The foodservice sectors most associated with sous vide cooking, such as banqueting or fine dining, have taken a major hit due to the coronavirus crisis. So can the technology be redeployed to fill gaps in alternative segments? Experts behind some of the industry’s most innovative sous vide equipment certainly think so.
How have sales of your sous vide appliances been affected by the Covid-19 impact?
Sandro Wulkan, managing director, Pantheon: We’re aware that our water baths and vacuum packing machines have been generating extra interest during the current pandemic. We’ve had a number of technical enquiries from end-users who have never used this type of equipment before and, through our dealers, we’ve seen a hike in sales. We even had an enquiry from an artisan marmalade maker who wanted to use one of our vacuum packers to remove air before sealing the jars! Although people are generally familiar with the concept of sous vide cooking, its various applications and benefits have suddenly become much more relevant to a wider market.
Mike Bass, sales manager, Henkelman: We have seen a stable market for Henkelman vacuum packing machines. Covid-19 has reiterated the benefits that vacuum packing brings to a business, along with the savings that can be made to keep vital money within the business.
Mark Hogan, commercial director, FEM: Sales of sous vide equipment have held up well throughout the pandemic. There’s a huge variety of foods that can be cooked sous vide, making these appliances incredibly versatile. At the same time, cooking results are predictable, consistent and the quality is high. What’s more, sous vide appliances are often relatively inexpensive. Consequently, operators have continued to invest in sous vide systems. In addition, chefs and caterers that have shifted their focus to home delivery and takeaways are using sous vide to prepare foods ahead of collection and delivery slots. There are considerable savings to be made as pre-preparation of food leads to accurate portion control, resulting in minimum food wastage.
Sectors renowned for using sous vide, such as banqueting, have largely been closed due to the pandemic. Can the technology be deployed in other ways?
Alex Shannon, managing director, Sous Vide Tools: Whilst hospitality venues are currently closed, vacuum packing in quantity, and the equipment required to do this, is something that chefs should be made aware of so that should another lockdown come along at short notice they are aware that this option is available to them instead of throwing food away. Vacuum packing machines can be used as a means of storing produce safely — for up to 12 months and without any freezer burn. And, obviously, sous vide has a role to play in helping them to deliver a delivery or takeaway menu during lockdown.
Melvin Dickson, managing director, Clifton Food Range: As Clifton Food Range water baths and circulators are portable tabletop appliances running from a standard 230v electrical supply, they can be easily moved around kitchens and separate locations as operators require. Contract caterers have had to adapt to their customers’ demands, such as additional staff restaurants for warehouse operatives in increasingly busy online retailers. Food distribution to more sites has become crucial to service the number of pop-up grab-and-go locations. The sous vide system of cook-chill-regenerate can help the distribution and provision of hot meals which can be regenerated at these sites. Similarly, as hotels and restaurants make more use of outside terraces, they need to have equipment closer to the point of service and being able to regenerate sous vide-prepared meals can provide this proximity. Using sous vide in environments like care homes brings benefits to the residents as much as to the operators.
Mark Hogan, FEM: Sous vide is becoming increasingly popular and sous vide technology continues to be developed, so there are growing opportunities for these appliances to be used in new sectors. As we’ve already noted, takeaway is a big area for sous vide. Here, the quality of the food produced is going to be increasingly important as competition gets stiffer — and sous vide delivers in spades when it comes to great quality results.
Mike Bass, Henkelman: Vacuum packing is used across multiple sectors — hospitality, butchery, meat processing, takeaways, size reduction to name a few. Extending shelf life, portion control, sous vide, protection against freezer burn and size reduction for other sectors are major benefits of using a Henkelman vacuum packing machine. Many restaurants are offering takeaways and ‘finish at home’ boxes. Vacuum packing allows businesses to portion control, keep products fresh for longer and get the product to the end-user efficiently and effectively.
Sandro Wulkan, Pantheon: The overall message is that food wastage can be minimised and staff time in the kitchen can be utilised to best effect. Also, it’s worth pointing out that post-Covid, there will be multiple other uses for the machines. For example, vacuum packing machines can be used by pastry chefs for compressing fruits and by bartenders for instant infusions as part of cocktail making.
Can sous vide appliances assist in batch cooking within production kitchens or ghost kitchens — facilities which are still operational at the moment?
Melvin Dickson, Clifton Food Range: Sous vide cooking equipment works perfectly well with the format of dark kitchens. These growing facilities respond to a high demand for delivered food and therefore advanced preparation of pre-cooked, high quality food using sous vide water baths speeds up delivery time leading to customer satisfaction. From the foodservice operator’s point of view, accurate portion control, reduced food wastage and greater yield all lead to improved margin.
Alex Shannon, Sous Vide Tools: Absolutely! This is already really big in America where Pret A Manger is using a large ghost kitchen facility to distribute its food right across New York. The benefits are threefold. Firstly, the consistency of sous vide cooking means that every product cooked is exactly the same high quality. Secondly, the yield is maximised for every product. And thirdly, the vacuum packing and sous vide cooking process offers the highest levels of food hygiene, which is especially important right now. We fully expect more and more dark kitchens to open across the UK using sous vide cooking as this will reduce the requirement for individual sites to have their own on-site kitchen as food can be cooked and delivered directly to the store or to the customer via services such as Deliveroo.
Sandro Wulkan, Pantheon: Because many establishments are diversifying during the current restrictions, sous vide cooking can prove a cost-effective vehicle when providing a home delivery or takeout service. By batch cooking various dishes, portioning them into sous vide bags and vacuum packing them, chilling them and then either freezing or refrigerating them, a restaurant can function with minimal staff and generate a wide range of dishes with virtually no food wastage.
Mike Bass, Henkelman: Simply put, yes. Portion control has never been more important. Pennies matter and by using a vacuum packer portion control is effortless. This runs alongside protecting a product. When vacuum packed, the product is protected against freezer burn and does not spoil. Extending the shelf life of products to reduce wastage is a further saving for businesses to consider during these times.
Mark Hogan, FEM: With the growing availability of affordable and easy-to-use sous vide cooking equipment, the process is becoming increasingly popular across different foodservice sectors, allowing chefs to batch cook in high volumes and prepare food ahead of service. The reason for its popularity in ghost kitchens is that sous vide allows for advanced preparation of pre-cooked, high-quality food. It also gives accurate portion control, reducing food wastage and thus giving greater yields.
Mike Bass, Henkelman: We have not, but the sectors have evolved to survive during the pandemic and vacuum packing has been utilised. Many business owners realise the machines are important pieces of equipment, but now they are regarded as vital within the business. Machines continue to go out from our warehouse in Kent across the UK, and our team of engineers are being kept busy servicing to ensure they are in optimal condition to support the businesses using them.
Alex Shannon, Sous Vide Tools: We haven’t really adapted them for alternative use, but we have been trying to help out in other ways. For example, we have been running a trade-in promotion and any machines that we receive as part of this are being refurbished and then donated to local good causes. We have provided a vacuum packer to one local food charity and they told us recently that over the course of the pandemic it has been used to create more than 140,000 meals for local people.
Melvin Dickson, Clifton Food Range: The use of sous vide cooking has increased as restaurants have adjusted to takeaway, delivery and recipe boxes. As all Clifton Food Range products are manufactured in Britain, we have been able to respond quickly to demand for the larger capacity water baths favoured by dark kitchens and portable immersion circulators which can be fitted to any gastronorm container including 56 litres. With products manufactured and stocked in the UK — and therefore not affected by delays or increased costs due to Brexit or worldwide shipping — we have the agility to meet short delivery lead times as our dealers meet the changing needs for equipment.