Brian Jahnke of Alto-Shaam considers how changes in consumer behaviour and wider global trends are impacting foodservice equipment design:
In recent years, global consumers have become more adventurous about trying new cuisines and expanding their palates. As consumers learn more about their food, they hold the industry to an even higher standard and demand more from the food that is prepared for them. Veganism and vegetarianism have also come further to the fore, and the valley between meat and vegetables is shrinking fast.
Supermarkets and restaurants are adapting to meet the changing tastes so that their food is as healthy, local, and sustainable as possible for consumers. Most critically, however, it needs to be perfectly cooked, and often – in today’s fast-living environment – it needs to be cooked quickly but without sacrificing quality.
This in turn is driving how catering and commercial kitchen equipment is designed. ‘Microwave assist’, which had such an enormous impact when it was launched, solved the issue of speed, but not quality. New oven technologies such as Vector, however, which uses Structured Air Technology, not only solve the problem of speed, but also quality, and with up to four independent chambers capable of cooking multiple food items, the food production is much greater.
But it is not simply our changing eating habits, or our fast-moving lives, that are impacting equipment design. There are bigger global challenges, not least of which is the shortage of skilled labour. This is a particular problem in the US; low unemployment levels lead to shortages of those wishing to work in the foodservice industry, reducing the number of skilled workers available. This is a growing problem in the UK too, and one that is likely to become more acute.
The impact on equipment design has therefore been to make them even easier to programme and use, such that they require only the minimum of training. Visual prompts are increasingly used, to overcome the problem of language, and this trend is likely to continue. The equipment is increasingly interconnected, allowing new recipes to be uploaded, and their performance remotely reported and monitored.
The demand for increased health and safety is another driver, with manufacturers designing equipment on the basis that every accident is preventable. Physically this means things like triple-panel glass doors that are cool to touch, and technology that automatically evacuates the oven cavity during the final cooking stage, thereby significantly reducing the risk of steam burns.
They are also designed to enable the health and safety executives and their equivalents to pull data from the equipment in the event of an accident/incident, recording the temperature, cooking time, date etc. in the event of a claim being made against them.
Equipment manufacturers have other challenges to overcome, such as providing equipment that is environmentally friendly, minimising the use of energy and water. Whether equipment is vented or ventless is also a factor, depending on the environment in which the equipment is installed, and the space available. Designing systems that are genuinely self-cleaning is also a desire that manufacturers are seeking to fulfil.
Kitchen equipment is not only ‘back office’; sometimes it is very much ‘front of house’ and this is again leading manufacturers to look at the aesthetics of their designs to have less of an industrial ‘feel’.
As consumer behaviours and the needs of the foodservice industry continue to evolve, so too will manufacturers adapt to meet their respective needs.