SPECIAL REPORT: How green is your kitchen?

Bar Boulud charcuterie

No operator wants to see their profits swallowed up by soaring energy bills. But failure to get a grip on production processes and manage equipment efficiently can impact margins tremendously. So what factors do operators really need to bear in mind to ensure their kitchens are green and sustainable? FEJ, in association with Induced Energy, goes in search of the answers.

As any foodservice operator seeking to replenish their kitchens with the latest power-saving devices will know, there is no shortage of information out there on energy efficient catering equipment.

But unfortunately it rarely means the decision-making process is simple, with buyers often left frustrated by what they perceive as contradictory or confusing details, especially in the absence of any universal standards governing energy usage.

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If there is one organisation that understands the challenges of establishing frameworks for benchmarking catering equipment efficiency better than most, it’s CESA, the UK trade association for catering equipment suppliers and importers.

“For years CESA has been lobbying governments to establish standards and benchmarks that would allow operators to compare the energy efficiency of different manufacturers’ models, and the association is directly involved in developing the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Directives,” explains director Keith Warren.

“It is understandable that manufacturers make conflicting claims, because in nearly every equipment category there are no set criteria or standards against which they can all be measured. The exception is refrigeration, where the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling directives that came into force in July 2016 have set clear benchmarks against which different models can be compared. Currently this only applies to counters and upright cabinets. In the future other types of refrigeration, and other categories of catering equipment, such as ovens and warewashers, will fall under the directives — but it takes time to establish fair standards and tests.”

In the interim, operators need to talk to suppliers they trust to get advice on the best product for the job they need doing, suggests Warren. “They need to establish which equipment will fulfil the specific role, with the lowest operating costs. In some cases there may be third party accreditation, such as the Carbon Trust, which can be useful in helping make decisions.”

Operators should have no qualms asking manufacturers to validate their claims. Most should be able to transparently illustrate how they arrive at their calculations while any third party endorsement or verification will invariably offer additional reassurance.

Steve Hobbs, managing director of Grande Cuisine, admits comparisons are difficult to make when there is no uniform testing standard.

“Take induction for example — one of the critical factors is the quality of the pan because its ferritic properties will dictate how well it works on an induction hob. So, unless identical pans are used for testing each unit the results will never be a true comparison. Without a universal standard it’s very difficult to compare our units against competitors’ products because the testing environment and operating conditions are never going to be the same. My advice would be to try and trial a piece of equipment before you buy it, or at least ask the manufacturer to put you in touch with an existing user and get their feedback.”

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Kitchen house ABDA is involved in the design, supply and servicing of commercial catering environments. And as business development manager Stephen Ryan notes, the manufacturer sales pitch is all well and good but the proof often doesn’t come until after installation. He thinks it’s essential that the kitchen designer and operator are on the same page from the outset when it comes to executing the brief.

“You may require an energy efficient product, however if the item cannot cope with the demand or capacity required for the outlet then it may become counter-productive and become a cost and less energy efficient due to breakdowns,” he says.

Ryan points out that sustainability isn’t purely linked to the power usage of equipment. “You have to think right down to the detail of carbon footprints in all areas, so an engineer driving a diesel-powered van to a site once a month may end up being more of a damaging factor to the environment than the equipment offered saving in the first place,” he notes.

Operators shouldn’t forget about the actual manufacturing process either if they really want to be as eco-friendly as possible, he says. “Take for example the new Unox factory in Italy which is now totally solar powered and giving electricity back to the board. Equipment can be the most energy efficient item in the kitchen, however if the factory it is produced in has a large carbon footprint this can offset the benefits.”

To bring it full circle, service has to be considered too. Embedded energy costs are often a priority at the point of sale, but if left without any routine maintenance, the energy figures quoted are unlikely to be the same towards the middle or end of an appliance’s operational life as they are at the start.

It is understandable that manufacturers make conflicting claims because in nearly every equipment category there are no set criteria or standards against which they can all be measured” 

“Energy efficiency can only be maintained throughout the equipment’s working life with regular servicing and maintenance by professional kitchen or refrigeration engineers, keeping units operating within the manufacturers’ guidelines,” insists Simon Machin, marketing manager at Serviceline.

“Gas burners need regular attention to ensure they are operating correctly. Software needs updating with increasing regularity. Thermostats naturally deviate from their factory settings and need recalibrating. Wear and tear on door seals allows heat escape. Purchasers must also allow for the human factor. Operators play a significant role in conserving energy through their day-to-day activities such as propping coldroom doors open while taking deliveries, switching gas ranges on first thing to warm up the kitchen temperature and running the dishwasher for a couple of mugs. These may be minor incidents done once a day, however they all have a detrimental effect. If you extrapolate these over the course of the year the expenditure soon adds up.”

