Equipping for the Future: Get it Done at The NAFEM Show

For anyone looking to buy, sell or research foodservice equipment and supplies, the biennial NAFEM Show is one great place to get it done.

Coming up February 10 – 12 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, the show presents three sharply focused days during which every conceivable equipment and supply innovation and solution is put on display. The right people are there to talk to as the nonfoods side of the industry takes center stage.

Despite continuing uncertainties about healthcare reform, credit markets, unemployment and government mandates, industry professionals heading to Orlando this year may do so with just a bit more wind in their sails thanks to recent hints at improving economic conditions. The National Restaurant Association's (NRA) September Restaurant Performance Index (RPI), which charts the outlook and health of the industry based on sales, customer traffic and operator sentiment, climbed above the 100 mark for the first time in six months. Optimism among restaurant operators is rising, too, according to the NRA. "The RPI's solid gain in September was the result of broad-based improvements among both the current situation and forward-looking indicators," says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. "Restaurant operators reported positive same-store sales and customer traffic levels for the first time in six months, which propelled the RPI's Current Situation Index to its highest level in nearly three years."

Manufacturers' Agents for the Foodservice Industry (MAFSI) released data in early November that show some ground is being gained in the equipment and supplies sales arena, as well. While sales for the third quarter declined 1.5 percent compared to the same period in 2009, that's a significant improvement over the previous four quarters, which showed declines of 3.3 percent, 5.2 percent and 11.5 percent.

FE&S's own 2011 Forecast indicates increasing industry optimism, as well. Fifty-one percent of foodservice operators expect their sales volume to increase next year. And nearly half (45 percent) expect to see increases in their equipment and supplies purchasing budgets in 2011. Here's what the Forecast data show they'll be buying, by average percent of E&S budget allocated to various product categories.

• Primary cooking equipment (19.44%)

• Paper goods (13.92%)

• Food prep equipment (12.07%)

• Smallwares (10.94%)

• Refrigeration & ice machines (9.99%)

• Janitorial/sanitation supplies (8.99%)

• Storage & handling equipment (6.99%)

• Serving equipment (5.85%)

• Warewashing & safety equipment (4.39%)

• Furnishings (4.37%)

• Tabletop items (3.04%)


Top Trends Drive Equipment Needs
Within these categories operators also intend, at least to some degree, to gear their purchases toward products with energy-saving and other "green" benefits. With energy costs increasing at a rate of 6 percent to 8 percent per year, according to NRA, the growing demand for more energy-efficient equipment is no surprise. Asked how large a role energy efficiency will play in the decision for any major new or replacement equipment scheduled for purchase next year, the majority of operators say it will be either a major factor (30 percent) or somewhat of a factor (44 percent). And 70 percent said they completely agree (32.6 percent) or strongly agree (38 percent) that investing in energy-efficient technology will improve their operation's bottom-line performance. Their message to manufacturers before making the investment in new energy-saving equipment, however, is loud and clear: Demonstrate a potential for strong return on investment.

Brad Barnes, CMC, associate dean of culinary education and the new NAFEM endowed professor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), says that while "green" is certainly a trend, operators increasingly have no choice but to seek out energy-saving solutions. "In addition to my work at the CIA I own a small bakery operation. Throughout the day there are periods of time when the ovens aren't in use — 45 minutes to an hour at a time — but it's probably just as efficient to leave them on as it is to turn them off and power them back up. I spend $2,800 a month on utilities. It's incredibly expensive to run equipment and that direct overhead goes right to the customer's plate. This is an area we all have to look at really carefully as we all struggle to control costs," says Barnes, who will present an educational session on trends impacting the industry during The NAFEM Show.

Beyond energy issues, two other macro trends Barnes sees shaping the industry are what he calls the "casualization" and "democratizataion" of foodservice. "We've been moving away from the old traditional notion of fine dining for several years, but now we're taking real departures toward casualization," he says. "It's happening on a number of levels, from ingredients, to genres and styles of cooking, to overall foodservice concepts. Quality is very high, but some of the hottest restaurants out there are all about nothing fancy."

We're also, Barnes says, in a new era of food democracy. "People can get great food any time, anywhere, at a reasonable value and they can get it pretty much however they want it. The demand is industry-wide and operators are meeting the challenge in all sorts of ways. These, and the many sub-trends within them, are what have to drive equipment. How do the trends get answered by the folks who supply us with all the stuff that we need to make it happen as chefs and cooks and front-of-the-house managers? That's where communication has to come in between chefs and equipment companies and The NAFEM Show is a great place for that sort of communication to take place."

Facilitating such information sharing is part of the role Barnes has assumed as the first NAFEM Endowed Professor at the CIA. His job, he says, will be to help develop an information pipeline from the culinary community to the NAFEM community. "That may be trend related, or about chef needs and wants, or it may be pulling and making available to the community helpful information from the folks who use and care for the equipment every day," he says. "What do they like? What don't they like? How could it be done better?"

Shop Smart, Avoid Mistakes
Helping operators avoid common equipment purchasing mistakes is another key goal, he says. Those mistakes range from the simple-to-rectify through better access to information to complex scenarios that can end up costing operators huge sums of money and major headaches.

Among the most common, according to Barnes:

Not understanding the power load coming into the building. "If it's not the right load for the new equipment you're putting in, that equipment won't function properly," he says. "You'll probably blame the manufacturer when in fact you may not have the right amount of gas coming in, or the right regulator on the gas line, or even the right gas line. There may not be enough gas pressure to properly drive the equipment you've just bought. Find out as much as you can about the power load you have to work with before making major equipment purchases."

Failing to fully research equipment. Operators often attend shows, see something they love, go back home and tell their local dealer or sales person that's what they want. But they really haven't researched its capabilities," Barnes says. "They decide they want that beautiful oven they saw at the show but don't fully understand what it's designed to do and the local rep may not either. There's a lot more to it than 'how many burners do you need?' Ultimately, it may not be the best solution for them."

Smaller independent operators are particularly vulnerable to making such mistakes, he adds. "The guy who wants to open or re-equip the kitchen in a 90-seat restaurant can't afford to spend thousands on a consultant to do the research and make the recommendations. It's very hard for them to gain that information and knowledge on their own, so it's a bit of a catch-22. It makes a lot of sense for them to attend shows like NAFEM, where if they work it smart, they can get educated directly from the manufacturers about what's out there and what's right for them."

Who Goes?

Wondering who you'll be rubbing shoulders with at the show? Plenty of industry professionals who can help you accomplish your goals and perhaps even open some new doors. More than 20,000 attended the last NAFEM Show, in 2009. Here's how attendance broke down:

• 44% Dealer/Distributor

• 25% End User

• 10% Consultant/Specifier/Architect/Designer

• 21% Other

Shopping the Show: Tips from Chef Brad