Kitchen Talk


The “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!” gallery at The NAFEM Show in February featured 143 innovative foodservice equipment products.

Appliances and foodservice equipment continue to evolve, becoming safer, more efficient and even better-looking

By Sara Perez Webber

What are the latest and greatest kitchen technologies? How are appliances evolving to make working kitchens safer and more efficient? What products are on the market to help foodservice operators do their jobs better? Knowing the answers to those questions can make all the difference when it comes to buying the right equipment for your kitchen.

One place to learn a lot about those topics in a short amount of time is The NAFEM Show, which took place in Orlando in February. The North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers (NAFEM)—a trade association of more than 550 foodservice equipment and supplies manufacturers—holds the three-day show every two years. This year, more than 22,000 people attended—up 12 percent from 2015—and the 600-plus exhibitors represented a 9 percent increase from the previous show, according to Deirdre Flynn, NAFEM’s executive vice president. Exhibit space also increased, making this year’s NAFEM Show the largest to date.

Many of the show’s most innovative concepts were on display in the “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!” gallery, which featured 143 products. A few common themes wove their way throughout the product gallery.

“One of the key trends for products was labor savings,” says Flynn. “Whether the product was easier to clean or multi-purpose, freeing up time for workers—while offering a quality output for customers—was a common theme. Kitchen (and food) safety is always a top priority for equipment manufacturers. Many of the products had operator safety features related to preventing burns, cuts and slips. Lastly, technology continues to play an ever-increasing role—for labor savings and safety, for energy efficiency, and for continuing to improve product taste and delivery times.”

For their part, the buyers in attendance tended to be on the lookout for similar features. “For our attendees, it’s all about efficiency—water, energy, labor,” says Flynn. “There’s still a big draw for multi-purpose equipment as well. Buyers want flexibility as menus change along with food and flavor preferences. But for many attendees, they aren’t exactly sure what they are looking for, and so that’s why they attend. They know they can see all their options live and in-person.”

Food industry veteran Mark Finck, lab manager at Fisher-Nickel, a division of Frontier Energy, Inc., has been attending The NAFEM Show for more than 30 years, and says he’s still amazed at the new technology on display in the “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!” gallery. Finck’s background in the industry—he currently tests foodservice equipment for energy usage data in Fisher-Nickel’s Food Service Technology Center, and has extensive experience in all aspects of cooking equipment development, performance, application and efficiencies, including developing Burger King’s batch broiler system—gives him a keen perspective on emerging trends.

One trend Finck points out is the combi oven gaining market share in the U.S. The combination steam and convection oven, since it adds steam into the chamber for cooking, “can get higher yields, better penetration, increase the speed and remove flavor transfers, so it has a lot of unique features,” he explains.

For example, it can cook bacon. “A lot of places will tell you that if you want to sell something, put bacon on it,” says Finck. “But bacon cooking generates a lot of grease.” By cooking it in a combi oven, operators reduce fire risk and make clean-up much easier, as combis can self-clean with the push of a button. “An appliance that has some sort of a cleaning feature is another beneficial sales driver,” says Finck.

Innovations that are evolving the combi oven further include cook-chill solutions, says Finck. For example, Angelo Po’s BE-1 integrates the Combistar FX combi oven with the Blitz blast-chiller. The oven sits on top of the blast-chiller, and the operator controls them both with the same interface.

Attendees at The NAFEM Show check out appliances.

While the combi oven has been used widely in Europe for years, it’s been a tougher sell in the U.S., partly due to some chefs resisting new technologies and preferring to stick with traditional cooking equipment. However, technology is transforming nearly every appliance in the kitchen, notes Finck. “Fifteen years ago, electronics in cooking appliances were not very common,” he says. “It wasn’t thought to be durable enough for the kitchen environment. Now some appliances even work from a tablet or a smart phone. We want a lot of stuff to happen simultaneously, and we want to sense what’s happening so we can make adjustments.”

RATIONAL, for example, launched ConnectedCooking at the NAFEM show, marketing it as “the most cutting-edge cloud-based networking solution for professional kitchens.” After an operator connects one or more RATIONAL combi ovens to a cloud-based network, the networked units can be displayed and managed through the ConnectedCooking Device Management screen. Then operators can check up on processes remotely, monitor overnight cooking from home, transmit recipe settings to one or more units, and much more, all from their computer, smart phone or tablet. All RATIONAL appliances come equipped with Ethernet interfaces as a standard feature, so units manufactured after March 2017 can easily interface to ConnectedCooking.

Even an appliance as seemingly simple as the toaster is evolving due to more sophisticated technology, says Finck, pointing to Hatco’s new Toast-Quik Conveyor Toasters. The toaster features a digital touch-screen controller that’s “extraordinarily intuitive but with an incredible amount of precise information on it, and easy to program,” says Dan Frigo, owner and regional sales manager for Hatco Corp. “If you’ve ever played on a smart phone, you’ll be able to figure it out.”

The conveyer toaster can be programmed with up to eight settings matched to touch-screen icons—so operators can choose a bagel or waffle setting, or even a frozen waffle or room-temperature waffle setting. Furthermore, it can go into power-save mode either manually or automatically after a set amount of time. When something is then added to be toasted, the conveyor will automatically slow down as the toaster heats back up, for a consistent toasting. Hatco’s exclusive ColorGuard Sensing System also ensures toast comes out with a consistent color, as the conveyor will slow down imperceptively if the temperature decreases slightly.