Making gains

Operators need to take responsibility for the areas that they can directly influence and control to reduce energy and utilities waste. For example, water costs a lot to heat — so look for warewashers, coffee machines, kettles and so on that have energy-saving features.

Typically a more efficient model may cost 20% extra to buy, but reduced running costs should deliver a payback within two years or less. Most equipment lasts five to eight years, giving between three and five years of saving.

According to The Carbon Trust, around 25% of the energy used in catering is expended in the preparation, cooking and serving of food. By far the largest proportion of this energy is consumed by cooking apparatus and much of this is wasted through excessive use and poor utilisation.

But there are other important areas to consider, too. In terms of warewashers, 90% of carbon emissions, and therefore energy usage, occurs during the in-use phase of a warewasher. Look for products that re-use, recycle, reduce or save consumption of natural resources, suggests Winterhalter’s marketing manager Paul Crowley.

Its Energy and Energy Plus models, for instance, recycle the energy from the machine’s steam and waste water, which would normally escape when the door is opened or waste water drained, to heat the incoming cold water. “This helps cut energy usage but can also eliminate the need for additional extraction,” he says.

Paul Anderson, managing director of Meiko, supports the view that the greatest gains come from choosing the latest advances, such as heat recovery. But ‘efficiency’ also comes in the planning of the dishwash operation itself, he comments. “That is where you need a company with knowledge and passion for dishwashing. Something as simple as a good old fashioned ‘soak sink’ for cutlery eliminates the need for secondary washing, a huge energy saver.”

Manufacturers will invariably arrive at their calculations using different methods given the lack of industry benchmarks for all but refrigeration equipment, meaning operators are advised to ensure that any data they crunch is based on factors that accurately reflect their likely usage, such as number of covers.

Stephen Ryan at ABDA proposes exploring alternative methods of cleaning pots, pans and plates. “There are other ways such as granule dishwasher systems that remove the need for pre-soaking, which reduces water consumption and the cost of heating the water,” he remarks. “It also reduces the amount of chemical used and remember energy is used when producing chemicals,” he adds.

On the cooking side, it is impossible to talk about energy efficiency without discussing induction. Nic Banner, sales director at Induced Energy, insists induction is the perfect partner for reduced energy usage, lower operating cost and a raft of knock-on benefits that induction brings for caterers.

“Induction is by far the most energy-efficient cooking method. It is 50% more energy efficient than halogen and 86% more energy efficient than gas. Extraction costs will also be significantly reduced and, of course, there is no requirement to install expensive gas cut-off equipment.”

catering energy crop

Induction also lends itself to front-of-house environments too. Induced Energy offers an ‘Invisible Cooking Suite’ that allows chefs to prepare, cook and hot-hold food on one surface. Available in single, twin- and four-zone units, the unit is ideal for business and industry catering, school servery counters, offshore catering, open kitchens and cookery schools.

“As there is no heat transference from the induction hob to the lava stone, it is possible to touch the top with an unprotected hand. This allows the operator to cook front-of-house with the knowledge that if their guests touch the cooking surface it is not possible for them to sustain any form of injury,” says Banner.

Advances in extraction and ventilation are also delivering huge benefits to kitchens now. The latest systems can detect cooking activity levels and reduce ventilation spaces in accordance with production. Some suppliers estimate that up to 70% of energy used in a kitchen comes from cooking equipment and around 80% to 90% of this disappears out through the extract canopy and into the atmosphere.

As with induction, suppliers of products such as cook and hold ovens insist their equipment reduces the demand on ventilation. Alto Shaam, for instance, points out that in most settings its ovens don’t require hoods or outside venting. This alone can save up to £30 per 16-hour day of operation on the basis that most traditional hoods cost up to £2 an hour to operate, it claims.

The Carbon Trust estimates that better practices and more efficient equipment could save the foodservice industry £250m every year, or 30% of total energy use. It thinks a critical element of this reduction comes from ‘better practices’. A lot of this is actually common sense, suggests CESA’s Keith Warren: “Turn equipment off if it’s not being used. Don’t prop open the fridge door. Fill up the warewasher before you turn it on. Always respond quickly to warning alerts from equipment. They are all easy enough — and they could save your business thousands of pounds every year.”

Simon Machin, marketing manager at Serviceline, says that in order to evaluate gains, kitchen operators must first have a system in place to monitor their energy output and expenditure. “Multi-site management will make the biggest gains if they have access to service and maintenance records online,” he argues. “They can then create a programme of maintenance activity and target the areas which yield the greatest benefits, including consistent execution across the chain.”

Its customers can use an online portal called ‘MyServiceline’, which provides access to service and maintenance records across their establishments, regardless of where they are in the country. “These tools save a great deal of time and effort for our customers preparing management reports, helping keep track of their equipment in terms of age and condition,” adds Machin.

