Troy, Ohio-based Hobart has a wide array of food preparation equipment used in the production of fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, said Megan Gray, product line manager.

These include continuous-feed food processors, bowl style food processors, potato peelers, salad dryers, food cutters and more.

Hobart’s food processors are available in a variety of sizes to support both large and small operations and everything in between, Gray said. The company’s smallest continuous-feed model can process up to 11 pounds per minute, and its largest food processor can process up to 132 pounds per minute.

“Grocery stores can benefit from using our food preparation equipment because it saves them time and can make their prep more efficient.”

One trend that Hobart is tracking closely is the rise of retail foodservice, Gray said.

“Many retailers have taken on this grocerant concept over the past few years by creating ready-made meals and offering more grab-and-go options. Customers are always looking for quick and easy options, and these ready-made meals are the perfect solution.”

More retail foodservice, Gray said, means more food prep is required in-store. That’s where food preparation equipment from suppliers like Hobart can save the day.

“Food processors can cut prep time in half and have the ability to create several varieties of cuts.”

As Hobart continues to better understand the market, its product mix has grown, Gray said. One thing that has been driven home in the past couple of years is that labor is a major challenge for retailers – and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables is a labor-intensive business.

Utilizing food prep equipment, she said, is an easy way for grocery stores to maximize their prep time efficiency.

The latest addition to Hobart’s lineup of products used to process fruits and vegetables and other foods is a new continuous-feed food processor, introduced in March.

The Hobart FP300i floor model food processor can process up to 88 pounds of product per minute. The all-stainless-steel, maximum-heavy-duty machine features removable, dishwasher-safe parts and processes fruits and vegetables without bruising. Its large cylinder eliminates the need for pre-cutting. The new processor requires less manual labor, as food doesn’t need to be manually pre-cut to be processed, and dense foods like root vegetables don’t need any force as they’re processed. The proportions of the equipment are also designed to make it less fatiguing process to load.

Along with the PF300i, Hobart is offering optional add-ons of a bulk feed hopper and cylinder set ideal for round foods like onions, or a four-tube feeder for longer foods like cucumbers and carrots.

The processor’s plate speed is 500 revolutions per minute, which is the best speed to process without bruising product.

Going forward, Hobart doesn’t see any drop in demand for food processing equipment among grocery retailers who want to do fresh-cut instore, Gray said. 

“Buying pre-cut, packaged product can get expensive, and supply chain issues have made it challenging for retailers to get what they need. The alternative of hand-cutting is time-consuming and labor intensive and can produce inconsistent cuts. A food processor makes it possible to have fresh, quality cut produce in an efficient way.”

Trends within fresh-cut include fresh vegetables being used in new and different ways, Gray said. Experimenting with different shapes and texture, for instance, can make food more interesting and fun.

But that’s hard to do if you’re cutting product by hand. With a food processor, she said, the opportunities are endless, and Hobart offers a wide variety of cutting tools that are up for the job.

“Operators can slice, dice, julienne, crimp, grate, shred and more. They also have the ability to control the thickness of their cuts.”

One of the things that separates Hobart’s continuous-feed food processors from its competitors is that Hobart’s utilize an exclusive decoring screw, which pulls product into the knife and helps with throughput, Gray said. It’s the reason operators can process large products like heads of lettuce or cabbage with little to no prep.

Hobart’s bowl style food processors, meanwhile, utilize an exclusive CoolCutter knife, which utilizes four knives: two serrated cutting knives and two turning knives. The turning knives continuously move product back into the cutting knives. It’s ideal, Gray added, for proper temperature control when processing.

To aid customers in their fresh-cut operations, Hobart has a Food Processor Labor Savings Calculator on its website, where operators can plug in what they are processing. The calculator will then tell them how quickly the machine will pay for itself.

Hobart also has a food processor brochure available with tips on cutting tools and food processor capacity.

Peelers: another angle on fresh-cut

Japanese manufacturer Astra Inc., which has US headquarters in Torrance, Calif., continues to see strong demand for time- and labor-saving fruit-peeling machines, which peel the skin off fruits faster and better than hand peeling or ordinary peeling machines can, said Ryo Takeshita, sales manager.

Astra recently completed a new deal with a well-known US supermarket chain and is enjoying growth across the board among retailers, fruit producers and fruit processors.

“These three are win-win relationships,” Takeshita said. “Supermarkets can save costs and sell many processed fruits; fruit producers can sell more fruits to the store; and ASTRA can sell more machines to all of these markets.”

The fruit industry in general is poised for 3-4% growth, Takeshita said. For fresh-cut fruit, it’s even higher – 5-6%.

As demand and markets grow, so do labor costs, and many more stores are still struggling to find labor, he said.

ASTRA machines fit in kitchens large and small, include back-of-the-store departments at grocery retail.

And the labor savings are significant. One of Astra’s customers, Takeshita said, bought two peelers. They were able to decrease the number of employees doing fresh-cut from 14 to 2.

And anyone can use them, he said. One customer told ASTRA about a 75-year-old employee who can peel 300 pieces of fruit per hour with her company’s peeler.

In 2022, Astra made major upgrades to its pineapple/mango/melon peeler, the KA-750PM, Takeshita said. The machine is now much more lightweight, saving users shipping fees and making it easier to clean and handle in general.

When it comes to fresh-cut, trends vary depending on the region, Takeshita said. In Asia and South America, pineapple is hot. In Europe, it’s lemons, and in the US, mangoes.

The benefit of ASTRA peelers is customers can peel many kinds of fruit with the same peeler, he added. The company’s peelers are now in use in more than 50 countries.

In just a few months, Takesheta, Astra’s peeling machines can pay for themselves in saved labor costs.

Its large, industrial peeler, the FAP-1001, is used in fresh-cut food commissaries and other large-scale facilities, like pie production plants and plants that produce value-added foods for hospitals, luxury ships, in-flight meals and other applications, Takeshita said.

Astra’s tabletop model, the KA-700H, is used in juice bars, cake shops, fruit stores, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, school lunchrooms and more.

The company got its start as a manufacturer of persimmon peeling machines. In 2015, it decided to expand its business to include peeling machines for other fruits. Because persimmons are on the pricey side, Astra developed high-quality, high-speed equipment to peel the fruits, which translated well to other fruits.

In 2019, Astra introduced the KA-750, a peeler designed for pineapples, mangos and melons, a machine that Takeshita said will change Astra’s product mix in the near future.

Most peelers use a round-type peeling unit, which is easy to manufacture, but slows cutting yields. 

In addition, peeled surfaces are bumpier, and more juice is lost in the process.

Astra’s peelers use a peeling blade, a method that more closely replicates a person hand-peeling a piece of fruit.

The blade method, Takeshita said, makes the peeling speed faster and the surface more beautiful, and there’s a higher yield rate and less chance of juice dripping.