taking up the minimum haulage space.”

Another wholesaler, Blue Badger, which markets the Sterling Pro range, has also noticed increased demand for narrower and shallower cabinets — something that it says isn’t just down to smaller kitchens but narrow doorways and gangways as well.

“Our customers need appliances with a smaller footprint but without compromising performance or capacity,” says managing director, Mark Alexander. “We have been able to produce a range of heavy duty upright cabinets that measure just 726mm in depth. This shows a reduction in depth of 104mm. We have also recently introduced a range of 600mm deep counters that show a reduction in depth of 100mm from our standard range.”

Foster Refrigerator now markets a Slimline range that still gives customers 400 litres of storage space but in a footprint 30% smaller than its standard cabinets. Product manager, Nick Bamber, says the company’s pan chiller range has also proved popular with operators keen to utilise space in the most effective way.

“This range can be placed on top of existing counters, or wall mounted to make use of higher space, and so doubles the functionality of a standard counter,” he says. “Undercounter fridges and freezers are also a great solution because they allow ingredients to be stored right where the chef needs them, underneath prep areas for example. Again, you are utilising otherwise wasted space and improving the workflow of busy kitchens.”

The question every operator wants to know is whether choosing a refrigeration unit that occupies a smaller footprint means accepting an inferior performance.

Manufacturers argue not — insisting new technology and revised product design techniques now afford them the opportunity to fit standard refrigeration components into a smaller shell.

“There is no need for the buyer to accept any reduction in performance or storage space if they choose the right equipment,” says David Jones, managing director of Alpeninox, which has created a specific range of hydrocarbon refrigeration units with a 600mm-wide footprint but nett storage volumes of up to 518 litres.

Malcolm Harling, sales director of Williams Refrigeration, agrees that smaller refrigeration doesn’t have to mean compromising on performance. “We have developed the ‘Small Kitchen’ range — a choice of products that are compact but deliver the same performance as the standard versions. As well as being compact, the range is designed to be as flexible as possible, with many models suiting a variety of applications,” he adds.

Precision manufactures a ‘Space Saver’ range of counter and undercounter fridges and freezers, including single-door configurations available in either 445mm x 725mm or 650mm x 600mm sizes.

“Despite their size, they are packed full of features included in larger models,” says managing director, Nick Williams. “This includes high ambient (43C) refrigeration systems, stainless steel interior and exteriors, iCool intelligent energy-saving controllers and Envirofoam, Precision’s zero ODP, high-performance insulation.”

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Roberts at Gram — which makes a compact range that features a selection of sizes from 600mm in width — says that apart from the reduced footprint, specifying compact refrigeration shouldn’t be any different to standard refrigeration.

“The essential features for caterers to look out for when it comes to refrigeration are energy efficiency, a good capacity for produce in relation to space available, an ability to maintain a consistent temperature, and a helpful design to ensure maintenance and cleaning is as easy and hygienic as possible,” he says.

The emergence of solutions that offer full cooking power on top of a refrigeration-freezer base, such as that available from Electrolux’s XP range, which permits ‘Icy Hot’ configuration can also prove effective when space is at a premium. “It means chefs don’t have to walk the full length of the kitchen to recuperate ingredients, which obviously has a positive impact on productivity and workflow,” says Sneha Mashru, regional category manager for refrigeration at Electrolux.

“When kitchens are at capacity, and there is no margin for lost time, it is a real advantage for chefs to have their ingredients within touching distance. The Electrolux Professional Icy Hot base can be used as a refrigerator or a freezer and can be set to any temperature between 8°C and -22°C.”

The deployment of compact refrigeration in kitchens isn’t only about the physical size of the unit, however. It is also about where it is sited — think wall mounted applications and refrigeration connected to remote systems, for example. Liebherr produces a 42-litre drinks fridge that can be attached to the wall, while Precision Refrigeration has also developed a range of wall cabinet fridges that it says is an ideal solution for caterers that want to increase storage space without impacting their kitchen footprint.

