Thirsty work

Whether it’s an exclusive restaurant in a five-star hotel or a snack bar on a station platform, every operator will have at least one industrial commercial beverage machine to satisfy the drinking habits of their customers.

Ongoing investment in R&D is something that has become the norm for beverage machine specialists such as Marco Beverage Systems, which prides itself on developing products that meet specific market trends and needs.

UK sales director, Chris York, says it launched the Ecosmart water boiler — which has a range of temperature options variable to within 0.5°C from 97°C to 60°C — after identifying that baristas required water at different temperatures to get the best from various original coffees and speciality teas. Tea, for example, needs cooler water for green and white varieties than for black tea.

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“We incorporated this and built on it when we saw the potential for Brew Bars, which are now popping up around the country,” he explains. “Our Uber boiler was developed with the co-operation of the professional barista community. It is an undercounter boiler that not only controls the water temperature, but features a built-in weigh scale so that product-to-water ratio can be regulated.”

Coffee quality and wastage remain serious issues for the catering community and these are topics that Marco has also tackled head-on, most recently with the development of bulk filter coffee equipment. “Our latest model, the Mini Filtro Shuttle now brews coffee in a choice of three different brew sizes to lessen waste,” remarks York. “On the other hand, to safeguard quality standards, our Maxibrew Freshcup model incorporates a programmable, automatic system for dumping stale coffee after a pre-determined time has elapsed.”

Manufacturer Instanta has been hard at work strengthening its portfolio too. It recently introduced a programmable seven-day timer on its boilers, which can be set so that the unit comes on and goes off at specific times during the day rather than running constantly.

Features such as these make the systems simple for caterers to operate and provide savings on energy and water bills, notes Instanta’s sales and marketing director Nick Neal. “Our latest boilers also include a high capacity internal filter which can be replaced easily from the front of the unit,” he says. “It reduces chlorine and odour, improves the taste of the water and inhibits lime-scale formation. The new filter counter measures throughput while a display signals when it is time for a cartridge replacement. The counter can be adjusted to suit variable water hardness.”

Instanta’s main priority this year is to harness its relationship with the dealer channel to develop the coffee market. Neal says it is a growing area for the company: “We doubled the number of units we sold into this sector last year and see good potential for further growth through coffee equipment suppliers and vending companies. On the cooking side we recently launched a range of entry-level sous vide water baths and we see a lot of potential there too.”

The latest innovation to come out of Hatco, meanwhile, is the Flow-Max FM2SS-7 hot water dispenser, which provides hot water on tap. “Ensuring users know exactly what’s going on with the water output is made easy thanks to handy measuring marks, which take both litres and cups into the equation,” says Hatco’s managing director Mark Poultney. “And it contains dual heaters to ensure that energy is maximised, as well as incorporating three preset temperatures for both coffee and tea.”

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One interesting facet of the beverage machine market is the role of the water filtration experts and their quest to spread awareness of their solutions among both dealers and operators. 95% of hot beverages —in some cases more — consist of water, so their argument that the key ingredient for a great beverage is high quality water stands to reason.

“Water can impact the taste and appearance of the beverage and, detrimentally, it can block up machines with limescale,” points out Andrew Whitehouse, sales and marketing manager for the purification division of 3M, which has seen good sales of its RO system and ScaleGard Pro anti-scale filters in the speciality coffee segment.

“This can lead to disruptive equipment downtime and increased maintenance costs, while threatening customer satisfaction and profit margins,” continues Whitehouse. “By using a high performance filter that ensures effective removal of scale-forming minerals, operators can ensure that their machines are kept up and running, and the beverages flow.”

Kit Free, director at European Water Care, agrees. He points out that distributors have a responsibility to make end-users aware of the solutions available to them (see ‘Stopping scale’ panel on page 39) especially as the typical bill for a descale is rarely less than £1,000.

“In addition to the expense the client also suffers a period of down time and if you only have one machine this means no business,” says Free. “Coffee machines require a boiler inspection every 12 months and if scaled up they will be required to have a descale as they can become dangerous.”

