Foodservice retailers are stretching. They’re continually becoming more nimble, more flexible. Whereas fresh, in-store foodservice offerings used to be relatively straightforward and unvaried, today’s supermarkets and c-stores strive to offer a wide array of new, classic and interesting dishes and breads.

That means today’s ovens must be able to keep up. Ideally, they’ll have that same kind of flexibility that retailers are working toward.

“They’re wanting to do more and more products in the store,” says Harry Jacoby, president of MIWE, a manufacturer of ovens, bakery refrigeration systems, automation and more. “Instead of bringing in pre-baked stuff or stuff that just needs to be re-heated, retailers are creating more stuff right there in the store, and that requires a lot more flexibility.”

And when it comes to ovens, that means installing and using combination models. For MIWE, the backcombi oven fits the bill, combining the active heat of convection with the gentle baking atmosphere of the deck oven.

“Obviously, in the world of baking, you have either convection baking, which is baking with air; blowing air across the product. Or you have deck ovens, or hearth baking, where you’re baking on a hot surface,” Jacoby says. “Breads are best baked on a deck oven and other products like pastries, muffins and things like that are better baked in a convection oven.”

The backcombi oven combines either the MIWE aero or the MIWE econo — both convection units — with the MIWE condo to combine two oven systems in minimal space. The two ovens can then be joined to a proof box.

“We call it a standalone baking center,” Jacoby says. “It has a convection oven on top and one or two hearth ovens below. And those are either on a stand or a proof box.  For us, that’s a combination oven. There is no one oven that does both. By putting it all in bone stack, you have everything you need in one, small footprint.”

That combination of equipment taking up a minimal amount of space can be important for space-restricted supermarkets or c-stores who are trying to expand their offerings.

Manitowac Foodservice offers combination ovens under its Convotherm and Merrychef brands. Convotherm offers combination steamers while Merrychef manufactures speed ovens.

The Convotherm 4 features an ACS+ system that the company says ensures peak cooking performance, guaranteeing perfect steam saturation, automatic humidity adjustment in combi-steam cooking and fast, even heat transfer for convection. That helps deliver a consistent environment in the cooking chamber for all products, from vegetables and meat to fish and side dishes or baked goods — fresh, frozen or precooked.

The ACS system offers steam, combi-steam, convection and regenerating functions. The combi-steam function can handle mixed loads — meaning retailers could theoretically cook roast pork, fish, frozen vegetables and bake bread and a cake, all simultaneously.  The automatic moisture regulation of the function creates the optimum oven environment for each product combination.

Merrychef offers its own combination units in its line of rapid-cook ovens. The eikon e4s is an accelerated cooking oven that combines three heat technologies — convection heat, impingement air and microwave energy. This combination helps to achieve cook durations of up to 15 times faster than conventional ovens. It is billed as a solution for c-stores, fuel stations, snack bars and retailers who need fast, consistent cooking without taking up too much space.

The  eikon e2s oven, which debuted at the 2015 NACS show was made with space-challenged customers in mind. It is 14 in. wide, but carries a usable cavity of 12 in., meaning all but one inch  on either side of the oven can be used for cooking. Thin, well-insulated walls are the key. The e2s can cook, toast, grill, bake and regenerate a wide range of fresh or frozen foods, such as sandwiches, pastries, pizzas, fish, vegetables and meat. This rapid cooking is thanks to the combination of three heat technologies — tuned impingement, microwave and convection.

The eikon e5 and eikon e6 offer more capacity. The e5 — while combining convection heat and microwave — offers extra oven capacity to cook several items at the same time or to regenerate large multi-portion dishes. The e6 combines airflow, convection heat, microwave energy and radiant heat to deliver quality food in “fast food times,” according to the company.

With a newly patented planar plume technology, heated air is directed into planes — or sheets of air — which then wrap around the food product to deliver a quality cook in less time and at less cost. The company says this works well with pizzas, hot and crispy hand-held snacks and breakfast items.

All of these models harken back to the common theme of versatility, including MIWE’s backcombi.

“You can do a complete assortment of products,” Jacoby says. “You can do artisan breads. Normally those have to be baked in a deck oven. Well, you have a deck oven now. You can do a whole range of stuff: there really isn’t anything you can’t do with that setup.”

Which leads back to the influx in demand for ovens that allow in-store preparation. “When they want to start doing more things in-store instead of bringing things in already pre-baked, these ovens are ideal,” Jacoby says. “If they want to bake artisan bread from raw dough, it’s best baked on a deck. If they brought it in already pre-baked, it could basically be warmed up in any oven.”

Jacoby says that historically, combination ovens have ended up in more foodservice operations than supermarkets.

“Supermarkets usually need a bigger oven with a bigger body, whereas at a smaller retail kitchen, they don’t need big production,” he says. “They need flexible production. They need to be able to do all of the products the right way.”

But with the line between retail foodservice and restaurants being blurred more with each passing month, the technology could be finding its way into more supermarkets.

“It really is a versatile setup that can be used in a lot of different settings,” Jacoby says. “We do everything we can to help our customers be as flexible and consistent with their quality as possible.”