Letter from America: Catering equipment trends from across the pond

NAFEM Show

If you want to know what’s going to be the next big thing in foodservice or catering equipment it’s worth taking a glance at the US market. It tends to follow that new launches and concepts that succeed in the US will find their way over here shortly after. With that in mind, Mark Hogan, sales and marketing manager of FEM, reveals the trends that are striking a chord in the US following his visit to The NAFEM Show in California earlier this year.

With the American economy continuing to grow, this year’s NAFEM reflected real optimism in the foodservice market. It was also a great place to check out the trends in the US — and try to spot the ones most likely to appear in the UK. For 2015 the organisers made that job easier by having four trend galleries called ‘What’s Hot, What’s Cool’.

Mark Hogan

A growing emphasis on fresh food is driving US catering equipment design, suggests Mark Hogan.

The growing emphasis on fresh foods was very evident. Lots of products on show were designed to enable operators to prepare, serve and display fresh produce. They included new multifunctional manual food prep machines from Vollrath, Edlund and Prince Castle. Another impact of this trend is the need for extra refrigeration, reflected in several innovative product launches, as well as extra space for receiving and preparation.

In the US, as in the UK, snacks and grab-and-go concepts are in demand in every sector, especially with younger consumers. To meet this demand, manufacturers are developing an ever-wider choice of equipment, such as holding bins and holding cabinets, to keep food hot and ready to serve. However, the emphasis is increasingly on ensuring the food retains all its freshness and flavour — NAFEM saw several alterative hot holding solutions on show.

Allergen safety has become a big deal all over the western world in recent times. There was a host of new utensils and storage solutions launched by various brands, including Vollrath and Cambro. Cadco even had an allergen-free serving cart, designed to allow operators to serve fresh food without the worry of cross contamination. US restaurants are looking to introduce a wider variety of beverages into their offering, as they try to maximise income outside of peak eating times.

Watch out for an increasing range of brightly-coloured combi steamers, high speed ovens and charcoal grills”

This was reflected in the number of new drinks machines at the show, from smoothie makers to coffee systems. Innovation in combi steamers and accelerated cooking continues apace — NAFEM saw new combis from Convotherm and Alto-Shaam, as well as a new model launch from Turbochef, the FIRE oven, which can cook a 14-inch fresh dough pizza in just 90 seconds.

Automation is another aspect of catering equipment that is increasingly prevalent in every area — touchscreen technology is the norm not only on multifunctional equipment and combi ovens, but also on the beverage side of the equipment market. High profile launches here included coffee machines from Bravilor and a high volume, automatic ‘on tap’ cocktail system from Hamilton Beach.

From an industry where stainless steel is the standard, various colour options are emerging as a new trend. This merging of the dividing line between kitchen and front-of-house is no doubt driven partly by the move towards open-style and theatre kitchens. Watch out for an increasing range of brightly-coloured combi steamers, high speed ovens and charcoal grills.

A development that’s as strong in the States as it is in the UK is the shift towards smaller kitchens, as more space is given to front-of-house. There was lots of evidence of manufacturers developing more compact versions of traditional equipment, as well as an increase in multifunctional appliances. Alto Shaam pulled off the trick of combining both in a compact combi oven, the CT Express.

All in all, the latest technological advancements unveiled at NAFEM will give the industry plenty of food for thought — both sides of the Atlantic..

4 stateside trends to watch

At NAFEM this year, the organisers created four trend galleries called ‘What’s Hot, What’s Cool’. FEM’s Mark Hogan explains what they covered.

1) Community responsibility

This was all about sustainability, with kitchens designed specifically for the preparation of fresh, local, farm-to-table — or even “cook-to-table” — foods, using energy efficient equipment and environmentally-friendly materials.

2) Health & wellness

This covered a huge range of issues, including ways to address dietary requests and food allergies; how to promote health and wellness; portion control and calorie quality; and ‘healthier’ foods — including whole grains, healthy oils and plant proteins including nuts and legumes.

3) Global flavours & craft preparation

Ethnic cuisines are still a huge trend. Increasingly operators will rely on specialist equipment to deliver authentic cooking methods. They’ll also make use of ethnic serving vessels, table top décor and open kitchen theatre cooking to offer menu items that celebrate global diversity and demonstrate craft preparation.

4) Productivity, efficiency & precision

This gallery celebrated the equipment that is now available to foodservice operators to automate or simplify processes, reduce overheads, perform multiple functions or serve satisfying menu items with consistency, flexibility and speed.

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