Ready, Prep, Go! Food Trends and Operating Challenges are Driving Demand for Food-Prep Equipment

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Trends toward healthy eating, plant-based lifestyles and farm-to-fork philosophies have continued to push a shift away from the use of pre-processed food in the foodservice industry. Such changes are leading restaurants to do an increasing amount of food-prep fresh on site and driving demand for equipment to streamline the process.

As Lance Brown, sales manager for Dynamic Mixers explains, since the early 2000’s, “as the industry [has been] transitioning incrementally from ‘pre-packaged’ to ‘fresh’ there has been a spike in demand for all equipment that can enhance ‘from-scratch’ preparation.”

For example, Todd Clem, director of Product Management for Globe Food Equipment, says his company had seen a surge in operators making gourmet burgers onsite, which has driven demand for equipment to grind and mix the meat, as well as patty presses to finish the process.

“We’ve [recently] added a few smaller food-prep items that were relatively inexpensive to meet some new demand,” says Clem. “We came out with new accessories that would actually go onto the hub of a mixer to make the mixer cross functional, but we also created a tabletop power-drive unit for those that don’t have a mixer, but still like all those attachments.” Attachments include a meat chopper and slicer/shredder/grater housing, each compatible with a variety of plates.

He also notes tools that can be used for a variety of tasks have seen growing interest — particularly with catering operations.

HOT-TICKET ITEMS
The suppliers agree, immersion blenders have become hot items. Robot Coupe’s international sales manager, John Zuga, credits this to the equipment’s versatility, which can be applied to a wide range of operations — whether it’s for dressings, sauces or soup.

As Brown explains, “20 years ago this particular product segment was considered ‘very European,’ but that mindset in North America has changed dramatically with the industry quickly understanding the benefits. As everyone knows, efficiency has a positive effect on cost savings, whether it’s labour or food and beverage.”

Their popularity recently led Globe to add immersion blenders to its lineup. “There’s a lot of people that use immersion blenders, so we [looked for] a way that we could create a product that was near the price point of the lower-priced units and actually has the durability and reliability of the higher-price units,” Clem says of the new five-model line.

At Robot Coupe, Zuga says its vegetable-prep machines, such as the CL 50, are in demand across a variety of segments, including multi-unit restaurant operators such as Mary Brown’s Chicken & Taters and Sunset Grill. “These machines are used by a lot of multi-units for everything from cutting fresh fries, to dicing tomatoes, onions, peppers and salad prep,” he explains, noting the CL (Coupe Legumes) line is engineered to run at a speed that ensures precise cuts.

Players in the grocery segment have also turned to this product to help meet demand for pre-cut produce and prepared meals — offerings that exploded during COVID-19 lockdowns. “It’s been a big driver for our business and we see that as something that’s going to continue,” Zuga explains.

The pandemic accelerating shifts to takeout- and delivery-focused models, Clem notes that certain market segments, such as, pizza were well positioned to succeed, impacting equipment demand. “The pizza industry has flourished [during this time] and, therefore, our mixer sales have flourished because they just haven’t slowed down. If anything, they’ve been able to grab market share where others were closing stores or struggling to figure out how to do carry out or delivery,” he says, adding that Globe’s ship-now business model was especially appealing to customers during this time.

EQUIPPING THE NEW NORMAL
Clem notes that, post-pandemic, there will likely be fewer people dining in restaurants, at least until customers get more comfortable being in public spaces. “That means restaurants need to be a lot more discerning in their offerings than they were in the past and [consider] how you differentiate yourself from the six other restaurants down the street from you. Fresh prep on site has to be part of that,” he explains. And, in the pursuit of this, pieces of equipment that lend themselves to the prep of a number of different items may be of greater interest.

“Some of the restaurateurs are going to be really strapped when they come back and their biggest expense is labor,” Zuga says. “We can — I hate to say — replace employees…As the restaurants reopen, it remains to be seen how many employees are coming back,” he adds noting that, with the right equipment, food prep that takes hours by hand can be cut down to a matter of minutes.

“We see it as an opportunity for us to add to our business and help the restaurant operator increase his bottom line by having fewer employees and being just as productive with our equipment,” Zuga explains. And, when it comes to the staff that do return to work, “if they have the right tools to work with, people are more satisfied with their jobs, tend to stay in one place and are happier and more productive.”

And, when it comes to cleanliness and safety, “We’re of the mindset that we’re actually going to benefit from the ability of our machines to produce a lot of food with just one person using it, rather than a lot of people having touched something [when doing] prep with a hand [tool],” shares Zuga. He also notes, that Robot Coupe’s products are designed to be easily disassembled for sanitizing.

“Food-and-beverage service establishments, regardless of their nature, will be forced into rethinking how to do things so they’re better fit to weather another storm. The three most important factors down the road will be efficiency, sanitation and safety, [as well as] how best to absorb the added costs of these, while understanding the demands from customer will grow. That’s the balancing act that will inevitably be the reality of the industry in the years to come,” says Brown. “Sanitation equipment, safety equipment and any other foodservice equipment that can help streamline an operation will benefit from these inevitable changes in the industry.”

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