Smaller and greener than ever, and drawing a sizeable tax break to boot, refrigeration units are some of the hottest lines in catering equipment, as Richard McComb explains
In the cauldron of the commercial kitchen, where ovens and ranges rule the roost, refrigeration often gets the cold shoulder.
Yet refrigeration accounts for up to half of total energy expenditure in a commercial kitchen, and an efficiently managed system can therefore save huge amounts of cash. And as the spotlight becomes trained ever more firmly on the industry's carbon footprint, foodservice managers and chefs can illafford to cut corners by soldiering on with old units.
With changing patterns of consumer demand, the onesize- fits-all approach to refrigeration has been consigned to the Ice Age. Today's market is about flexibility and functionality along with space-saving solutions and sustainability.
It would, though, be ludicrous to downplay the significance of cost in business thinking and purchasing decisions. In its green paper, published earlier this year, major refrigeration player Gram concluded that budget remains the biggest barrier to the foodservice industry boosting its green credentials.
More than half (55%) of respondents to its survey cited budget as the biggest hurdle to having a greener workplace. Just 5% were "very willing" to pay a small increase to be greener.
Yet buying a refrigeration unit on the basis of price alone can end up being a costly mistake. New models deliver big long-term energy savings and even attract sweeteners from the taxman.
Glenn Roberts, managing director of Gram UK, says: "Many operators now widely accept that when purchasing a piece of refrigeration equipment they need to take energy efficiency into consideration. After all, this ultimately affects their bottom line.
"With refrigeration making up approximately 50% of the total energy expenditure in a kitchen, it makes financial sense to invest in the most energyefficient and durable unit possible.
The Energy Technology List, which is managed by the Carbon Trust and holds many of Gram's products, guides caterers to the most energy-efficient technology available on the market."
Roberts flags up the importance of the enhanced capital allowance scheme - the government programme that encourages businesses to become more sustainable by offering a higher rate of tax relief on purchases of greener equipment.
Energy efficiency will become even more important with the introduction of the EU's Ecodesign directive, which will require catering equipment to carry labelling similar to that found on domestic equipment, rating it A-G, with A being the most energy efficient.
Refrigeration is the first category of foodservice equipment to be considered and any manufacturer or supplier of professional cabinets will have to ensure that from January 2017 their products bear an energy rating label in line with the directive.
Keith Warren, director of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA), says: "Clearly, energy labelling will be a major benefit to catering equipment buyers and specifiers. It will help drive the move towards energy-efficient equipment."
At the same time, the EU is discussing revisions to the F-gas regulations, which are designed to minimise the use of F-gases, or "greenhouse" gases, from equipment.
This will crack down on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the most common of theF-gases.
CESA supports the reduction of F-gases but has warned that limited supplies of alternative gases will lead to significant price rises for refrigeration equipment buyers.
Successful lobbying by CESA has deferred implementation of the regulations. Warren says: "The phase-out will now be managed by a freeze in supply in 2015. The freeze will be followed by several reduction steps from 2016 so that, by 2030, European HFC supply should be
21% of 2015 levels."
At the same time, manufacturers are under pressure to deliver flexible refrigeration solutions that take into account factors such as the type of operation, the speed of service, menu rotation and kitchen size.
"What this means is that any caterers considering buying new refrigeration should look for models with the lowest GWP [global warming potential] and ODP [ozone depletion potential]," says Warren.
Conquest of space
Space-saving refrigeration solutions are always in demand because bigger kitchens mean smaller dining rooms, and fewer covers means less income. Similarly, smaller premises attract lower rents, so kitchen floorspace is at a premium.
Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager for Valera, says: "The upshot of all of this is an increase in demand for slimmer refrigeration as well as worktable chillers with refrigeration underneath.
In response, we have introduced a number of slimline cabinets to help get into tighter kitchens and make better use of the available space."
Valera has a range of flat-pack refrigeration that can be transported to a kitchen in pieces and assembled in situ, neatly overcoming problems where access and doorways are restricted, the installation is in a basement, or door frames cannot be removed in the case of listed buildings.
Williams has developed a range of compact refrigeration products.
Martin Laws, Williams' marketing manager, says: "We have designed the Small Kitchen range to help operators maximise the efficiency of their kitchen, whatever its size. For example, the PrepWell and Thermowell refrigerated ingredients units are equally suited to pizza, salad or
sandwich preparation, and a host of other tasks."
