MARKET Q&A: Which bottle coolers are the best?

Kitchens ,Bars and exteriors

Bottle coolers are an essential item for every bar and restaurant, but the challenge has always been to match the right aesthetic with the right application. FEJ gives bottle cooler suppliers the opportunity to spell out how they see the market developing and what operators need to bear in mind when making their investment.

What are the main trends that have defined the bottle cooler market over the last 12 months, and where do you see the marketing heading?

Nick Williams, managing director, Precision Refrigeration: The standard bottle cooler with glass doors and good interior lighting will continue to be a staple element in any backbar. However, more customers are asking for bespoke finishes to match décor and company branding.

Gram bottle coolerGlenn Roberts, managing director, Hoshizaki Gram UK: The main challenge facing operators is how to keep products chilled to the required temperature while displaying them in an appealing manner to customers. Key to securing those all-important sales is showcasing the full range of products on offer, in this case a drinks portfolio. Having reliable refrigeration should be at the top of the priority list for operators.

Gary Barnabus, commercial manager, IMC: The main trends have been to lower height units and a certain amount of bespoke design. Both designers and end-users want to stamp their mark on the bar area and the most obvious place that everyone looks is the bottle cooler. What this does show is that some thought has not just gone into the interior design but to the operation and aesthetics behind the bar. A happy bar person makes for happy customers.

Steven Harris, Polar brand manager, Nisbets: Optimising the space you have available is key. So when it comes to bottle coolers, size most definitely matters. Operators are often short on space so a brand like Polar, which provides a choice of units in varying heights, widths and capacities offers the freedom to pick and choose which best suits an establishment’s needs. Models with features such as sliding as opposed to hinged doors continue to be popular in areas such as backbars for this very reason, as they allow staff to open the cooler door and access bottles quickly and easily.

Adam Hill, commercial product manager, Lec Commercial: We are seeing a trend in specific designs, with sales of hinged doors outperforming the traditional sliding door variants and the demand for smaller, space efficient, countertop bottle cooler and drinks chillers on the rise. We are putting this down to the increase in specific manufacturer-based drink promotions as well as the diversification of a drinks menu to include a range of vibrant, colourful cocktails. This trend for smaller appliances was part of the reason we extended the Lec Commercial bottle cooler range in 2015 with the launch of the EssenChill countertop appliances.

LEC Commercial bottle coolerWhat are the main factors that operators need to bear in mind when specifying bottle coolers?

Malcolm Harling, sales and marketing director, Williams: Each model needs to be designed to deliver the optimum combination of aesthetics and functionality. They need to maximise the display area and look good while delivering high performance refrigeration. Coping with the demands of a busy venue means backbar bottle coolers have to operate efficiently and maintain temperature as bottles are taken out, stock replenished and doors continually opened and closed. It also has to be robust enough to survive a punishing level of wear and tear, as well as being reliable, easy to clean and easy to maintain. Glass doors and effective lighting ensure an attractive display, while adjustable shelves enable different sized bottles and cans to be stored efficiently and easily restocked. Variable thermostats allow operators to set the optimum temperature, between 4°C and 10°C, to suit the environment, customer preference and any specific requirements of the beverage.

Juan Carlos Fernández, export area manager, Infrico: You need to consider how many times the door will open every shift, as bottle coolers are typically opened hundreds of times in some working periods. In that instance, a chest bottle cooler under the counter might be a more suitable recommendation. Nice LED lighting will display the product at the backbar, while the endurance of units with no hinges is much higher. The efficiency is especially advantageous, as the cold air doesn´t go out every time a bottle is picked up.

Nick Williams: As well as looking good, bottle coolers need to be energy efficient and keep drinks at a steady 3°C to 8°C. If stock is left in the bottle coolers overnight, then look for lockable doors to ensure security when the cooler is not in use. To accommodate your specific requirements, look for manufacturers that offer a comprehensive range of bottle coolers. For example, one-door, two-door and three-door versions.

We are seeing a trend in specific designs, with sales of hinged doors outperforming the traditional sliding door variants”

Adam Hill: Dimensions and capacity are by far the biggest considerations for any business. Too small, service will be impacted during key trading periods. Too large, and efficiency rates will be compromised. While considering efficiency, operators should be looking at how the appliance will perform during its lifetime. What type of refrigerant gas is used and is this efficient? What is the expected running costs compared to another appliance?

Steven Harris: When it comes to backbar refrigeration, choosing a model that is energy efficient is crucial for operators looking to keep running costs low and their carbon footprint to a minimum. The newest editions to our range offer improved energy efficiency, including the use of LED lights and an environmentally-friendly refrigerant gas (R600a). Other familiar features include an integral temperature controller and auto-defrost function, adjustable shelves and auto self-closing, lockable doors.

