Despite once being thought of as an option purely for smaller venues, plug and play equipment solutions now take pride of place in a whole host of foodservice settings, from pub groups and QSRs through to concessions and ghost kitchens. Here are 5 trends engulfing this growing category…
1. Cuisine trends shape demand
With kitchens getting smaller, portable plug and play equipment is a real bonus for many operators, says Neil Richards, managing director at Metcalfe Catering Equipment.
“The variety of restaurants opening in the UK continues to grow and many of these restaurants have very unique cooking and preparation styles, so we expect to see a growth in demand for plug and play equipment that is specifically suited to these cuisines, whether they be Asian, South American or a fusion of more than one style.”
Another factor that is often overlooked is the consistency that plug and play equipment can offer, notes Richards.
“For example, if a group operator is looking to replicate a particular product or dish, maybe even turning it into a signature item, then having a specific piece of equipment for the job is really important. One of the biggest challenges is when it comes to educating operators in relation to using the right equipment for a job. Too often we see operators wasting time and money by trying to use a piece of equipment to do a job for which it was not designed.”
2. Flexibility and affordability
Plug and play equipment definitely has its place in small professional kitchens with limited counter space, but it can also be valuable in bigger kitchens required to produce food in large quantities. For this reason, Clifton Food Range offers a broad choice of sous vide equipment for different requirements and capacities.
This flexibility makes plug and play appliances an attractive proposition in many commercial kitchen scenarios, while the cost advantages are more pertinent than ever in the current climate.
Melvin Dickson, managing director at Clifton Food Range, said: “Following another hard trading year for hospitality businesses in 2021, capital expenditures are still under review meaning that food operators will still be cautious with their spending and will likely look at more affordable kitchen equipment in 2022. Purchase decisions led by budgets will certainly be in favour of plug and play equipment this year.”
3. The space race
As traditional foodservice businesses look to maximise their dining space, grab-and-go concepts appear in increasingly compact sites and the rise of dark kitchens sees high street locations focus on finishing rather than full prep, available space in kitchens is being squeezed.
As such, the importance of using equipment that delivers maximum flexibility on a minimal footprint is key — an area that plug and play appliances can excel.
Steve Elliott, sales director at Valentine and CuisinEquip, comments: “The plug and play market is set to continue to grow in 2022, driven predominately by the ongoing squeeze on kitchen size and the growth of dark kitchens across the industry.
“As operators continue to look for versatility and flexibility from their equipment, and with investment being constrained by budgets, the focus on smaller, portable and ultimately cheaper equipment is likely to drive the market for plug and play appliances. The challenge is likely to be around stock and availability given the ongoing problems with logistics and supply that have impacted much of the foodservice market.”
4. Two types of buyer
With spiralling energy costs and a commitment by the UK government to end the use of coal by 2025 there is a new attitude among chefs to use energy efficient kit that has more functionality, is better designed and more cost-effective to run.
Exclusive Ranges offers a number of plug and play products, including Menu System griddle plates and induction hobs, and managing director Trevor Burke says they can be a vital asset for satellite kitchens and smaller operations that aren’t able to install a full cooking range or operators that need to cook on a back bar or front of house as they come with a very compact footprint.
“As with most equipment, the biggest challenge facing suppliers is one of cost, and justification of the price tag,” he says. “For plug and play, we see two types of buyer. There are those who regard these products as a ‘disposable’, cheap fix for a short-term solution. They will break it and bin it. And there are those who see items of plug and play as extensions of the equipment in the main kitchen. A good analogy would be that the iMac Pro is to the main cooker as the Macbook Air is to the portable induction plate.”
5. Changing perceptions
With demand for takeaway, quick-serve and delivered foods set to rise to new heights in 2022, Jestic Foodservice Solutions is predicting that demand for plug and play pieces of commercial equipment, such as high-speed ovens, will continue to soar, too. It is for this reason that it has committed to holding a significant level of XpressChef stock.
“On the flip-side, one of the biggest challenges we foresee will be changing long-engrained perceptions of plug and play equipment — these being that they are best used in cafes, for heating paninis, toasties and muffins,” says Lee Cogger, brand manager for XpressChef at Jestic.
“XpressChef high-speed ovens have capabilities that far surpass this: from grilling salmon and baking cakes, right through to steaming vegetables and poaching. The amount of food items that an operator can create when utilising a high-speed oven to its full potential is endless!”