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15 trends Panini grill suppliers are talking about

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The proliferation of sandwich shops and fashionable cafes has elevated the status of the panini grill market in recent times. With the quick service food concept still very much on the ascent, suppliers are uncovering new gaps in the market.

1. ‘Food on the go’ keeps suppliers busy

The panini grill market has always been a fiercely-fought affair and with a growing ‘food on-the-go’ scene in the UK that is unlikely to change any time soon. Suppliers are focusing on ensuring that customers can use their machines to help them increase their output and, ultimately, their bottom line. Electrolux says that its flagship HSG Panini Grill aims to deliver hot sandwiches that are cooked through to the middle in under 60 seconds.

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“We can even run a cost comparison calculation against customers’ current grills to determine the payback time, including running costs, based on how many sandwiches they sell each week. It’s a fascinating exercise for many operators,” says the company’s training and business development manager Stuart Flint.

2. All-encompassing equipment line

A panini grill’s biggest asset is that its allows the end-user, regardless of the market they are in, to provide food and snacks without the heavy investment into capital equipment. “Even though the UK high street seems to be saturated with coffee shops and small cafes, there are more opening all the time and a panini grill allows them to offer food at a competitive price,” says Parry’s MDGary Rose. Lincat’s marketing director, Nick McDonald, adds: “We have seen an upturn in sales of light duty equipment in recent months and sales of panini grills are no exception.”

3. More sectors pursue paninis

Sandwich shops, cafes and coffee chains are the most obvious users of panini grills, but other sub-sectors of the foodservice market are also investing in the equipment. “What we have noticed more and more is growing demand from garden and leisure centres,” reveals Electrolux’s Stuart Flint. “Even more significant is the growing demand from the cost sector, with the likes of secondary education providers. Being able to provide a hot sandwich quickly is a valuable asset to any school caterer.”

Rose at Parry highlights leisure centres as a sector which has shown strong uptake. “As well as that, we are also seeing restaurants, B&Bs and small hotels requesting such products. And more retail outlets are offering catering facilities, where this product is ideally suited.”

4. The need for speed

Any panini-making equipment worth its salt should be able to produce a hot sandwich in an exceptionally quick time. After all, operators want the time it takes from loading the sandwich into the unit to serving it to the customer to be as short as possible. Metcalfe distributes the Roband range in the UK and managing director, Neil Richards, says the quick cook time it can promise opens up the market for all sorts of users, including pubs, delis and sandwich shops. “In order to cook fast food items like burgers and steaks, instead of buying an expensive grill top or griddle plate that requires a specialist electrical supply, why not buy a Roband grill that plugs into a 13-amp socket straight out of the box?” he says.

5. Time to raise a toast…

Pub chains represent a significant growth area for panini grill manufacturers, as they look to utilise the technology that is out there to provide quick, affordable menu items. Richards at Metcalfe has seen this trend firsthand. “We are now selling into a major pub chain because one of their biggest-selling items is a toasted panini with salad and chips,” he comments. “The speed of the Roband units means that these can be turned around in next to no time. A lot of pubs are extending their food offer into breakfast, and Roband units with their high-speed cooking are ideal for this. Sausages take a couple of minutes and bacon is cooked in just 20 seconds!”

6. The equipment sector’s versatile performer

Most manufacturers agree that to grow panini grill sales you have got to exploit the equipment’s versatility. Electrolux’s Flint insists dealers shouldn’t overlook the variety of foods that can be cooked on a panini grill or contact grill. “The street food trend is only going to get bigger with more consumers expecting a variety and speed of service,” he predicts. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see more ethnic diversity in the sandwich market over the coming year and believe that dealers should be able to demonstrate that a panini grill can be used for traditional hot sandwiches, sausage rolls and pies, right through to more exotic options such as hot falafel wraps. Being able to emphasise the versatility of the kit to potential customers is vital.”

Ray Hall, managing director of RH Hall, expects to see a raft of operators benefitting from using panini grills in the next 12 months. “There will be increased menu offerings from an expanding range of food suppliers covering a wide range of worldwide cuisine and seasonal menus,” he forecasts. “Panini and contact grills are very versatile and with a bit of imagination a wide range of menus can be made available.

7. Tapping into global cuisine trends

As well as labouring the versatility of panini grills, sellers point out that the equipment can be used to provide a product that is quick and easy to prepare, popular among customers and affordable to serve due to the cost of bread. Operators can also capitalise on demand for global cuisines or tailor paninis to specific themes.

“Ethnic flavours, such as Mediterranean, Asian and Mexican, and fast, fresh food on the go, are two trends that panini grills can help end-users exploit,” says Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager at FEM, which imports the Sirman panini grill brand in the UK. “They also offer a low-cost and simple way for customers to expand their menu. Grills are increasingly used for other items such as croissants, toasted sandwiches and omelettes to boost
menu options.”

