Hot Commodity

Sterno SpeedHeat is a flameless, water-activated system that produces high-heat steam.

By Sara Perez Webber

Sterno’s Craig Carnes explains why the company’s newest flameless heating product is ideal for drop-off catering

In 1914, Sterno Canned Heat was launched. The chafing fuel was such a success, it’s become one of those brand names used interchangeably with the product itself.

“For more than 100 years, the name ‘Sterno’ has been synonymous with keeping food at an ideal and safe serving temperature,” says Craig Carnes, president of Sterno Products. “As one of the most recognized brands in the foodservice industry, we are committed to offering products that demonstrate superior quality, unwavering reliability and failure-proof confidence.”

To best meet the needs of the current catering landscape, Sterno debuted a product at the National Restaurant Association Show in May, available to the foodservice industry as of July—Sterno SpeedHeat. It’s a flameless, water-activated system that produces high-heat steam, with zero ramp-up time.

“We believe this is the most innovative portable heat system since the introduction of Sterno chafing fuel,” says Carnes, adding that interest from caterers has been “off the charts.”

“SpeedHeat is ideal for any quick-serve drop-off catering event,” he says. “It provides a safe, low-cost, flameless application that is quick and easy to set up. Quality food, delivered hot, can now be served at the ideal temperature without any waiting, and the entire system is easily disposable following the event.”

Catering Magazine recently spoke with Carnes in an exclusive first interview about this groundbreaking product.

CM: What need were you seeing in the marketplace that prompted the development of SpeedHeat?

CARNES: Drop-off catering is one of the largest areas of growth for us and is also one of the most diverse, ranging from business lunches and conference meetings, to home entertainment events for family and friends. These are often “quick-serve” events that in most cases last less than an hour. We found that traditional wire-rack chafing dish units requiring proper set-up, open flame and lengthy ramp-up times was not working well for these quick-serve events, often leading to a less-than-satisfying customer experience. The Sterno SpeedHeat System provides a safe, simple and fast solution to serving up a deliciously hot experience for the consumer.

CM:  How does the product work?

CARNES: SpeedHeat is a water-activated packet that rapidly produces high-heat steam with just 20 ounces of water. It comes with a special tray that holds the packets and can keep two half-size food pans hot for the duration of most drop-off catering events. No need for a water pan or wire rack, and no open flame at all. It can be set up anywhere since it doesn’t require any kitchen equipment or an electrical outlet.

SpeedHeat’s water-activated packet rapidly produces high-heat steam with just 20 ounces of water.

CM: How long was SpeedHeat under development?

CARNES: We never stop thinking about ways to expand our product portfolio and to improve the performance and safety of our existing product line. A flameless portable warming system is something we’ve had in varying stages of consideration and development for at least as long as I’ve been with Sterno, which has been nearly a decade. Now with the growth of drop-off catering, the timing of our SpeedHeat product solution is perfect.

CM: What are the top-selling Sterno products to the catering industry?

CARNES: Our chafing fuel continues to be the top choice among caterers for traditional catered events. Besides chafing fuels, we offer a full line of portable catering equipment that includes our WindGuard foldable chafer series. These units are designed to let our customers set up and serve outdoors, even in the breeziest conditions. We are also the industry’s leading supplier of butane fuel. Sterno Butane features an exclusive Temperature Safety Valve that, when used in conjunction with our butane stoves, makes it the safest on the market. Given the popularity of butane action stations, these industry-first safety features really make a difference to our customers.

CM: Could you describe Sterno’s partnership with Mercy Chefs?

CARNES: In 2017, Sterno Products joined forces with Mercy Chefs as an official philanthropic partner to help communities across the country respond to and recover from natural disasters and national emergencies. Founded in 2006, Mercy Chefs provides professionally prepared, restaurant-quality meals for victims, volunteers and first responders in the aftermath of hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires and non-nature related emergencies. Sterno provides financial support, as well as equipment and culinary production assistance.

CM: What other types of products does Sterno have under development, or is there any additional news you’d like to share with the catering industry?

CARNES: We continue to work closely with the catering community to develop products that enhance their brand and provide cost-saving solutions to serve food hot for all occasions. We recently introduced a new line of Sterno Delivery Products offering high-quality, antimicrobial lined insulated food carriers. Food can now be delivered hot and safe for all events and kept hot for just the right amount of time with either our new SpeedHeat System or with traditional Sterno Chafing Fuels.