Operators are probably fed up with being told that just about every piece of new kitchen equipment appearing on the market offers them major energy savings.
But in the case of the combination oven, those claims are completely genuine. The new generation of combi ovens that have come on-stream in the past 12 months, are extremely energy efficient and incredibly smart. They offer different levels of cooking, are self-cleaning, pre-programmable via a USB stick or computer, and some, notably the Dawson Lainox Naboo, even offer internet access to recipes.
The introduction of universal free school meals for infants has had a big effect on the uptake of combi cooking, says Lee Norton, managing director of Rational UK. "There has been more interest in combi ovens since the announcement and Rational has been well prepared for this higher demand, which has coincided with the launch of the new Self-CookingCenter 5 Senses."
The Rational SelfCookingCenter 5 Senses delivers up to 20% better fuel efficiency than previous intelligent models and cuts production time by up to 30%, he says. "And because it has the capability to bake, roast, steam, poach, grill, broil, prove, braise and even oven-fry, the latest model can replace 40% to 50% of standard appliances, reducing kitchen footprint by at least 30%."
Paul Godfrey, product manager at Hobart Cooking Solutions, says: "Many local authorities and a few academy primary schools had to gear up for free school meals through major upgrades of their kitchen facilities, often with the addition of a combi oven.
"There was certainly an increase in the number of schools signing up for new equipment and a lot of orders were placed with us, including our latest development, the Bonnet Combi Tower, which teams the Bonnet highspeed steamer and any Bonnet combi oven - Equator or Precijet. Both machines work independently and offer the appealing combination of flexibility and space in one unit.
The Combi Tower has a small footprint with a high output, and incorporates the flexibility of a combi and the speed of a steamer."
"Free school meals has certainly been a factor in Convotherm seeing a record-breaking August," says Martin Behle, general manager of Convotherm, which developed a smart version of its oven after talking to operators. The Convotherm 4 offers a fully automatic cleaning system, and reduced energy and water consumption.
The range, in seven sizes, won the iF International Forum Design Award 2014 for international design achievement.
Stuart Long, UK sales and marketing director for MKN, says: "Combis are no longer a big mystery and the technology is continually improving. For instance, our new FlexiCombi MagicPilot combi steamer is as easy to use as a smartphone and has a touch-and-slide operating concept, so chefs can effortlessly tap in programmes - which is particularly beneficial for untrained chefs under pressure to deliver. Crucially, for those with tight budgets, the combi steamer is a real energy and water saver."
With its six cooking modes, the new FlexiCombi features the MKN StepMatic function for combining basic cooking methods. "With just a few touches, chefs can bring up integrated information and recipe steps, a favourites-only menu on the start display for consistency, and a VideoAssist virtual chef that gives instructions as chefs go along, with 360-degree viewing from all sides."
Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager of Alto-Shaam distributor Foodservice Equipment Marketing (FEM), believes there is always scope for new technology in the combi oven market.
"For example, recently FEM launched the Alto-Shaam CT PROformance range featuring a PROpower mode which delivers an instant turbo boost of heat to speed up production times. This enables the ovens to cook 20% faster than standard combis and 80% faster than conventional methods."
Alto Shaam CT Express Combitherm was also fitted with a salamander grill in the oven.
Falcon's new range of combi ovens is designed to complement its award-winning Dominator Plus heavy-duty kitchen equipment.
There are 20 models: standard gas and electric models with six, seven, 10 or 20 shelves; and electric compact combination ovens with six or 10 shelves. All models have a just in time function which enables various foods with different cooking times to be cooked simultaneously and be ready at the same time, while Falcon's Autoclima system controls the humidity within the oven chamber.
Retigo's latest offering, the LunchBox, was launched at Hotelympia 2014 and, according to Retigo UK sales manager Thomas Vanek, the Czech-built unit offers all the features you would expect from a cost-effective combi, along with extras such as pre-programmed recipes for the most popular school meals,
which the company added after consulting with school kitchen staff all over the UK.
Vanek says that the LunchBox is a very attractive proposition for caterers as it is a high-quality product at an affordable price with the integral automatic cleaning system on its own worth £720.
He adds: "We are so confident that the demand for this product will be enormous that we have stocked up on all LunchBox sizes and are able to deliver within two weeks straight from the factory."
Essex-based CCE Group is doing exciting things with combis. The distributor recently supplied customised Rational WhiteEfficiency combi ovens in black to a customer who wanted to match them with the rest of his open theatre-style kitchen. CCE Group managing director Ray Costelloe explains: "When Henry Ford launched his first car he said you can have any colour you like so long as it is black. Here at CCE Group we simply say you can have any colour you like."
The Lainox Naboo from Dawson is connected to the Lainox cloud. "Our ambition is to create a new standard in combination ovens," explains Marco Ferroni, managing director and general manager of Lainox. "Until now, these appliances have been steel boxes. Now they have become full-blown devices that
share information and knowledge."
And finally, Valera has introduced a range of Advance combi ovens from Fagor. They come in five different sizes and offer three different levels of performance.
The company says its Advance ovens are the answer for any professional looking for a simple, economic and robust oven with power - they are affordable ovens with advanced features that guarantee perfect cooking results, safety and efficiency.
Peter Kay, CEDA director of technical support
"Oven versatility and energy efficiency continue to drive the development of the latest combi ovens, with operators getting programmable controls and data
"Combi ovens deliver precise, repeatable cooking without continuous intervention from kitchen staff. But the training has to be there for those working on diverse menus to know and understand their combi ovens. CEDA members will make sure kitchen teams get the training."
Ron Neville, managing director of Preston based CEDA member CHR, adds: "We believe schools and colleges are beginning to really appreciate the benefits of the combination oven along with an induction hob and possibly a microwave to cover all options.
"Distributors will also be aware of new legislation and any changes that may impact the buying decision and how they operate their foodservice provision, and will keep clients abreast of developments."
Nick Oryino, chair of CESA "While combi ovens are promoted for their multi-functionality and cooking versatility, many are sold on the basis of the quality of food prepared with them. Combi cooking also delivers higher yields with roasted meats and poultry as there is less shrinkage.
"In terms of kitchen design the multifunctionality of the combi steamer offers considerable benefits. It is a space-saving option that can replace a number of separate conventional cooking appliances."
- CCE Group www.contractcateringequipment.co.uk
- Convotherm (Manitowac) www.manitowocfsuk.com
- Dawson www.dawsonmmp.com
- Electrolux Professional www.electrolux-professional.co.uk
- Falcon Foodservice Equipment www.falconfoodservice.com
- FEM www.fem.co.uk
- Hobart www.hobartuk.com
- Lincat www.lincat.co.uk
- MKN www.mkn.eu
- Rational www.rational-UK.com
- Retigo UK www.retigo.com
- Valera www.valera.co.uk