Biggest myths

Traditionally one of the biggest reservations that operators have had about energy efficiency equipment is that it costs more. The reality is that often it does, initially. However, the savings over a product’s lifetime will usually far outweigh the extra upfront investment.

Interestingly, claim some experts, as energy prices increase, the payback is quicker on more expensive energy efficient equipment. So if you’re buying kit you expect to use for a minimum of two years, you could find it is actually cheaper to purchase the superior item with a higher ticket price.

There is a perception that energy efficient equipment is complicated and requires higher levels of maintenance to keep it at optimal performance. However, Steve Loughton, UK director at Hoshzaki, says that if you take an area like refrigeration, it’s no harder to manage than standard lines.

“Regular maintenance, correct positioning of a cabinet and stock rotation can increase lifespan, and placing in a well-ventilated area away from heat sources optimises performance,” he says. “Keeping the unit clean is incredibly important. Regularly checking gaskets to make sure they’re clean and fitting correctly will also ensure they are intact and don’t need to be replaced. Training staff how to inspect a unit thoroughly for dirt build-up, spillages, splashes and dust will enhance a unit’s life expectancy.”

There is a lack of understanding in what is being offered by manufacturers that the caterer does not currently work with”

Another issue is comparatives. Some manufacturers’ claims can be misleading, argues Winterhalter’s Paul Crowley. “For example, they may justly claim that consumption of ‘X’ or ‘Y’ are reduced — but may not tell the user that, in order to achieve that reduction, consumption of ‘Z’ is increased disproportionately,” he says.

Sometimes, he adds, achieving best practice in a kitchen is as good as investing in efficient equipment. “For example, less busy sites should only switch on equipment when it’s needed, rather than switching everything on at the start of the day. Cleaning and maintaining equipment thoroughly will keep products working optimally. Specifying well-manufactured products from the outset will mean, by default, they’re more efficient.”

When it comes to cooking equipment, the biggest myth as far as Nick McDonald, the former managing director of Lincat is concerned, is that kW equals energy consumption.

“It is much more complex than that,” he says. “Take our Opus 800 gas chargrills, for example. These have a high kW rating which allows the user to carbonise food deposits at the end of the shift to facilitate cleaning. However, in normal use, the energy efficient burners are used at a much lower setting.”

Sprint Bath-10

The reverse, though, applies to equipment such as gas fryers. “An operator might assume that higher kW/Btu ratings means higher output. Instead, what counts is the efficiency with which the fryer converts the input power into frying the food products,” explains McDonald.

It is also important for operators to keep their options open. It can be easy to think you are working with the most energy efficient supplier when actually there might be more favourable solutions available on the market.

“There is a lack of understanding in what is being offered by manufacturers that the caterer does not currently work with,” says Meiko’s Paul Anderson. “Some potential buyers forget to do the ‘basics’ such as comparing energy, water and chemicals consumption. Many, sadly, prefer instead to remain with the comfort factor of dealing with the same company that they have always dealt with.

“The market for any equipment will always change as new technologies are introduced. If energy efficiency is critical, then the customer must carry out the measuring and comparison, rather than being sucked into reading or discussing overcomplicated hype about this or that technical feature.”

The message for operators that want to reduce their energy costs is clear: challenge the facts, explore all avenues and seek testimonies from those that have trodden the same path.

Watershed moment for energy efficiency

On July 1st 2016, the EU Ecodesign Directive came into force, meaning that refrigeration manufacturers are now responsible for accurately labelling their unit’s energy consumption from A to G or triple A to G. The initiative is designed to help caterers transparently choose the most energy efficient equipment for their budget, helping them to meet internal targets, decrease their carbon footprint and ultimately reduce their annual energy bill. While minimum energy performance standards are currently limited to certain categories of refrigeration equipment, plans are afoot for cooking and warewashing platforms to follow suit in the near future.

BOX OUT 2 - Energy labelling

Induced Energy: an ambassador for energy efficiency

For many years, Induced Energy has been at the forefront of the induction cooking market, particularly in the UK. All products developed by Induced Energy are centred around a care for the environment and energy efficiency, while never compromising performance and controllability.

The company is committed to producing innovative, modern and unique products such as the iPlate, QuadroChef and the Invisible Cooking Suite, which are just a few examples of its latest creations.NEW LOGO

The rising cost of utility bills and associated costs of traditional cooking methods like open gas burners are some of the key reasons why Induced Energy believes induction cooking is the future. When utilising induction cooking you are not only saving on utility bills, but also on the requirement of expensive gas canopy extraction systems.

Operators who choose induction will create a better working environment for the staff and use less energy on ventilation — all of which creates a lower cost while reducing carbon footprint.

Tags : catering equipmentEcodesign Directiveenergy labellinggreen kitchenskitchenssustainability
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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