Anthony Spruce, sales director at BRITA Professional, tells a similar story. He estimates that more than 70% of all coffee machine breakdowns are caused by problems associated with scale.

BRITA claims to have witnessed an increase in business during the first half of 2012, suggesting end-users are recognising that prevention is better than cure. The Olympics has also had a profound impact on business, admits Spruce.

“Coffee operators are making sure they are prepared for the Games, with extra machines installed and protected, and this has had a large knock-on effect for our business, with sales up considerably on last year. Generally though, we are seeing operators value the quality of their water as a key component in their drink offering to an increasingly knowledgeable and demanding UK consumer.”

At the end of the day, whether it is commercial beverage machines or high-end filtration systems, the nation’s love for hot drinks all year round means this is one section of the catering equipment market where demand is unlikely to waver.
“With 70 million cups of coffee estimated to be drunk in the UK each day, and 164 million cups of tea consumed daily, the hot drinks market offers a great deal of value to caterers and in turn catering equipment distributors,” concludes Hatco’s Poultney.

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Caffeine hit

A string of new innovations continues to make the commercial coffee machine market a compelling place to follow, with manufacturers and brand owners bidding to outwit one another on functionality, design and ease of use.

Melitta, for instance, specialises in super-automatic machines that it markets under both the Melitta and Cafina brands, and its emphasis is on developing kit that allows operators to serve the highest quality coffee possible.

The company’s new managing director, Steve Penk, says its popular Alpha and C35 models contain key features such as a patented micro-sieve, which is “more refined than any other available”. He explains: “It is only 4cm in diameter, yet it contains a staggering 46,150 precision engineered conical holes, so the sieve will extract maximum flavour from coffee. It means that beans can be ground to a very fine consistency, thereby releasing the maximum amount of aroma and flavour.”

One clear market trend which has emerged, notes Penk, is the evident return to filter coffee, but with a far greater focus on quality than ever before. This is something Melitta intends to exploit. “We are planning to open up the market for the Alpha F, Cafina’s super-automatic filter machine that can be programmed to suit the requirements of a diverse range of customers,” he reveals.

Elsewhere, Gaggia has supported the expansion of its distribution network this year with a series of important product launches. Its UK distributor, Watermark, recently introduced the GE-GD Series, which comes in a variety of sizes from the compact 1-group GD One to the 4-group GE-GD, which has a capacity of up to 400 espresso shots an hour.

One important feature of the range is an autonomous heating system for each chromed brass group head. As well as guaranteeing a consistent temperature in every espresso, it means that each nozzle runs independently, maximising speed and quantity of coffee production throughout the day.

Maidenhead-based Bravilor has also been busy recently. It has extended the range of Rex Royal products it offers to include three new bean to cup machines — the S200, S300 and S500 — and updated its FreshGround machine with a high grade stainless steel body, LED accent lighting and visible bean hopper.

Stopping scale

You can purchase the best coffee making equipment on the market, but unless the water that comes out of it is pure and refined you’re never going to do the technology justice.

That’s certainly the view of most water treatment specialists, including European Water Care. Company director, Kit Free, says the most widespread problem that operators face — and dealers need to be aware of — is hard water, which causes the build-up of scale.

Free says water filtration systems prevent this process from leading to machine breakdowns, while also improving the taste, colour and odour of the water used.

“It is most important that all distributors and operators understand that water treatment needs to be maintained and exchanged — the frequency depends on the hardness and the volume of water used — if not then it won’t continue to protect the equipment. We provide a nationwide service that monitors and exchanges filters based on hardness and usage. Distributors should be aware of this and engage in this process as it ensures their customers have continued protection and gives them an additional revenue stream.”

Given that consultants also play a major role in influencing the actual coffee and beverage making equipment that is selected, they also need to take responsibility for ensuring the right provisions are made.

“Consultants should understand the need for water treatment so they can inform their clients of the issues involved and work with companies like ours to put together the most suitable package for the client’s application,” comments Free. “This will ensure it is included as part of the project design and not left out so that it ends up sitting on counters or shut away in inaccessible spaces. That is why we are a member of the FCSI, to get this message across.”

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