NAFEM Recap 2017

NAFEM 2017 Trade Show

Every two years, thousands of people in the foodservice industry make their pilgrimage to the NAFEM (North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) Show. It’s three solid days of new products, new technology, and, of course, improvements in the old stuff too.

Some of our team ventured down from Louisville, KY, to sunny Orlando, FL to check out the show this year. While explaining everything we saw and experienced would be overwhelming for both you and I, here are a few of my key takeaways:

We’re Not Done With Politics

Surely we all were hoping to leave everything political in 2016, but that’s not happening in the world of Refrigeration. Next month there are new EPA and DOE regulations on refrigeration efficiency coming into effect, which means manufacturers are preparing. For the last year or so, True has been switching over to hydrocarbon refrigeration - Turbo Air has followed suit. Now, most manufacturers are doing the same. And it’s not just the refrigeration companies that are changing, ice machine regulations are quick on their heels coming into effect next January.

R290 refrigerant

But while forced change may seem like doom and gloom, new regulations require a greater degree of efficiency. Meaning when you buy new equipment, you’re going to affect the environment less and have lower utility bills. And, depending on where you live, you may even get a rebate for having Energy Star compliant equipment. So that’s a win, even though it does involve politics.

Redesigns instead of Features

I was somewhat underwhelmed with the amount new innovation out there. NAFEM Shows are often festivals of bells and whistles, with everyone showing off their newest, groundbreaking features. This year, that wasn’t the case. There was some innovation on the show floor - like Blendtec’s single cup blender (info coming soon), but it seemed like a lot of manufactures had a different idea. Instead of adding something new, they optimized what they already had. Two Examples:

Ice-O-Matic

Ice - pure and simple has been Ice-O-Matic’s tagline for the last several years. I have always loved their machines because they’re fairly simple and old-fashioned (which I can relate to). They focus on ice-making-technology instead of optional features, and being electromechanical, pretty much every tech out there knows how to fix a machine.

Innovation, though, hasn’t ruined this model. Yes, it now has a control board, but it’s still nice and simple. There’s one board with LED lights (not a screen readout), it’s easier to clean with dishwasher safe parts, and some of the parts that could keep an old IOM unit from functioning (cough, harvest assist, cough) are no longer critical to keep the machine running. Ice-O-Matic actually had their engineer showing the machine on the floor; he convinced me that by taking their machines back to the drawing board, they’re now even more simple than they were before. Instead of having to choose a top or side air discharge, you now have both. Instead of emptying your ice bin to clean it, you can just pause production and clean it automatically. By revisiting the basics, it seems they’ve made a far better product.

Vitamix

Likewise, outside of introducing a new aerating blade and a couple of accessories, Vitamix did not focus on new products, choosing instead to re-design and consolidate what they already have. They’ve eased confusion between what’s residential and commercial with a new logo stating “Vitamix Commercial.” And they’ve amped up the HP on those Vitamix commercial blenders from 2 to 2.3, while also making them more efficient in dealing with heat. They’ve redone the containers, now making them out of Tritan plastic, allowing them to stand up in more sanitizing chemicals.

Vitamix Aerating Blade

Machines are taking over, kind of.

With all the home-automation stuff on the market, I really expected more automation than what we saw, but it does seem the machines are taking over in the world of coffee. Nearly every coffee booth we visited had a super-automatic machine. Meaning, you put your cup under it and push a button, and the machine does everything else - grinding beans, steaming milk, brewing espresso. Bunn, Fetco, Franke, Rancilio, La Cimbali, Eversys - They’re all rocking the super automatic machines. Of course, super automatic espresso machines aren’t anything new, but their reach and affordability isn’t anything to ignore any longer.

Eversys Super Automatic Espresso Machine

Economy

While I expected a lot of activity surrounding premium brands, I was a bit surprised to see what was happening in the economy end of things. Arctic Air has some cool things going on with their glass door reach ins, back bar units, and countertop prep tables. And, after being discontinued in the summer of 2015, Vulcan economy units are back, baby! The V36 - which we were asked about for several months - is coming back this March, along with all it’s value series friends. There’s also a new VEG fryer, which is a little better than the LG series since it’s more energy efficient, but still a way to save money up front. Even premium brands are offering price-conscious options. Take the Rancilio Classe 5 machines, for example. They’re a budget friendly espresso machine, while Rancilio is also focusing on the super-automatics I mentioned above.

Taking a pizza the industry

Cheese Pizza

As a lover of both free samples and pizza, I was very happy with all the pizza oven manufacturers at NAFEM. Unfortunately, anything but eating the pizza falls outside of my expertise and experience, so I’m not entirely sure what to be looking for in a good oven. But the sheer amount of them caught my attention. There was a $400ish Bakerstone that sits on your char broiler or range; then I saw an oven retailing in the ballpark of $57K. Whether you want bricks or metal, wood, electricity, or gas, there seems to be a pizza oven out there to fit your desires. And it shows that the craft pizza industry isn’t going anywhere - which is good news for anyone like me.

Final Thoughts

Knowing I had this blog due soon after returning, I actually started it madlib style before I even left Louisville. I thought I knew what I was going to see: everyone would have touchscreens, everything would have wifi or bluetooth connectivity. More robots, more computers, and the price tags would go up as well. I just left blanks in the paragraphs for brands and models. But this show made me come home and do a ctrl+a+delete - what we saw was not at all what I was expecting. It seems - at least for this year - a lot of focus has shifted away from the bells and the whistles and back to the core functions of equipment. Most manufacturers seem to be focusing on doing what they have always done - just doing it better and more efficiently.