Foodservice Equipment Reports

Supplies 2010: What’s Hot In Smallwares & Tabletop

Granted, it’s been a tough couple years for the foodservice equipment and supplies industry. But when we took the pulse of dealers across the country on trends in smallwares and tabletop, we found a lot happening and a great deal of consensus in many areas.

Among highlights: Spending on smallwares and tabletop is up.  Food safety clearly is getting continued emphasis, and another driver is a trend in smallwares toward greater versatility--items that can be used in both back and front of house are hot.

Quick and easy facelifting is on the radar too. Some operators are either going back to basic white, or using colors and varied materials to freshen a look without a remodel. Notably, some are mixing and matching small plates (for everything from amuse bouche to desserts) and large plates (for “mezze” or family style service).

Other operators are adopting a “signature” piece, either glassware or an entrée plate, to set their concepts apart, say these top dealers. And everyone is looking for greater sustainability.

For more details, read on.

Refresh With Color

Edward Don & Co., North Riverside, Ill.

Sophia Rosillo, Corporate Category Manager

2009 supplies volume (smallwares & tabletop): $200 million

For every rule there are exceptions, a point that makes the bipolar nature of the industry seem pretty normal in times like these.

“What we’re seeing, because the market is so price sensitive, is people going back to basics,” says Sophia Rosillo, corporate category manager at Edward Don & Co., North Riverside, Ill. “More restaurants feature comfort food on their menus, but there’s also the other extreme of fusion food, and more places are building menus around localized food.”

The back-to-basics folks are sticking to white, she says, but those who are looking to freshen their tabletops at a reasonable price often accomplish it with color.

“There’s a lot of two-tone out there—white on blue, white on black—and a lot of earth tones,” she says. “We’re also seeing the farm-to-table movement replicated on the tabletop with an organic style. Operators are using recycled glass in colors like fuchsia, orange and red, and they’re freshening up by using glass instead of porcelain or ceramic.”

Rosillo sees the same trend in operators updating buffets. They’re using smaller, sleeker chafers and serving dishes, putting less product on display, and making the buffet easier to replenish. Instead of huge glass or ceramic platters, more are serving on melamine and disposable products.

“There’s more color on buffet setups,” she says, “in acrylics, melamine, plastics, and now bamboo. To give the buffet a lower profile, operators are using risers with platters and enameled cast iron cookware, and a new line of stainless cookware with a color band for more color, too.”

Use of color extends into the kitchen, too, but for different reasons. Slip-proof cutting boards with a silicone edge now come in purple for allergens, she says, because more people are asking for allergen-free foods. Ingredient bins and/or their lids also come in colors for safety. Other popular smallwares include composite utensils that stay cool to the touch, a new thermometer that more accurately reflects internal food temps in walk-ins instead of ambient temperature, more tools and utensils made with antimicrobial materials, and a submersible digital scale.

“Manufacturers are taking the same products, improving them and offering them at the same price,” Rosillo says.

Economize Creatively

Bargreen-Ellingson, Tacoma, Wash.

Tim Irey, V.P. Sales

2009 supplies volume (smallwares & tabletop): N/A

Operators are definitely trying to save money in this economy, according to Tim Irey, v.p. sales for Bargreen-Ellingson, Tacoma, Wash., and they’re finding creative ways to do it.

“A lot of people have made the shift out of upper-level china to more economy tableware,” he says. “It may be that the product coming out of Asia is better now, or [it may be] a matter of fiscal responsibility so they can save a dollar or two per setting. Customers who buy high-end products see the value in it, but lots of chains realize their customer doesn’t care as long as the food speaks for itself.

“There’s a greater emphasis on ‘How do I reduce the total cost of tabletop?’ So, the question becomes do we source offshore or not. There are more suppliers than ever, and many established (manufacturing) companies are becoming marketers, farming out production to companies in the Far East. We ask ourselves if we should do that, too.

“To set themselves apart from competition, operators are looking at things like glassware, but they want to get multiple functions from a single glass. They’ll use a great martini glass at the bar, for an appetizer like shrimp cocktail, and for desserts.”

Different markets reflect different trends. Tabletops in Portland, Ore., tend toward the simple, with traditional white, round tableware, according to Irey. Seattle operators tend to use a mix of shapes and a more eclectic look on the tabletop. Placemats are big instead of linens.

Another way operators are saving money is using buffets to mix up service. “They see it as an opportunity to increase their draw and get customers to try things, then come back and spend dollars on the regular menu,” Irey says.

Where operators aren’t cutting back is in disposables—especially if they’re environmentally friendly. “Operators are putting huge energy into disposables,” he says. “These days, they have to be green. There’s a big emphasis on sustainability. Customers are asking us what products are available to help them become more sustainable, and even asking us about <i>our<i/> efforts to be more sustainable.

