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October 2002
[updated March 2003]
By Jennifer Hicks
SPECIAL REPORT: 5th Annual Smallwares Awards

Safety and simplicity score big as judges look for the little details that make a difference.

Too complicated, too simple, or just right? The questions hovered around our judges throughout the 2002 smallwares competition, as 45 new products vied for the attention of two operators and three dealer-distributor salespeople.

When Ty Dassler, Tracy Franas, Joe Palumbo, Jim Schulze and David Shea—all of whom are profiled on the previous page—turned up for the judging in August ’02, they found tables piled high with products, and spent an entire morning discussing the merits of label dispensers, colored storage boxes, thermal meters, scales, scoops and the like. It’s a tough job, and the judges held up well.

Before naming their six winning picks in the smallwares category, however, this year’s judges spontaneously launched a discussion of the current state of smallwares, and what they’re looking for as buyers and sellers. We listened closely, as should all smallwares makers.

In the kitchen, simpler is better, said Dassler, manager of the Davis St. Fishmarket in Evanston, Ill. “Sometimes smallwares makers try to get fancy, but the kitchen is a brutal place, and very often we aren’t looking for ‘advancements,’” he said. “We look for usability. Can you get two months out of a tool, or two years?”

Simplicity of use affects training, too, said the dealer-distributor judges. “You don’t want to be retraining constantly,” said Palumbo, business development specialist for Edward Don & Co., North Riverside, Ill. “Some smallwares look like they need training to use. How much time do you have? The guy or gal you train today might be gone tomorrow.”

Where manufacturers had developed something truly innovative—and where design matched with the judges’ desire for ease of use—the group had nothing but praise. Scores were highest for products that promoted food safety, overall kitchen sanitation, and effective cleaning and housekeeping.

Step This Way For A Moment
Before we review this year’s winners, here’s a bit of competition history. When we started the smallwares contest in 1998, we invited suppliers to submit their most innovative and best new smallwares for our hand-picked judges. Over the course of five competitions, some 28 judges have named a total of 38 smallwares winners from more than 170 finalist products.
It’s never been easy getting to the finals. Every summer we send out a call for entries and require suppliers to follow specific criteria. Products must be new introductions—meaning, new to the market since the previous year’s National Restaurant Association Show—and must have some benefit: labor savings, food safety, personnel safety, meeting a specific challenge.

So the competition is literally open to any smallwares maker that wants to take a stab at it. But once the products reach our office, we put every one to the test. First, we trim entries that pre-date the eligibility cutoff. Second, we exclude products that just don’t fit the definition of innovative, or that clearly appear to be knockoffs of things we’ve seen before. Finally, we eliminate products with motors—our definition of smallwares allows for tools that are mechanical, but not powered by electricity (with the exception of electronic scales). Ultimately, we pass on as many entries as possible to that year’s judging panel.

And this year’s panel, with its two operators and three dealer-distributor salespeople, brought balance to the proceedings with differing viewpoints. The operator judges tended to examine products for every-day operational benefits, while the sales pros were quick to reference similar products from other manufacturers and share a more comprehensive view of the world of smallwares.

Back To Present
With a record number of entries this year—53 products—the editors spent quite a bit of time reviewing the entries and paring the group to the 45 finalists. And after more than an hour of hands-on evaluation—and another hour of conversation to hash out differing opinions and revise scores where appropriate—the judging panel named these six the 2002 smallwares winners.

First up alphabetically is C&K Mfg.’s Moisture Magnet Absorbent Mat. The innovative mat features a patented, five-layer water absorption system that draws in and holds moisture. And not just a little bit of moisture. The mat holds 2.48 gals of water per square yard, nearly twice the amount as similar mats out there, says C&K.

The Moisture Magnet is made of mildew-resistant material and features a nonskid backing. All in all, the mat rang up a winner with the judges. More importantly, you get a mat that prevents puddles from forming at entranceways, in hallways, behind counters and more.

In short, the mat’s a quick way to make your workplace safer for employees constantly on their feet.

Food safety, colorized. That’s the story with Carlisle FoodService Products’ new Spectrum StorPlus Food Boxes, designed in see-through color to help prevent cross contamination. As with other color-coded products, red means meat, yellow means poultry, green means veggies, and so on. Use to store and transport your ready-to-eat and raw foods. StorPlus boxes come in 12” x 18” and 18” x 26” sizes; clear lids and boxes are also available.

Make food container labeling easier with the Daydots Mix-N-Match Label Dispensers. Dispensing modules snap together and allow you to combine multiple sizes of labels into one dispensing unit. Models come in 1”, 11&Mac218;2”, 2” and 3” widths, and endcaps are available to give your dispenser a sleek, finished look. Nonskid rubber feet keep it all in place, or you can go for the wall-mount hardware. Judges approved of the concept, and liked the labels, too, but had this advice for Daydots: “Make the labels bigger.”

Careening into the competition with two color-coded products for improved food safety, Edlund Co. walked away a winner with its KR-50 NSF Certified Color-Coded Knife Racks. Ideal for smaller kitchens, individual work areas or carving stations, the racks are made of stainless steel with high-impact thermoplastic inserts colored to match the application: red for meat, yellow for poultry, etc. Go a step further and match colored knife handles to the rack’s specified color. Rack stands 12” tall and holds one cleaver or two chefs knives; three slicers; four paring knives, and one steel.

The Kleenpak Cutlery Dispensing System goes a step beyond the original concept—which was a finalist in last year’s competition—by mounting three dispensers on a carousel. You simply place packs of prepackaged flat ware into the dispenser and walk away. Your customers get plastic flatware hygienically delivered one at a time, an organized cutlery station, and no wrapper waste. Kleenpak Systems can also custom color your dispenser. “I love that dispenser,” said Franas, of The Boelter Cos., “and gave it a high rating because it’s sanitary.” There you have it.

And finally, judges liked the Bake ’n Ship Baking Tray from Laminating Technologies. The simple tray allows you to pour in batter, bake and ship all in the same container. The three-ply tray features a polyester film, carefully laminated onto heat-resistant foil, and a sturdy corrugated outer layer. The tray can withstand oven temps of 450&Mac251;F, and the patented polyester film prevents product from leaking out of the tray.

Of course, the winners only tell part of the story when it comes to our Smallwares Competition. Read on for details on the other 39 finalist products.

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