In today’s climate, supply chain and labor challenges highlight the need to have top-of-the-line equipment that can help commissaries and other third-party kitchens that supply grocery retailers continue to meet customer needs. 

“The current supply chain challenge really underscores the need for selecting reliable equipment along with suppliers who can deliver and support their equipment in a timely manner,” said Michael Mathis, sales development manager of Baxter Manufacturing. “Some domestic oven manufacturers have relied heavily on sourcing overseas and now are paying the price with unthinkable lead times. Operators need to make smart choices to ensure their equipment is reliable and stays up and running or risk being down for weeks due to a delayed part being sourced overseas.”

The current situation, Mathis noted, has exposed just how vulnerable some manufacturers are and the need for operators to do their homework prior to purchasing. 

On top of supply chain challenges, labor shortages have highlighted the need for user-friendly equipment that can simplify training of new employees, and help facilities depend less on human labor and more on automation there won’t be a shortage of.

When it comes to ovens, Mathis highlighted that it’s vital to build versatility into production operations.

“One major challenge many operators face is what type and size of oven to choose,” he said. “Choosing the right equipment is key to proper production capacity and efficient operations. Many facilities have production schedules that often vary throughout the year so it’s even more important to have flexibility in production. Production capacity is key, but versatility must be considered as well.”

Mathis pointed out that rack ovens often fit the bill by offering facilities multiple size choices. Single rack ovens can hold as many as 20 sheet pans, while double racks can hold up to 40. Rack ovens also offer steaming capabilities that play a major role in turning out the right consistency in many baked goods.


Easy to operate

Due to staffing shortages, operators are often shifting employee responsibilities to include areas they might not be fully trained in. To bridge this gap, oven equipment must be intuitive to operate and program, Mathis said.

“Simple controls that are easy to operate or intuitive Smart Controls help in cross training and in the overall operations of ovens,” Mathis said. “Programing capability is also a key feature that operators are valuing. By requiring employees to use set programs, operators can get consistent results from one employee to the next.”

In early 2021, Baxter introduced the new OV520G double rack oven with Smart Touch controller. The OV520G double rack oven offers high volume facilities the production they need but also the intuitive controls that make it easy and fast to use. The feature rich controller provides energy savings over previous models, utility monitoring, recipe management, and self-diagnostics with on-screen error codes. According to Mathis, those error codes reduce downtime when a problem arises and provide service providers valuable data to diagnose and repair faster.

In 2022, Baxter plans to expand functionality of their Smart Touch platform by adding an app for remote oven monitoring, expanded recipe controls and IoT functions.


Handling large volume quickly and safely

For commissaries and third-party kitchens, fully integrated cook-chill systems are the solution to producing large volumes of pre-prepared food quickly, safely and at an affordable cost, pointed out Tami Olson, director of national accounts - retail for Alto-Shaam.

“Preparing a massive quantity of food consistently in a short amount of time can be an expensive, labor-intensive task,” Olson said. “By using easy-to-roll-in carts, commissaries can ensure no time is wasted transferring pans of food back and forth between the equipment. The carts easily move between Alto-Shaam’s Combitherm oven, QuickChiller blast chiller and heated holding cabinets to save time and labor—and improve safety for employees.”

Olson noted that food costs are also managed this way as the seamless system allows for accurate portioning. QuickChillers also help safely and rapidly bring down the temperature of food outside of the danger zone after being cooked in the Combitherm oven, and heated holding with Halo Heat technology ensures the highest food quality by locking in flavor and moisture.

Alto-Shaam offers stackable equipment and ventless hoods to help maximize space and streamline the workflow of a commissary kitchen. Combitherm combi ovens can be stacked with other ovens, like another Combitherm oven, rotisserie oven or Vector F Series Multi-Cook Oven. This allows a commissary kitchen to get more out of a vertical footprint to increase food production volume, Olson noted.

The removable probe in Alto-Shaam Combitherm ovens and QuickChiller blast chillers is also unique to Alto-Shaam equipment, Olson noted. By having a removeable probe, a commissary kitchen can ensure there is never a time when equipment is not functional. With removable probes, the equipment can still be used to cook or chill food by time while a replacement probe is sent. Replacement is as simple as ordering a new probe, rather than needing to call out a repair technician to rewire a new probe.


Programmed to operate remotely

Alto-Shaam’s Combitherm oven offers total programmability that allows workers to streamline tasks and step away from the oven while being able to watch over baking products remotely.

“Ovens that are programmable with recipes take the stress out of cooking for a commissary facility,” Olson said.

The ovens feature a touchscreen control with programmable recipes that are easy to select. Once the employee presses the recipe, the oven does the work and cooks the food at the ideal settings. This not only reduces training time, but also allows employees to walk away and complete other tasks, knowing that the food will not overcook and will come out the same way every time, Olson pointed out.

“The new generation of Alto-Shaam equipment features ChefLinc, a remote oven management system,” Olson said. “This cloud-based remote oven and cooking management system features an easy-to-use dashboard for operators to seamlessly push and pull recipes, view oven status, collect and store data, receive detailed service diagnostics and more. This allows operators complete control of their equipment and menus from anywhere they are.”

Currently, ChefLinc is available on Vector Multi-Cook Ovens, Cook & Hold Ovens and Cook & Hold Smoker Ovens. Alto-Shaam plans to expand this system to other product lines in the future.