With the closure of self-serve hot and cold food bars early in the pandemic, supermarkets and other retailers pivoted their foodservice programs to safely serve food and meet the needs of their customers.

Many supermarkets started from scratch in building safer hot to-go programs and had concerns throughout the process, said Tami Olson, director of national accounts-retail, for Alto-Shaam, Menomonee Falls, Wis.

Alto-Shaam worked closely with its retail customers to help them quickly launch hot pre-prepared food programs with just a few pieces of cooking, merchandising and display equipment.

“Since then, some retailers have reinvigorated self-service bars, but many continue to build on pre-packaged to-go program success,” Olson said. “Alto-Shaam has been proud to support all types of deli food programs with safe, quality, and reliable equipment.”

COVID, of course, has been just one extra headache instore delis couldn’t have foreseen just a few years ago.

Like many other industries, Olson said, delis have been hit with labor challenges from hiring skilled labor to training and retaining talent. The learning curve for workers new to foodservice can be a challenge, from understanding how cross-contamination works to how to safely handle food. Many retailers are also flexing staff to the deli from other areas of the store.

Alto-Shaam equipment is designed intentionally simple so that food is safely prepared and served, no matter who is doing it, she said.

Alto-Shaam’s Combitherm CTP7-20 ovens, for instance, feature an intuitive PROtouch Control, which allows for simple use and navigation, customizable recipe management and one-touch-cooking. Navigation, recipe management and HACCP download are simple to use with the deluxe control, giving retailers peace of mind that their food is cooked properly.

“All the employee has to do is select the recipe, and they can walk away and complete extra tasks knowing that the food will be cooked the exact same way every time,” Olson said. “With the addition of a removable probe, retailers achieve ultimate precision and consistency in the cooking process, as well as accurate HACCP tracking.”

Alto-Shaam also provides a range of quality holding and heated display solutions that keep food at optimal temperatures longer for safe serving.

Whether holding food in waterless food wells for a staff-served program or merchandising packaged food to go, Alto-Shaam’s holding equipment with Halo Heat technology “makes time stand still” in terms of product quality, Olson said.

Unlike traditional heated holding technologies, temperatures created by Halo Heat technology don’t fluctuate to extremes. Precision, low-temperature heat leaves food full of moisture and flavor so that once items are perfectly cooked, they stay perfectly cooked.

“This is key to extending hold times and keeping food in the safe temperature zone,” Olson said.

Alto-Shaam prides itself on being an industry leader in providing total support for retailers beyond their purchase, she added. The company’s support team includes retail culinary experts, as well as a full team of technical support and customer experience experts.

Alto-Shaam works with retailers on equipment customizations, as well as developing recipes, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and training videos and materials. Its technical service is also an ongoing resource to provide troubleshooting and service support 24/7 every day of the year.

And as an innovator in commercial foodservice equipment, Alto-Shaam also partners closely with retail customers on product development and enhancements to meet their evolving needs.

“Above and beyond food safety, the safety of employees is also key for many deli operators,” Olson said. “Alto-Shaam products are developed with a holistic look at safety.”

The company’s Combitherm ovens, for instance, feature optional automatic grease collection and a self-cleaning design. The automatic grease trap system safely extracts and disposes hot grease with a pump-style system to simplify cleaning, reduce labor and maintenance costs and decrease oven downtime due to grease buildup.

Combitherm ovens also feature triple pane glass to keeps the heat inside, while keeping the glass cool to the touch for employees, as well as Safevent oven venting system, which automatically vents heat and steam during the last 60 seconds of the cooking cycle. Staff can open the door as soon as the cooking cycle ends without exposure to heat and steam.