Commissaries and central kitchens are a growing market for Hobart Corp. deli slicers, says Joe Osmon, sales development manager in the Food Machines division of ITW, Hobart’s parent company.
“A lot of things are going on in commissary,” Osmon says. “It’s driving new product development for us, and I think we’ll do very well in that segment.” Increasing yields, improving food safety and in general making grocery retailers’ jobs easier are among the benchmarks Hobart is striving for in its development of new slicers, he says.
Saving labor costs is obviously one benefit for many retailers to taking their deli slicing needs off-site to commissaries and central kitchens. But three other factors play a big, often bigger role, Osmon says: consistency, efficiency and what Hobart calls “operator assurance.”
Hobart separates itself from the competition by providing system interlocks and features that support the user in cleaning the slicer, Osmon says. For instance, Hobart’s HS slicers, which Osmon says are key products in commissaries and central kitchens, all provide the option of a removable knife.
“Most injuries involving a slicer occur during the cleaning process,” Osmon says. “Our interlock systems and removable blade tool provide solutions to minimize the risk.”
With the blade removed from the HS slicers, there’s no risk of that. And users also feel more confident cleaning slicers if they know there’s little risk of injury, which leads to another safety-related benefit: food safety. Eighty-three percent of listeria cases, for instance, can be traced to slicers, Osmon says. If slicers are cleaned properly, there’s much less risk a foodborne illness will be traced back to them.
“A large percentage of foodborne illnesses stem from slicers not being clean, that’s why one of the first places the inspector goes is to the slicer,” he says. “Operator assurance” has become a bigger and bigger part of Hobart’s pitch to potential customers of its slicers and other machines, Osmon says.
Hobart is always looking at ways of adding technology to make its slicers and other machines more efficient and easier to operate, but at least for the time being, things like touch screens and connectivity haven’t been in high demand among customers when it comes to slicers, Osmon says. “Our goal is to ensure that our end users are willing and ready to accept it and see value in the solutions provided.”
With connectivity, for example, not only would retailers need to have the infrastructure in place to make it work, they might also have to share network data whose privacy they place a very high value on, given the ultra-competitive nature of their industry. “That gives retailers a lot of pause,” Osmon says.
The new GSP HDi-W slicer from Joppa, Maryland-based Bizerba North America features touchscreen technology unique to the industry, says Robert Slykhuis, the company’s president and CEO.
First introduced in late 2017, Bizerba highlighted the latest model of the manual gravity feed slicer, featuring design changes, at the 2018 National Restaurant Association Show. The GSP HDi-W touchscreen allows workers to preset orders by weight or number of slices, Slykhuis says. In addition, a knob on the slicer lets employees know whether it’s been safely locked for cleaning. A green light means the slicer is safe, a red light means it’s not.
The slicer also features smart technology that alerts users when the slicer needs to be sharpened.
On the bread side, Walker, Michigan-based Oliver Packaging & Equipment Co. offers several slicer models for the instore grocery market, says Yvonne Johnson, the company’s marketing director.
The Model 797 Gravity Feed slicer is a good fit for production-style environments where bread is merchandised, Johnson says. Oliver’s Model 732 Front Load slicer and its Model 777 Variety slicer are used in situations where bread is sliced more by request. But both, she says, can be used to slice ahead of time for grab-n-go purchases.
Self-serve slicing is one of the biggest industry trends Oliver is capitalizing on, Johnson says. The company introduced its Simpleslice slicer in 2016. “Retailers are looking to reduce labor but also provide options for customers to ‘help themselves,’” she says. “Bread slicers are a more recent option for the customer at any time of the day to select just the right loaf and then slice and bag.”
That said, Oliver has solutions not just for those customers moving in the direction of self-serve but also for those who “differentiate with the additional touch of customer service. Our product line covers both of these situations,” Johnson says. When working with any customer, Oliver considers three factors: how many loaves do they want to slice per day, how much space to they have for a slicer and what is the maximum-size loaf they want to produce?
If those concerns can be met, Oliver customers tend not to worry about a lack of bells and whistles on their slicers. “While it may seem more ‘slick’ to add touch screens and ‘shiny’ technology, it can also cause higher service fees and complexity to the operation,” Johnson says. “Keeping it simple, reliable, high quality and ‘Made in the USA’ sets Oliver apart. Our legacy is founded in our simple-to-use, rock-solid, easy-to-maintain equipment.”
For larger commissaries making round cakes, a good slicer solution is the CS-4AAC from South Haven, Michigan-based FoodTools, says Doug Petrovich, the company’s general manager. Capable of cutting 100 to 150 cakes per hour, the slicer deposits divider inserts between each wedge while cutting, all in one smooth action, he says. For commissaries specializing in sheet cakes, Food Tools’ CS-10TWWA is the best fit, Petrovich says.
The BT-1 bench top wire cutter and CS-1FP foot-powered slicer, meanwhile, are the best options for smaller settings, Petrovich says. Which to choose depends on the type of cake, temperature, number of cakes to be sliced and the client’s budget, he says. “The BT-1 bench top wire slicer is a new low-cost solution for cutting cakes for the small retailer or instore baker,” he says. “The CS-1FP is a stronger machine if the products will be frozen or a higher quantity.”
There are cheaper baked-goods slicers on the market, Petrovich says, but as the cliché has it, you get what you pay for. “There are some low-cost online slicers, but most are not suited for the application or have no customer support.”
Sales are “pretty steady” on all of FoodTools’ slicers serving the commissary and instore markets, Petrovich says.