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8. Portability for profitability

As well as versatility, manufacturers insist that it is important not to underestimate the importance of a panini grill’s portability and the fact that it operates from a standard 13-amp supply. Given that the units are mobile enough to be used in most locations, they offer an excellent way for an operator to add a range of hot snacks to a menu for a minimum outlay. “Ours are used in mobile catering wagons or outside catering kitchens, for example, as well as in standard kitchen settings,” says Lincat’s Nick McDonald.

9. Know your stuff

To get by in panini grills you’ve got to know the market and the customer’s business, or it’s easy to specify an unsuitable unit. “As there is an enormous choice of size, finish and plate type, the responsible seller will talk through both the menu and the throughput with the potential customer,” suggests Ray Hall at RH Hall, which offers more than 30 Maestrowave grills in its product portfolio. “There are a number of brands on the market, but there are few established brands. If you want the grill to last then there are a number of features to look for. With the ability to reach 300°C very quickly, the Maestrowave grills are in high demand, as this gives the caterer the ability to react quickly, cooking on demand in what is a fast food market.”

10. Business on a plate

Plate quality is fundamental where panini grills are concerned, as in a quick service food environment durability and heat retention mean everything. Easy clean cast iron plates heat up rapidly and smooth plates are ideal for quickly sealing in meat juices and flavour, insist manufacturers. “For a good all-round solution, a model with a smooth bottom plate and a ribbed top might provide the perfect compromise, producing branding marks on the top of the food while cooking quickly from the bottom,” suggests Lincat’s Nick McDonald. “Careful consideration is needed as to which model is most suitable for the catering operation.”

Tony Mercer, sales manager at Uropa Distribution, adds that counter-balanced top plates mean food doesn’t get overly squashed, so the perfectly grilled panini can be served every time. “The double-plated models also have independent controls and timers either side, so whether an operator chooses to allocate one side for vegetarian options or cook multiple paninis at a time, they can be sure that each panini remains in the grill for the correct length of time.”

11. It’s all about the looks

Experts say that the panini trend of the last few years has led many suppliers to re-invent their contact grills as panini grills, expanding their portfolios in the process to incorporate single and double versions, as well as ribbed and non-ribbed units. Some suppliers are even known to offer caterers the option of having their own name branded onto the panini, providing a touch of personalisation that can sometimes make all the difference to customer retention. Given that such equipment is usually positioned front of house, both the kit and the finished product need to look the part.

“With both ribbed and smooth grill options for different looks, operators can choose which best suits their establishment,” says Uropa Distribution’s Mercer. “While ribbed is often preferred for the top of the panini, a smooth plate is easier to clean. Or simply combine the two and have a ribbed top with a flat base, which the customer does not see when the panini is on the plate.”

12. Panini innovation comes in many guises

In the quest to grow their businesses and make the ultimate panini-making machine, suppliers are looking to innovate in all aspects of the technology. Manufacturer Sirman cites the ‘super coating’ used on the plates of its Paninostick grills as a key selling point for its products in the market place. The non-stick ceramic material it uses is extremely tough and long-lasting, easy to clean after cooking and overcomes the age-old issue of food sticking. “Meanwhile our PD VC ceramic panini grill, also manufactured by Sirman, uses infrared elements that help reduce energy use by around 30% compared to conventional grills,” adds FEM’s Mark Hogan.

13. Conducting an alternative approach to design

A traditional panini grill has cast iron plates that sit on top of heating elements, but Roband claims to have “revolutionised” the market with an alternative approach to design. It uses high pressure die cast aluminium plates, which as well as being a very good conductor of heat gives the added benefit of having the heating elements cast directly into the plate. “This eliminates the risk of element burn-out, which is a very costly maintenance issue for regular units,” says Metcalfe’s Neil Richards. “With the Roband units, the elements do not have to work excessively hard and, in addition, there is no moisture ingress either.”

14. Tripping up on cable

If there is one thing that will have annoyed a panini grill operator at some point in time, it’s a protruding cable getting in the way of the cooking surface. Although this cable is needed to feed the top plate with power, it often gets broken or pulled out when the machine is pushed up against a wall, or moved about. Roband has sought to eradicate this common industry fault by devising a different set-up based on feeding the power cable for the top plate through the inside of the handle. “It cannot get snagged, cut or pulled out. It is simple, but very effective,” says Metcalfe’s Richards.

15. All quiet on the launch front

Few panini grill manufacturers are preparing major product launches this year, with most appearing to be quite comfortable with the structure of their portfolios for the time being. Parry, for instance, has six different variants of panini and contact grills spread across three models. It doesn’t envisage expanding the range as it says it has two levels to suit all budgets. Electrolux doesn’t have any launches planned for this year either, but Stuart Flint insists the company still boasts one of the largest R&D programmes in the industry. “As a company we are continuously striving to turn changing customer needs into innovative solutions and improvements into our existing product portfolio.”

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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