Merrychef insists its new conneX oven range will speed up service, reduce takeaway queues and maximise profits. FEJ editor Andrew Seymour headed to its burgeoning production facility in Sheffield where the ovens are made to find out how.
There is no getting away from it, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the parameters of foodservice and, in turn, the equipment that outlets require to conduct their daily operations.
Speed, flexibility, ease of use and reliability have all taken on added significance in this new trading environment, where profits directly correlate with how quickly items can be served.
Merrychef, the UK-based Welbilt brand that proudly equips some of the largest QSRs on the globe, is primed and ready to answer the needs of its customers with the launch of the conneX series — a “next-generation” product range that fans of its well-known eikon series will surely love.
Heralded as the “most compact high speed oven” the brand has ever produced, the space-saving appliance packs the sort of punch that Merrychef is confident will make it popular with everyone from independent coffee chains to multi-site franchises.
ConneX can cook, toast, reheat and grill using a digitally connected touchscreen controller that allows users to press, scroll and drag icons like a mobile phone. New easyTouch software facilitates customisation of both the display screen and the operation of the oven, providing the versatility to manage the level of interaction staff have with the controller and the flexibility to create a hot food menu to suit either very busy or slower-moving operations.
Featuring what Merrychef calls “perfectly balanced tri-pleX” technology, the combination of microwave, convection and impingement provides a powerful mix capable of accommodating a wide variety of menu items.
In-built oven statistics will visually demonstrate the performance of the oven and highlight usage aspects such as the oven door being opened before a cooking cycle is complete. Sales patterns can also be analysed, allowing users to instantly identify their most popular menu items and understand demand peaks throughout the day.
Global brand marketing manager, Helen Stone, says conneX has been designed to allow any team member in a kitchen to deliver consistent, quality hot food in a way that eliminates queues by ensuring they can serve customers while items are being cooked.
“The new product range is a combination of improving on what we know works and adding in new things that operators need in the new environment they are facing,” she explains.
Available in stainless steel or carbon black, conneX comprises two separate platforms: a unit with a 12-inch cavity and a unit with a 16-inch cavity. This is crucial, says Merrychef, because with a width of 14 inches and 18 inches respectively, the company has achieved its smallest footprint to cavity ratio yet.
“Previously our larger ovens were smaller cavities in a much wider footprint,” says Stone. “We know that space is important so to be able to provide such high volume products in a smaller footprint is something that we think is going to be fantastic in the market place.”
Operators can select from 37 languages, access an extensive media and audio library for food and instruction images, and choose from more than 100 pre-programmed recipes. Fully flexible programming allows the temperature, time, fan and microwave power to be set individually when a recipe is created, giving the flexibility to cook rapidly or bake slowly with limitless recipe storage.
As the name of the range suggests, connectivity is an important feature of the ovens and the way that Merrychef expects them to be used. As they are Wifi and Ethernet enabled, users will be able to access Welbilt’s Kitchen Connect platform, where they can monitor their ovens remotely, reconfigure settings and update menus at the swipe of a screen.
The sleek, streamlined appearance of the conneX series is a key and very deliberate feature of the design, too. “Everything is built within the unit so there is no visible button for switching it on and off or USB key,” explains Stone. “It’s hidden away for two reasons. One is sanitation — that is obviously a key thing and will continue to be going forward. Everything can be wiped down very easily. Secondly, these are connected ovens so hopefully there won’t be a need for USB sticks because there are far more efficient processes.”
Colin Lacey, VP and managing director of Merrychef, says the development of the ovens has been one of the most exhaustive R&D projects in the 15 years he has worked for the business – but he is delighted with the outcome.
“The fact they are connected and so easy to use is a game-changer in our industry,” he says. “They look great and they beat every single metric that we set out to achieve; the quietest, the most energy efficient, the easiest to clean and the most connectable product that we have ever designed. And it facilitates being able to do more, including accommodating the new business models being launched by operators.”
