Customer Service & Labor Efficiency Still Rules at NAFEM

As a follow up to my previous blog on last month's NAFEM Show, I wanted to share thoughts about some of the equipment offerings that caught my attention.

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These platforms offered by different foodservice equipment manufacturers all had one thing in common: Their ability to deliver a higher level of labor efficiency and speed for the foodservice operators that use them.

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Smoothie Machines

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Many suppliers prominently displayed smoothie machines that feature different levels of automation. Some of the machines were fully automated, whereas others required the user, a team member or a customer, to participate in certain parts of the process. One unit that was made specifically for c-stores allowed customers to serve themselves by locating the cup in a specific spot and just pressing a button to select their flavor to get their product.

I get the sense that McDonald's McCafé, which includes coffee and smoothies alike, caught the attention of a number of foodservice operators who are now working with their suppliers to enter the smoothie segment of the foodservice industry. If you look at the production of a smoothie clearly it's a multi-step process that requires high levels of labor, which could result in slower customer service. The new smoothie-related equipment I saw at The NAFEM Show seemed to address these issues rather well.

The units were not inexpensive, but if they drive traffic by providing the concept the ability to deliver efficient menu innovation, meaning the concept can deliver smoothies and similar products more easily, the net result will be better customer hospitality, lower labor costs, and higher profits.

Ice Cream Machines

One piece of equipment starts with a frozen ice cream base and combines it with other ingredients to deliver different flavors of shakes. This product is also a great c-store application. The customer would take the ice cream from a freezer at the base of the unit, locate it in the cavity and select the flavor by pressing a button. I can tell you from personal experience that the quality of the product was very good, too.

This application reminded me of the days when I was in the Burger King Industrial Engineering Department, when we developed a pre-packaged shake product that was dispensed out of a vending machine of sorts. Our intent was to be able to deliver a shake product while reducing the labor required setup and tearing down the related production platforms. Subsequently, heat treated shake machines came to fruition, addressing some of the challenges of offering a shake product, specifically labor cost. Because the shakes were prepared in the unit, dispensing and serving to the customers was greatly simplified, delivering also great customer service. In this case, product quality killed the effort.

Rapid Cooking Technology

While the notion of accelerated cooking is far from new, the representation of products offering this benefit was significantly higher than a couple of years ago. Clearly the need for speed drove this demand and many suppliers are capitalizing on this opportunity. For example, one conveyor oven could make a pizza, using raw dough in less than three minutes.

What's Hot! What's Cool!

The "What's Hot! What's Cool!" booth at the show displayed a variety of commercial kitchen innovations. Looking at this booth, it was clear to me that the foodservice equipment manufacturers are trying to do their part to keep the industry supplied with innovative technology.

The NAFEM Show proved that helping brands deliver better customer service and labor efficiency is still a critical aspect delivered by the platforms being developed by the suppliers, as a reaction to the needs of the foodservice brands.
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