It’s somewhat fitting that equipment development in the ice machine, ice-cream maker and frozen-dessert categories has been moving at a glacial pace for decades. “Things don’t move as much [in the ice-machine industry],” says Murray Meyer, who spent years working with fast-moving tech companies such as Research In Motion (now BlackBerry) and Motorola before taking on a less frantic role as director of Product Management for Florida-based ice-machine maker Manitowoc Ice. “You don’t have nearly the resources and engineering, although it’s becoming more sophisticated.”
“When it comes to ice machines, it’s hard to innovate,” agrees Stephanie Perry, president of Permul Foodservice Equipment in Mississauga, Ont., which has distributed brands including Hoshizaki ice machines for more than three decades.
However, new regulations from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) requiring commercial ice machines to be more energy efficient has caused several prominent manufacturers, including Hoshizaki, Manitowoc and Ice-O-Matic, to re-engineer their products. “Either you’re going to be non-compliant and can’t sell, or you’d better get your act together,” says Perry. “It forced the engineering departments to re-examine our machines.”
The DOE regulations have broad implications for the ice-machine market, which a 2015 report from ReportsnReports.com pegged as a US$5-billion market, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 7.4 per cent through 2019.
Meyer says the company’s Manitowoc brand recently introduced a new line of ice machines under the Indigo NXT brand name. The line is the result of 30 months of product development, 500,000 hours of testing and millions of dollars in development costs.
A replacement for its six-year-old Indigo line, the NXT product line offers both simplicity and ease of use through a 2.8-inch, full-colour, icon-based touchscreen display, offering one-touch access to information, a service menu, reminders and alerts. The NXT products also use Manitowoc KitchenConnect for remote 24/7 monitoring, while the company has also switched from R-404A refrigerant to the more efficient — and greener — R-410A.
The Indigo NXT units also boasts what Meyer calls “next-level sanitation” through an optional feature called LuminIce, which creates what the company describes as “active air” by recirculating the air inside the food zone over a UV light in order to inhibit the growth of yeast, bacteria and other microorganisms. He says the LuminIce unit — which costs about $300 to install — is capable of saving owners the equivalent of one cleaning per year, which translates to roughly $1,500 in savings over the average 10-year lifespan of the machine.
The Hoshizaki ice machines, distributed by Mississauga, Ont.-based Permul, feature EcO3Ice — a new aftermarket anti-microbial ice-protection system developed by Franke Foodservice Systems.
According to company literature, the $600-system attaches to the incoming water line, creating a small amount of pure ozone within the water supply, which kills microbes and inhibits bacteria growth along the ice-making path. Franke says trace amounts of ozone in the ice also enable it to sanitize bins and dispensers beyond the machine. Perry says many foodservice operators mistakenly take a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to ice machines, only paying attention to the unit when it comes time for the annual cleaning or if it breaks down. The problem, she says, is many of these machines are often located in environments that are a breeding ground for mould and other bacteria, such as basements and loading docks.
“People are naïve about ice machines,” says Perry. “They think clean water is coming out and these crystal-clear ice cubes are dropping, but that machine is susceptible to bacteria build-up and mould because of the presence of water, darkness and heat. It’s like a petri dish. If you’re a bar, this machine is massively influential on the product you’re putting out, and yet, people aren’t spending the time to maintain them and ensure what’s coming out of them is sanitary.”
Perry says operators are slowly becoming more receptive to the EcO3Ice system, despite initial hesitancy. “It’s a challenging sale because the chains don’t feel the responsibility,” she says. “They feel it’s an owner/operator initiative and the owner/operator looks at it and says ‘I’ve just had a minimum-wage increase so I don’t have $600 to spend right now’ and they’ll look the other way and pretend it’s not dirty.”
The pace of change is similarly sluggish in ice cream. Paul LeClerc, sales manager with Serve-Canada Food Equipment in Richmond Hill, Ont., says the most notable trend is the emergence of smaller, countertop-based machines that reflect increased consumer interest in high-quality, small-batch products and a migration to more visually appealing products. “It’s trying to not make the equipment look so institutional, which our industry has had a habit of doing over the years,” says LeClerc. “Consumers are increasingly seeing the equipment being used, so you want to make sure it’s got some nice lines.”
The Waring MX1500XTX commercial blender, for example, features what LeClerc calls “eye candy” in the form of a blue backlit LCD screen, as well as a sound-enclosure feature that eliminates blending noise that could potentially disturb customers.
It also boasts a 3.5HP motor capable of operating at speeds of 30,000 RPM (45,000 RPM when pulsing) as well as a programmable keypad that enables its speed to be adjusted in one-per-cent increments from 15 to 100 per cent.
Waring claims the machine is capable of producing between 75 and 99 drinks per day. LeClerc jokes that the standard market reaction to these enhanced features is “does it cost more?”
The Waring MX1500XTX costs approximately $1,000 — significantly more than the company’s first product, the Miracle Mixer blender, which is said to have retailed for $29.75 when it debuted at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago in 1937.
Written by Chris Powell