Fridges are among the few pieces of restaurant equipment that run 24 hours a day, making them one of the biggest sources of electricity consumption. As operators look for new ways to cut costs after a challenging financial year energy-efficient fridges that can promise lower electricity bills are becoming a higher priority than ever before. The pandemic is also changing how restaurants use their fridges and even where they place them, leading to a growing interest in models that aren’t just functional, but look good, too.
“Energy Star-rated equipment has been very popular,” says Matt Roth, sales representative and Key Accounts at Mississauga, Ont.-based WD Colledge Co. “Considering operators, in light of COVID-19, have tightened their budgets, they’re looking for ways to save on energy.”
Roth adds many newer fridge models, such as the Federal Italian Glass Case ($14,000), feature LED lighting. “That not only saves on energy but the LED emits far less heat into the unit so the unit has to operate a lot less,” he says. In addition, the Federal has a high-tech compressor that is more selective about when it turns on and off, further enhancing the overall efficiency of the unit.
John Lilly, senior product analyst at True Refrigeration in Mississauga, Ont., says the company has switched over to LED lighting in all of its units, as well as changed to using an environmentally friendly refrigerant called R290. “[Changing] to that refrigerant has reduced our energy consumption between 18 to 41 per cent,” he says.
Roth notes that many of the “smart” fridges hitting the market can also help operators reduce their energy costs and ecological impact. “A lot of companies are switching over to a more advanced refrigeration system, so it’s more intelligent. It doesn’t just run arbitrarily, it comes on as needed,” he says. “That’s a big efficiency on the refrigeration.”
Choosing a smart, energy-efficient unit was a priority for Daniel Hoffer, Real Estate and Investment manager, at Kitchen Hub, a virtual food hall that acts as a satellite outpost for multiple restaurants.
Hoffer says Kitchen Hub’s new location, which is set to open in Toronto’s Dufferin and Castlefield area later this year, has about 1,500 to 2,000 of its 10,000 sq. ft. dedicated to refrigeration. “So, [refrigeration] represents a pretty significant portion of our floor plan,” says Hoffer, explaining the new facility has 10 walk-in boxes to accommodate the supplies of its many restaurant clients.
Kitchen Hub opted for a Hussmann Protocol High-Efficiency Unit. “Instead of having coils for each individual walk-in box, we’re able to have one unit that circles a refrigerant line around the facility and provides the cooling to each unit,” Hoffer says. “The high-efficiency unit is able to modulate which units need more energy at any given time, so it’s able to conserve energy because it’s not always operating at full capacity.”
Danny Collis, president of the Collis Group, says wireless temperature monitoring is another smart refrigeration feature that’s becoming increasingly widespread. “The evaporator coils are now coming with temperature-monitoring systems built into them,” he says. “So, you can be at home in the middle of the night and get a signal saying ‘we have a problem’ in cooler number five.’ This technology can be particularly helpful for operators with multiple locations or irregular opening hours who want to stay on top of temperature checks remotely.”
Collis also notes that blast chillers are becoming a popular adjunct technology for operators looking for other creative ways to minimize spending. “Blast chilling and blast freezing are very strong and getting stronger as a category,” he says. “That’s because operators are understanding the labour savings.”
The quick cooling capacity of blast chillers can improve ingredient shelf life and make it possible for staff to batch prepare food. “Every second food stays out, it lessens the life of it sitting in a freezer or fridge. If you can hold food longer in the refrigerator and the freezer, then that can cut back on your labour for preparation,” he explains.
It’s not just the technology behind refrigeration that’s changing, it’s also the types of units that operators are gravitating towards. Lilly says True has seen increased interest in its TOAM line of open-air merchandisers. “Historically, it has been beverage companies and supermarkets,” says Lilly of the line’s main customer base, “but you’re starting to see the transition now over to food and grab-and-go situations.”
Lilly says the shift in the application of the TOAM line is largely driven by the pandemic. Many operators are now using open-air merchandisers to shelve pre-ordered takeout, allowing customers to quickly pick up their orders with minimal contact. “We’re seeing these going into sandwich shops,” says Lilly. “The sandwiches are pre-made and then people are coming in and just grabbing the sandwich out of there and doing a cashless payment so they don’t touch anything.”
Lilly adds that the pandemic is also fuelling a trend towards custom-coloured fridges that better match a restaurant’s overall aesthetic. “You’re seeing a lot of these operators starting to get quite creative with how they utilize their equipment,” says Lilly. “Some bring it to the front of house because they can’t use half the dining- room anyway because of social distancing.”
Roth has also noticed that the aesthetics of fridges are becoming a more significant consideration for operators. “The look and feel of these units are also big now,” he says. “With people buying more pre-packaged goods, [operators] are looking for fridges with advanced LED lighting and more clear visibility of the product.”
Lilly says many operators have used downtime during the pandemic to renovate their spaces or even shift their business models completely, driving further demand for innovative refrigeration styles and unit colours that better fit their new needs. “They’re starting to want to put certain colours and certain finishes on it to bring a sexiness to it and to draw attention towards it and to whatever product is inside or whatever message they’re trying to convey,” he says.
True’s TOAM line, for example, features LED lighting underneath each shelf. “It gives brilliant light from a merchandising standpoint so it really makes the product inside look top-notch,” says Lilly. “A fridge is a workhorse but now we’re starting to see them become a piece of art.”
Written by Jessica Huras