The Toast-Quik Conveyor Toaster also demonstrates another trend—more attractive appliances designed to be used in the middle-of-the-house or front-of-the-house. “We were challenged by some of our customers to create a sexier toaster,” says Frigo. The streamlined redesigned toaster can be purchased in Designer Warm Red or Designer Black, as well as stainless steel, and has already been installed for customer interaction use at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. Frigo says Hatco is working on the technology to replace the touch-screen with a logo screen for customer-use applications.

Hatco has also introduced innovative technology to its new line of induction ranges. The Rapide Cuisine Countertop Induction Range (IRNG-PC1-18) was another product on display in “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!”. The unit’s Magnetic Power System analyzes the pan placed on top, and then recalibrates to deliver the maximum power. It also features a preset program mode, so up to six two-stage cooking profiles (either temperature or power plus time) can be programmed in for use at any time. Furthermore, the range features a USB port. Users can download updates or add modes through Hatco’s website. The modes will enhance the functionality of the unit, so operators can multitask and get more things done in the same footprint—another kitchen equipment trend.

“We’re bringing smarts to the induction cooktop,” says Edward Nunn, business development manager at Hatco. “The innovations take it to the next level and start to address worker productivity. We’re all faced with increasing labor costs, so this is a good tool to fit in with that theme of reducing operational cost and maintaining consistency.”

Other features include a fully sealed top that’s hard to break and ensures no liquid makes its way to the electronics inside; a high-res display screen that shows precise power (1 to 100), temperature and time control; a low-speed, high-volume fan that’s much quieter than leading competitors’; and a low-profile design that’s available in three color options, so its aesthetic stands out from the competition, which “either looks very industrial or very economy,” according to Nunn.

“Appliances have moved forward in the kitchen,” Finck notes. “Consumers want to see them. If I can put appliances in that don’t require ventilation, that’s a benefit to me.” That practicality is driving the popularity of ovens with ventless hoods, such as the Hoodini by Blodgett, which combines a catalytic system that removes smoke- and grease-laden air with a condenser that removes steam exhaust. High-temperature ovens such as igloo-shaped pizza ovens are also gaining market share, says Finck.

“Look how pretty the appliances are—they’re colored, they have ceramic tiles,” he says of the pizza ovens. “They’re not the stainless-steel boxes they used to be.” Finck also points out that holding cabinets are evolving in their sizing and packaging, with smaller models now available as well as different configurations (see sidebar for examples from FWE and Cres Cor).

Another hot topic, notes Finck, “is how we’re handling our waste.” He points to dishwashers becoming more environmentally friendly by reheating water with their own exhaust. The new Champion 44 PRO with Ventless Heat Recovery, for example, operates on a cold-water feed and features technology that captures 100% of the operating exhaust heat and vapor, and converts it into usable energy to heat the wash and fresh rinse water. The air placed into the dishroom by the heat pump is cooled to below 70 degrees, and humidity is reduced by over 80 percent, eliminating the need for a vent hood.

Consumers are clamoring for beverage choices, driving innovation on that side of the industry as well. “Liquid is gold,” says Finck. “That’s another market that’s continuing to expand.” He notes the popularity of soda machines that allow consumers to create their own combination of flavors, and the increasing demand for tea and coffee drinks, both brewed and cold.

Micro Matic’s JoeTap Cold & Nitro Coffee Dispenser was another product featured in “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!”. The countertop dispenser features two taps—one for cold-brew coffee, and one for cold nitro coffee. Nitro coffee is the result when cold-brew coffee—brewed with cold water, so it’s smoother and less bitter than traditionally brewed coffee—is infused with nitrogen, giving it an interesting texture and taste.

“People think nitro coffee has sugar in it and maybe some cream,” says Mike Godwin, sales development manager for Micro Matic. “It also pours with a really cool cascading effect; the same thing happens with stout beers like Guinness. It’s just a very different beverage since you haven’t put anything in it, but it can be an interesting alternative in a bar situation. It has a nice presentation, especially in a clear glass.”

The JoeTap utilizes bag-in-a-box coffee concentrates that are easy to change, and plugs into a standard wall socket. “A caterer could bring the unit along and dispense cold nitro coffee at an event,” says Godwin.

“People like the freshness of pouring something out of a faucet,” he adds. Micro Matic also makes draft beer and wine dispensing systems, in which wine is tapped in the same way beer is. “That’s been growing steadily,” he says. Next on the horizon is craft soda on tap, which Micro Matic has under development.

Not only does The NAFEM Show give attendees the opportunity to see first-hand the latest and greatest foodservice equipment trends—and in this article we’ve only scratched the surface of the exciting innovations and products on the market—like all trade shows, it allows those in attendance to gauge the health of the industry.

“This particular show is always our favorite because it’s equipment-focused,” says Hatco’s Nunn. “It gives manufacturers a chance to really focus and get innovative new products out.” Nunn believes the industry is in good shape. “We had a good year ourselves, and we started this year off well.”

“Manufacturers were telling me they had some really quality conversations [at NAFEM],” says Finck. “They seemed pretty positive about the market and the continued growth that seems to be still ahead of them.”

The next NAFEM Show will take place Feb. 7-9, 2019, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. For more information, and to see the complete list of “What’s Hot! What’s Cool!” products from this year’s show, visit