Gary Barnabus: The main driving factors are always derived from the type of venue. Sports grounds and theatres require fast services, therefore top-loading bottle coolers are better. Nightclubs require fast pull down times and subtle lighting. The last thing anyone wants is warm beer or wine and flood-lighting behind the bar. The trend for open refrigeration areas in cafes and bars also requires a good-looking fridge, one that customers feel they are buying a quality product from. Therefore, a cheap plastic unit says a lot for the establishment, what they think of the customer and the type of products they want to sell. Performance and economy are not always the best bedfellows but this is what everyone has come to expect. But this does come at a cost. Controllers and probes, highly insulating glass and up-rated insulation are all pretty fixed costs across the world, so there is no getting away from the cost. It’s the old adage that you get what you pay for.

Polar bottle coolerWhat are the biggest technological advances taking place in this product category? Is it still very much about the lighting and the efficiency of the fans and insulation?

Nick Williams: Energy efficient LED lighting and fans are important but Precision has also made a further technological advance to save energy and to prolong the working life of their bottle coolers. We’ve been using ‘wire on tube’ condensers on our bottle coolers for a couple of years now. These condensers are virtually maintenance-free as it’s far harder for them to become blocked with dust like conventional condensers. This is especially important with bottle coolers as they are mostly built-in so access to clean condensers is often difficult. These condensers not only save energy, but also prolong the life of the bottle cooler as the refrigeration system runs in a much cooler environment.

Adam Hill: With the exception of some of the entry level models on the market, most manufacturers have moved over from traditional lighting systems to the very latest in LED technology. It offers a greater life, therefore reducing wastage and replacement costs. And not only does LED lighting stay cool to maintain the temperature inside the cooler, but it produces a cleaner, crisper light to effectively display the contents within. When it comes to energy efficiency, an operator drive for the very best in sustainability has led to brands putting more emphasis on using efficient refrigerant gasses, improved manufacturing techniques and superior insulation in order to maintain temperature within the appliance.

Look for welded construction rather than extruded doors as these are the first things to go”

Malcolm Harling: Energy efficient LED lighting is still important, since it enhances the look of the food and produces little in the way of waste heat, as is insulation. The better the insulation, the more thermally efficient the cabinet will be, which is why Williams uses high density 75mm polyurethane insulation. It provides excellent thermal efficiency with low Global Warming Potential and zero Ozone Depletion Potential. ‘Intelligent’ control systems, such as Williams’ CoolSmart Controllers, are designed to minimise the cabinet’s energy consumption through processes such as fan and heater pulsing, intelligent defrost and independent management of evaporator and condenser fans.

Juan Carlos Fernández: Last year we developed a bottle cooler with a monoblock cooling system and our new ERV models have been developed with this system in order to be equipped with R290a gas, and to be easily repaired at a technician’s workshop. We have also focused on allocating the controller on the top. Often end-users complain that the condensed water on the glass door drips down, damaging the controller.

VENTUS_V135_POLISHED_SS_LEFT_02Given the widespread availability of bottler coolers on the market, are there any things that operators should be wary of when purchasing this kind of kit?

Gary Barnabus: In this category you really do get what you pay for. Look for welded construction rather than extruded doors as these are the first thing to go. Just look at the bar person taking a beer out — what do they lean on most! A crooked door not only looks awful but has a huge knock-on effect with regards to performance and economy as it allows air to escape and compressors to work unnecessarily. When thinking of the environment, take all factors into consideration, including materials used, end-of-life recycling and distances travelled. Also, if you are thinking long-term, think of the replacement market. Is your model going to be out of production next year? Can you get hold of spare parts? There is nothing worse than that odd looking fridge in the middle of the run.

Glenn Roberts: It is not acceptable for customers to receive a room-temperature drink that is best served chilled and operators risk losing both initial sales and return custom if this happens. Therefore, having a reliable piece of refrigeration is vital. There is a range of Gram products that are ideal for front-of-house use and for bar operators looking to put bottles on display and serve ready-chilled, such as the KG210 and KG310 models from our Compact range. All of these units have been designed specifically to display products, with a white inner lining and matching white wire shelves for optimal light effect, making the products stand out.

Malcolm Harling: The supply of spare parts, service and after-sales support should be critical factors in any catering equipment buying decision. Always buy from a reputable manufacturer that has a ready stock of spare parts and good after-sales support. Williams Bottle Cooler - BC2

Steven Harris: It’s worth thinking about where your cooler is displayed. If it’s visible to customers, operators should factor this in when choosing a model. The attractive display of bottles can really catch a customer’s eye — particularly if they spot a brand familiar to them. Glass-fronted doors are a must.

Juan Carlos Fernández: I can’t speak for my competitors, but I can say that everybody asks about the brand of the compressor and the controller. Nobody asks about the type of gaskets or hinges, and yet those features are so important to a bottle cooler.

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