4 Trends to Watch in Foodservice Equipment
The foodservice equipment industry is undergoing a revolution. The products being designed and developed are the greatest thing to hit the industry since sliced bread (pun intended). The industry continues to innovate rapidly to keep up with the ever-evolving demands from restaurants and commercial kitchens. The first half of the year brings multiple industry conferences including The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM) Show and The National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show. You can expect new products and technologies to be unveiled (and applauded) at these major events.
What product trends can you expect to see in the world of foodservice equipment? Look no further! Brooks Stevens -- a product development firm with myriad experience in the space -- has rounded them up for you!
The Internet of Things (IoT) is not surprisingly at the top of our list. According to Gartner Research, in 2014, the global IoT market reached $485.6 billion. This year (2019), it is expected to exceed $1.7 trillion with more than 42 billion connected devices. The application of IoT in commercial kitchens brings numerous cost-saving benefits, so the industry is ready for growth.
From wireless control to automatic monitoring, IoT has numerous applications in the foodservice space. Equipment manufacturers have been experimenting with sensor technology since before the term “IoT” was coined. Sensors are attached to/embedded in almost everything: refrigerators, freezers, ovens, and cooktops. These sensors are used to monitor temperature, humidity, vibration, motion, activity, electric voltage, and more -- if it can be measured, it can be monitored in real time. Connected devices give users insight into daily operations: inventory, sales and service, resource and energy usage, quality and safety of food, and equipment maintenance. With all of this info being collected, operators will have to develop a strategy to store, manage and analyze their data.
There are endless IoT applications in use today from fryers that change their own oil to ventilation systems that monitor potential fire hazards. In the commercial kitchen, ovens and refrigerators have seen the most IoT innovations. Many ovens feature programmable settings, so users can add the exact temperature and cook time for recipes. Smart technology is being used in ovens that can recognize food items and cook them to specific settings. There are even sensors which warn chefs of potential burns and over-cooking.
Meanwhile, smart refrigerators optimize food purchases. Internet-connected refrigerators have the ability to record how long certain food items have been stored in the refrigerator and determine how soon the food will spoil. They can even enable dynamic ordering and automatically order more ingredients when inventory is running low. We anticipate these innovations to gain even more traction in other parts of the commercial kitchen from the dish room to the dumpster.
Robotics is absolutely related to (if not a part of) IoT, but with so many new robotics that enable automated activities, we thought we’d give it its own category. Those who follow the foodservice industry closely are familiar with the current buzz about kitchens that implement AI, robotics and automation. It’s not the future; it’s today.
Prepare for even more point-of-sale technology like digital menus and payment pads at the table. These automated solutions are being adopted as a way to lower labor costs. Cash registers are quickly being replaced by self-service kiosks. At these kiosks, customers are able to browse the menu, create custom orders, and pay for their meal without human interaction. Amazon Go is taking it further. Customers use the Amazon Go app to enter the store, take their selection from the grab-n-go cooler and, well, go. There are no lines and no checkout. Amazon uses “Just Walk Out Technology” which detects when products are taken and keeps track of them in a virtual cart that’s connected to your wallet.
Robots are already in some restaurants performing basic, repetitive tasks. Let’s examine some of these cutting-edge examples. Take Café X, a San Francisco coffee shop, where the barista is a robot that pulls orders from a self-service kiosk and pours espresso drinks, coffee, and cold brew. We wonder if the robot pronounces your name correctly when your order is ready.
The restaurant Zume uses robots to work alongside humans. Some perform tasks like shaping dough and pouring sauce. Another loads the pies into trucks that are equipped with ovens. A single kitchen can produce up to a staggering 20,000 pies a day. It feeds the trucks with connected ovens, which finish baking the pizzas en route to the customers. As the pizza truck drives to the customer, a platform calculates the optimal route and signals each oven to begin cooking at the ideal time.
Spyce restaurant also uses a robotic kitchen. The system wirelessly collects multiple orders from self-service menu kiosks, brings in ingredients from refrigerators into a spinning wok, and delivers the cooked meal into a bowl waiting on the counter for a human (gasp!) to finish. The process takes as little as three minutes.
But, the industry is still getting over some early hiccups. Like Flippy, the robot arm that made headlines for its ability to make the perfect burger. Flippy was supposed to turn out 150 burgers/hour but was decommissioned after one day of work for being too slow.
Sustainability is a major driver of innovation in nearly every industry. Right now, sustainability is one of the biggest trends in the foodservice equipment sector. Why? Efficiency and regulation.
Commercial kitchen operations are expensive. Operators continue to look for ways to improve efficiency to help keep energy, water, food, labor, and chemical costs down. Foodservice companies (and municipalities) are banning straws in a move that’s equal parts eco-friendly and cost-effective. Plant-based food packaging has seen a rise in global demand (led by consumer demand). Even food waste reduction is a hot topic in food service. 4%-10% of the food purchased by foodservice operations is discarded before it reaches customers. This has given rise to a demand for equipment to reduce food waste like on-site composting and recycling bins. We can expect to see more growth in the area.
Further, federal regulations are mandating improvements in sustainability/efficiency. For example, this year (2019) all pre-rinse spray valves must allow a max of 1.28 gallons of water per minute, down from 1.6 gallons. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy’s energy-efficiency standards are now in effect for reach-in refrigerators and freezers; more are coming for 2020 (affecting walk-in refrigerators).
It’s a win-win when products become more environmentally friendly and more cost-efficient. Demand is rising for more efficient appliances. Buyers see their benefits; aside from alleviating rising energy costs, they can reduce consumption, waste and carbon footprint – and save on escalating labor costs.
Kitchen space is shrinking as rent prices are going up. As a result, many foodservice operators are selecting equipment that is smaller and can perform multiple functions to optimize their space. Expect to see smaller equipment and smaller storage in smaller spaces.
With a rise in open commercial kitchens, you can expect to see more aesthetically-appealing cooking equipment. New designs include ovens and fryers in bright colors. Equipment manufacturers will offer more customizable options -- like panels and finishes in different colors and materials.
Plus, with all the new technology upgrades, you will find sleek touchscreens instead of buttons and knobs. Here, GUI and UI/UX design will become increasingly important.
NOW WE'RE COOKING
2019 promises to bring a wave of new innovations to the foodservice equipment industry. With so many technological and ecological advancements, equipment manufacturers will have to carefully strategize how to evolve their product lines to meet the demands of their market. It’s an exciting time for the space -- the foodservice industry remains a hot one to watch.