The other creative way to maximise space is to ensure refrigeration equipment can be utilised for a variety of applications. Williams Refrigeration’s Malcolm Harling says the company’s PrepWell and Thermowell refrigerated ingredients units, for instance, are equally suited to pizza, salad or sandwich preparation, jacket potato fillings and a host of other tasks.

“The Prep Well is a compact refrigerated ingredients well on wheels that can be moved into position as menu requirements dictate. This is useful for establishments that need to vary their menu frequently but don’t have much space to do so,” he says. Thermowell, meanwhile, is a countertop refrigerated ingredients store. “The latest model in the range, the TW4, is a mini-version with storage for four 1/6GN pans,” he says. “It is compact enough to fit onto any available worktop area, but it can also be wall mounted to free up even more space.”

Bamber at Foster notes that prep areas can be reused for other tasks later in the day and units can double up for a streamlined approach.

“It is not only back-of-house equipment that is demanding reducing sizes, display refrigeration is also under scrutiny,” he points out. “Front-of-house refrigeration can take up valuable space but the key requirements are the same: customers demand quality, reliability and low-energy consumption, along with ensuring their merchandise is well-displayed and easy to access without losing optimum temperature.”

Where spaces are really tight, so-called ‘flatpack’ refrigeration offered by the likes of Valera comes into its own. “Where access and doorways are restricted, installation is taking place in a basement, and if it is not possible to remove door frames, such as the case in listed buildings, we have introduced a range of flatpack cabinets that can be transported to site in pieces and assembled in position,” says Gadhvi.

Electrolux’s Mashru comments: “Arguably, there will always be a limit as to how compact commercial refrigeration cabinets can be before they begin to compromise the value they offer to the operators in a busy kitchen environment. What we are likely to see is a growing demand for greener solutions, which not only play their part in enhancing a kitchen’s environmental credentials, but also reduce running costs and therefore increase profitability.”

In conclusion, it would appear that diminishing kitchen footprints certainly aren’t a negative thing for the refrigeration supply chain in the UK.

Alexander at Blue Badger says the reality is that modern kitchens need to find room for a growing number of appliances to meet the demands of consumer tastes and tightening food hygiene legislation. “This is undoubtedly putting pressure on space, so we expect the demand for reduced-footprint appliances to grow,” he says.

The major challenge for manufacturers, it would seem, is to design refrigeration that is mobile and compact enough to suit smaller kitchens, but still packs the sort of punch associated with standard units.

Compact kit for fast service

The rise of the small kitchen has seen specialist manufacturers such as Adande adapt their offerings to meet customer needs. The Lowestoft-based firm, for instance, now offers a compact version of its patented drawer system that is roughly half the width of a standard model.

It is proving to be popular choice with fast food chains and can sit beside prime cooking equipment to speed up service.
Ian Wood, Adande’s managing director, argues that there is “no place” for an upright conventional fridge in a commercial kitchen. “Where do you site it?” he asks. “Put it in a corner and it becomes an inefficiency as people will be forced to move to and from, compounded by the fact that it is not near the cook or prep line. Put it in the middle and it blocks sight lines.

“The fundamental design flaws of compressors mounted either top or bottom also means, in hot, busy kitchens, the compressors soon get blocked with dust and flour and need regular cleaning. Adande’s unique design is not affected by this factor because its compressor is tucked away to the side or behind the unit and not in the ‘direct line of fire’.”

When it comes to choosing compact refrigeration, Wood says it needs to have an obvious function and be totally in sync with the operators’ menu. He says: “QSRs in particular are continually refining their production techniques, leading towards a ‘lean manufacturing’ philosophy, which requires equipment that minimises space volume, footprint and movement, and maximises worktop space. And where possible, it has to have a multi-purpose role that provides flexibility.”

The Carbon Trust’s research into energy use in the catering market highlights the energy saving potential of ‘best available technology’ (BAT) in connection with refrigeration.

It concludes that the improvement potential of BAT, compared to ‘base case’, is up to 62%, depending on the type of refrigeration. It also says that BAT delivers the least lifecycle cost — in other words, investing in the best available technology works out cheaper over the lifetime of the equipment. Since 28% of a kitchen’s energy is used by refrigeration this is a significant issue.

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