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Comparing Commercial and Consumer Purchases

Both consumer and commercial grade products can earn Energy Star ratings. But the testing that goes into achieving this rating can differ dramatically depending on product category. Such is the case with commercial kitchen equipment.

Energy Star got its start in 1992 in the consumer products sector. Eventually, the EPA sought to replicate the success it had in the consumer sector to other market segments, like commercial kitchen equipment. But there are some fundamental differences between the consumer products market and an industry like foodservice. For example, foodservice equipment tends to be more expensive than a similar consumer item and it lasts longer. 

"When you look at the lifecycle of consumer products, that explains why Energy Star was so successful in that space," says David Zabrowski of the Foodservice Technology Center. "Foodservice equipment is much more expensive and the purchases are so expensive. Energy-efficient equipment is more expensive to purchase, too."

Despite these differences, many foodservice operators count purchasing Energy Star-rated equipment among their green initiatives. "It sounds great to say you are specifying Energy Star-rated products but some do not follow through and actually buy the product," Zabrowski says. "There are plenty of LEED restaurants that have opened without Energy Star products. So Energy Star is not as mainstream here as in the consumer market."

That does not mean Energy Star-rated products are not gaining in popularity within the foodservice operator community. For example, going into last year, 70 percent of the refrigerators on the market were Energy Star rated, according to Zabrowski. And 85 percent of commercial dishwashers are Energy Star rated. Still, Energy Star's coverage of the foodservice industry is far from comprehensive. It only addresses nine product categories and there are countless other pieces of equipment that go into a typical commercial kitchen.

Even within the existing product categories, there's an opportunity to improve penetration. For example, Energy Star ratings do not include flight-type warewashers. And only 20 percent of steamers and 7 percent of fryers have an Energy Star rating. So there's more work to do within the existing Energy Star-rated product categories for the foodservice industry.

Still, the fact remains that when operators purchase foodservice equipment, they have multiple priorities to weigh. "Safety and sanitation will always be the first concern when serving food to people and then comes efficiency," says Chris Moyer of the National Restaurant Association's Conserve Initiative. "So if we have to give up some efficiency to ensure the health and wellbeing of our customer, so be it."

Dipak Negandhi, P.E., senior engineer for Unified Brands, agrees and adds, "First and foremost it must do the job. Foodservice equipment is a capital purchase for most operators and it has to produce the right products for their customers. Ease of use and other factors are very important, too. Saving energy is secondary."

While Energy Star may have made a name for itself among consumers, it would be a little short sighted to think that people follow identical purchasing habits in both their personal and professional lives. "When it comes to buying habits do people buy differently for their business versus how they buy for their own home?" asked David Rolston, president and CEO of Hatco Corp. "You may not calculate the ROI when buying a TV at home but we want the best deal. Everyone talks green but they are not willing to pay more to become more efficient. Every sale comes back to price."
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