There’s no question that the face of today’s grocery store is changing. A shrinking center store (leading to an overall smaller store footprint), combined with growing business in prepared foods and online order fulfillment, means everything is being shuffled around—to the detriment of space.
And with space at such a premium, retail executives are seeking equipment that can perform multiple functions, removing the need for several machines; products that are stackable; and items that have a smaller footprint or are more compact. All of these help today’s grocery stores use space to their advantage.
With the saved space, retailers can create stores that promote an excellent shopping experience through wider aisles, bistro-style prepared foods and deli sections and more room for merchandising, promotions and cooking demos—all of which typically boost sales more than a piece of equipment.
“Fast forward 10 years or 20 years and store economics are changing so quickly,” says Sean McGrann, SVP of sales and marketing for KPS Global, Fort Worth, Texas. “The cost of changing a store is a massive undertaking, but to be relevant in the future, it’s what retailers are having to determine.”
Within the next six years, 70% of Americans will shop online for groceries, according to a 2019 study from the Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen. To help operators meet the growing demand for online orders and pickup of those orders, KPS Global has developed a line of coolers/freezers that allow the retailer to reduce the number of cases needed while not losing any capacity.
The OGP Box is smaller than a traditional cooler yet offers 25% more capacity, with two additional bins per door, and it can hold grocery orders that have been assembled for customer pickup for hours.
Because this a relatively new endeavor, McGrann says operators often get into the online grocery business without knowing if it’s going to take off, so they have no idea how much room to allot. Accordingly, KPS’s OGP Boxes are Lego-like in design, allowing retailers to add or subtract, based on demand, by locking and unlocking connections to grow or reduce their size.
“Our products are very modular so we can build products that fit a space,” says McGrann. KPS also looks at the space a retailer is using, and can, using the same footprint, provide a lot more space because the coolers/freezers have more capacity because they’re taller.
The OGP Boxes can also switch from refrigerating food to freezing it and vice versa, so if one side of a store’s business takes off more, they can be switched to accommodate that. Operators can select the equipment to be a refrigerator, a freezer or both, though both is a slightly higher investment. “Retailers are hugely cost-sensitive, [but] some choose to save the capital investment upfront,” says McGrann.
They can also be used in the front of house or back of house. “If online ordering didn’t work out, this could be used otherwise,” he says. They can also be used outside.
The only limits are the space a retailer has, as well as height, McGrann says. While the coolers can have height added, they shouldn’t be built to the roof for safety reasons. KPS stabilizes them by anchoring them to the wall, but the issue is staff climbing dangerously.
Creative Design, Smaller Footprint
Hollymatic is meeting retailers’ needs for more space with its new 14-inch Hi-Yield meat saw, which has a butterfly design that makes it easier to clean. Department staff can simply open it up without the need for finding space for the various components. “Deli departments are getting smaller and smaller, and our new meat saw has a small footprint,” says Sam Pantano, VP of national accounts for the Countryside, Ill.-based company. “You have to be very creative with your space nowadays. If you can manage with smaller footprint equipment, you don’t have to drop services and can still offer the same to your customers.”
Hollymatic also offers a smaller footprint meat grinder (the 175 Mixer/Grinder), hamburger patty machine (R2200) and Tender Rite tabletop tenderizer (TR-1200). The tenderizer “has the gusto of anything that’s been out there in the past,” says Pantano.
Rational USA, Rolling Meadows, Ill., is leading the charge to meet grocery stores’ needs for space with multifunction equipment. Its combi steamers can roast, grill, steam, broil, bake, stir-fry and saute and do 95% of the cooking functions a grocery store kitchen needs, says Jim Lund, design and consultant resource manager. The equipment also stacks and comes in different sizes.
Photograph courtesy of Rational USA
Rational’s compact mini combi steamer is also proving popular in grocery stores. While it is too small to roast a chicken, Lund says, “supermarkets are loving it in the seafood section. A lot of them are offering to cook customers’ seafood before they leave the store, since people are afraid of cooking seafood.” The mini combi steamer launched in 2016, and at 25 by 23 inches, “it’s one of the smallest ones on the market and it’s one of our best-selling pieces of equipment,” Lund says.
“Grocery stores need to find new ways to generate revenue so they need equipment to be smaller,” he says. “The profitability is shrinking, and if they can shrink that kitchen size down and have multifunctional pieces of equipment, they can even start doing catering or expand their menu operations.”
Stack for Space
Combi ovens from Menomenee Falls, Wis.-based Alto-Shaam are stackable, which saves a huge amount of floor space. “You can stack two combis together, or a combi over a Vector multi-cook oven, or a rotisserie on top of a combi oven,” says Tami Olson, director of national retail accounts. “This gives retailers a lot more versatility.”
Stacking equipment also means it requires less vent hood space, she points out. However, coming soon from Alto-Shaam is a ventless hood, which will also add flexibility to kitchen design because the equipment can be placed anywhere, maximizing floor space. It also makes the kitchen more efficient because staff are taking fewer steps, Olson says.
And from Unified Brands in Conyers, Ga., the FX series of refrigerators and freezers is also double or triple stackable, says Alex Edwards, VP of sales. Plus, this equipment comes as small as a 27-inch footprint and can be made to fit into prepared food counters.
Photograph courtesy of Unified Brands
Similarly to KPS Global, Unified offers a “plug and play” system, with drawers held in a sushi case, for example, Edwards says. As well as being small, these coolers—which can be configured to refrigerate or freeze—hold food at a very precise temperature, even when the door or drawer is opened, thanks to the patented technology in the FX series.
“In retail space, every square foot is valuable,” Edwards says. “You want to maximize display and point-of-sale, so the footprint gets shrunk very quickly on the foodservice side of things.”
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