The new product range is a combination of improving on what we know works and adding in new things that operators need in the new environment they are facing”
Billy Thompson, director of product management at Merrychef, has worked at length with some of Merrychef’s most innovative customers to determine what they want from an accelerated cooking platform.
He is convinced the core attributes of the conneX range will be well-received by the industry after the turbulence of the last two years, especially in the food-to-go and retail arenas which remain a significant user base for the brand.
“What we saw during the pandemic was a bit of a split in coffee shops — the chains basically went down the digital, high speed route of being able to deliver at a very fast pace to the customer while they wait whereas the smaller chains doubled down on the craft, the relationship and the environment. In the time of a single transaction, we can make something fresh and of the highest quality. That is a massive trend and we see it going further.”
Importantly, notes Thompson, everything about conneX is geared around three things: hot food on demand, consistency and quality.
“That is really what we are offering to all of our customers — the ability to deliver exactly that. Customers don’t have to wait for top quality food, that’s number one. The second one is limited or no kitchen space. Quite often there is none at all, but with conneX they still can offer hot food and achieve the margins associated with that because you don’t need a vent.”
Thompson insists the installation of a Merrychef encompasses nothing more than taking it out the box, plugging it in and turning it on. “It is that simplistic,” he says. “It can serve all kinds of locations as long as you can meet the electrical requirements and have a stable surface to put it on.”
Merrychef also hopes that conneX provides customers with some instantaneous clarity when it comes to customers perceiving what the range entails and which model fits best with what they are looking for.
Lacey admits the company hasn’t always made it easy in the past in that regard — its eikon e2s model is faster than its e4S for example, while the eikon e5 is technically one of its slowest ovens but equally it’s also its largest.
“One of the challenges — and you’ll see it on some of our notice boards or sales brochures — is that it has felt like a product range but not a product family before. We made it a bit confusing, even for us internally, but going forward we want them to feel like each one is an extension of the next.
“In changing to conneX12 and conneX16 we made a decision to be very clear to customers about what they are getting and making it a proper family. 12 is a 12-inch cavity; 16 is a 16-inch cavity. We’ve tried to bring an almost automotive-style to it. With BMW you instantly recognise that the 3 Series sits here, the 5 Series is here and the 7 Series is here, and so on.
They beat every single metric that we set out to achieve; the quietest, the most energy efficient, the easiest to clean and the most connectable product that we have ever designed”
“I think that we now have a product platform that is scalable — in terms of the amount of product that you can put through — but which has that commonality across the board. The look, the feel, the operation, the components — all that is common and it becomes a family. They are instantly recognisable as the same product from the same stable.”
From being able to cook a cheese toastie in under a minute to a pre-baked, thin crust veggie pizza in 90 seconds, or even a meal of ribs, chicken wings and potato wedges in two minutes 20 seconds, Lacey is adamant Merrychef’s technology sets a new benchmark.
“We’re very proud of where we’ve got to and excited about it. We know our customers love Merrychef, and they are going to love this far more than they have ever loved Merrychef before. I am absolutely convinced of that.”
Merrychef conneX: Reliable DNA
1. High speed
Delivering speeds of up to 80% faster than a conventional oven from the smallest high speed oven footprint to cavity ratio on the market.
2. Compact and versatile
Largest cavity with the smallest footprint, saving space, with just one piece of equipment to cook a wide variety of food.
3. Easy to install
UL certified ventless, no extraction hood needed. Standard power units operate off a low amp plug.
4. Easy to use
Pre-programmable menus and an easyTouch icon-driven touchscreen guarantees high quality repeatable results. Eliminating language barriers and minimising training time, operating errors and food waste.
5. Energy efficient
Quick pre-heat and cool down times and low energy usage in standby reduces energy costs when the oven is not in use.
6. Operates quietly
Operates at (< 48 dbA), ensuring the customer environment is not interrupted.