Williams' WBC10 blast chiller is compact enough to fit in the same space as a standard undercounter cabinet, helping small kitchens comply with food safety regulations without sacrificing workspace.
Products in Electrolux Professional's Prostore range have a 700mm depth to allow alignment with counters, making each option ideal for narrow spaces.
Sneha Mashru, Electrolux Professional's regional category manager for refrigeration, says: "Space is always an issue in a commercial kitchen environment and with front of house generally being the concept a restaurant sells to its customers, kitchen design can fall down the
list of priorities. Compromising the quality of major appliances such as refrigeration cabinets needs to be avoided at all costs.
"Within the industry, chefs are constantly looking to deliver more covers in less time, and that all comes back to profitability. One example of how refrigeration equipment has adapted is where chefs need ingredients on hand in a particular area of the kitchen, and equipment has been tailored to accommodate their needs."
Scotsman has been at the forefront of the use of new refrigerants in ice machines and, through Hubbard Systems, has two models in the Scotsman MV Series that use R290.
Simon Aspin, commercial director for Hubbard Systems, says: "The trend towards companies looking at their carbon footprint means that customers are asking for ice machines that are long-lasting, efficient and with a low total-life cost."
Mark Alexander, managing director of Alexanders Appliances Direct, highlights the importance of using and maintaining fridges and freezers correctly.
He says: "Many caterers consider that, as a new service cabinet or freezer comes with a one- or two-year warranty, everything is covered and does not need attention during the warranty period. This is not so. If you purchase a new car with a warranty you are still expected to have it serviced at regular intervals and failure to do this can invalidate the warranty.
"A fridge is similar. It works 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and needs maintenance. Even during the warranty period, a planned preventive maintenance contract should be considered to ensure that the condenser is cleaned and controllers checked.
"It may seem obvious, but if you have fridges with doors, make sure the doors are kept closed. Check the door gaskets too - if they are damaged, warm air can leak into the cold space and it all costs money to cool down."
Simple measures such as making sure the unit is not running colder than is necessary will also deliver power savings. Alexander says: "Once you have achieved the optimum operating temperature, remember that fridges and freezers are not blast chillers and are not designed to cool large quantities of warm food. Not only does doing this increase running costs, but it also increases the internal temperature, which can adversely affect other chilled products already in the cabinet."
Bidvest 3663's new range of refrigeration chillers, cabinets and counters, branded Hospitality Design by 3663, have been designed in response to foodservice industry challenges.
Paul Knight, managing director at 3663 Catering Equipment, says: "The foodservice industry has faced many new trends and regulations over the past 12 months, each of which places emphasis on ensuring industrial kitchens are well equipped to cope with demand.
"The increasing popularity of all-day eating, the rise of fast casual-style restaurants and the government's introduction of universal infant free school meals into England's primary schools has placed added pressure on foodservice operators to continue to deliver high quality, on-trend food at competitive prices."
3663 Catering Equipment www.3663cateringequipment.co.uk
Alexanders Direct www.alexanders-direct.co.uk
Catering Equipment Suppliers Association www.cesa.org.uk
Electrolux Professional www.electrolux.com/professional
Hubbard Systems www.scotsman-ice.co.uk
The Energy Technology List
It goes without saying that cooking accounts for the lion's share of energy consumption for most catering operations, but refrigeration can also use a significant portion.
There is a very big difference between the energy use of the best and worst performing refrigeration products. The Energy Technology List (ETL), run by the Carbon Trust on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, identifies the most energy-efficient products
across various technologies that will reduce users' energy costs and also benefit from a tax break (enhanced capital allowance) when purchased.
The main technology category of interest to caterers will probably be professional refrigerated storage cabinets, but cellar cooling, retail display cabinets, air-cooled condensing units, refrigeration compressors and controls may all be relevant.
To be listed on the Energy Technology List, products must meet demanding performance targets and provide independently validated test evidence that those targets have been achieved. This means purchasers can be confident they are buying equipment that is best in class for energy performance.
There are various factors driving manufacturers to improve the efficiency of their products. They include:
•the desire to have their products listed on the ETL
•demand from customers for energy and carbon saving credentials to be demonstrated
•eco-design legislation bringing in minimum energy performance standards
•labelling regulations which will require commercial refrigeration products to identify their energy performance
•F-gas rules that will phase out equipment with high global warming-potential refrigerants
For further details of the ETL and to see listed refrigeration products, go to etl.decc.gov.uk