“In the back of the house, the main focus is on taking better care of the products they have, so we preach investment. When it comes time to replace items, we talk about the cost of ownership and stress that one good pan likely will be a better value than three [lower quality] pans.”

Unique items that are getting operator attention are tools like a portable, hand-held can opener for #10 cans that offers greater convenience, and interlocking cutting boards that can be taken apart for loading into the dishwasher.

Pay Attention To Retail

Boelter Cos., Waukesha, Wis.

Anne McCabe, President, Boelter Illinois & Michigan

2009 supplies volume (smallwares & tabletop): $80 million

Admit it: Many of the shows on “The Food Channel” are a guilty pleasure. After all, who doesn’t like food? And both the celebrity and amateur chefs are great fun to watch. Just as we watch them, they watch each other—and us.

“Retail drives a lot of our business now,” says Anne McCabe, president of The Boelter Cos. Illinois & Michigan division. “Chefs are like kids in candy stores in places like Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and kitchen stores, and they want the latest products in their kitchens, like Le Creuset.”

Stainless-clad cookware is a good example. Chefs like how it looks, but retail cookware often can’t stand up to the rigors of a commercial kitchen and offers only a one-year warranty, but not if it’s used commercially. Now foodservice manufacturers are coming out with better-built versions. The same goes for utensils.

Consumers also are driving another trend in foodservice kitchens: food safety. “There’s a huge focus on sanitation and better food-safety practices,” McCabe says, “because there’s a demand from the public for more safety with so many people getting sick recently.”

McCabe says she sees more demand for items like better ice scoops and ice-transfer systems, product-dating systems and food sanitizers. A relatively new product that hooks up to your sink and produces ozone to eliminate foodborne pathogens on produce is growing more popular.

Retail trends also are bleeding into foodservice tabletop to some extent. “When the economy tanked, a lot of operators stopped buying product and have been running out,” McCabe says. “Now they need to restock. They’re ordering mostly stock pieces in white, no logos or custom pieces—<i>economy<i/> white ware, too, not better china.

“They’re not matching patterns now, either. When they run out, they order a different look. Now everyone at the table may get entrées all on different plates,” McCabe notes.

 Products she says are growing in popularity include glass tableware with a recycled appearance, and a new line of tableware that looks like stoneware with the durability of good china at a low price. The manufacturer also claims the line has the lowest carbon footprint of any ceramic product in the world and offers a lifetime chip warranty.

Maintain Your Flexibility

TriMark S.S. Kemp, Cleveland

Anne Ladd, Director of Merchandising & Tabletop Products

2009 supplies volume (smallwares & tabletop): N/A

There’s been a marked shift in the look operators want in their facilities, especially in the noncommercial market, according to Anne Ladd, director of merchandising and tabletop products, TriMark S.S. Kemp, Cleveland.

“We’ve seen a 180-degree change in the past 18 months,” Ladd says. From traditionally higher-end catering to schools, universities and retirement facilities, operators are looking for more flexibility and functionality and less clutter. “Food is out in front of customers with workspace behind the servery, so the prep area has to be attractive to customers. And the space in the servery itself has to be less cluttered to allow ease of movement and more open space yet offer more choices at the same time.”

To accommodate both needs, operators are buying, for example, high-polish pans they can use in both back- and front-of-house. The serving line has changed from the traditional steamtable to wells with different shaped pans—ovals, hexagons and waves—again attractive enough to be used in a variety of settings.

“Straight-sided geometric shapes are big,” says Ladd, “in acrylic, melamine, and coated metal that will sit on ice. Double-walled stainless steel bowls are big, too. We’re working with a fabricator to develop a template for portable insulated stainless pans.”

In the back of the house, safety is key, and Ladd sees more smallwares that augment safety efforts. “More people are moving to utensils with cool-touch handles for safety, and there are a lot more color-coded products. Not just cutting boards and knives, but tote boxes and lids for storage containers.

Change Your Perspective

M. Tucker Co., Paterson, N.J.

Morgan Tucker, Senior Account Executive

2009 supplies volume (smallwares & tabletop): $12 million

There are 12 million stories in New York, which is probably why so many trends start there and work their way across the country. One trend with positive implications, according to Morgan Tucker, senior account executive at M. Tucker Co., Paterson, N.J., is that “people are starting to spend money again on tabletop.”

“For a while, restaurateurs spent on things like a wire bread basket instead of new china,” she says. “Now we’re seeing people looking for all kinds of things, but nothing that matches.”

Operators want new and different, so the trends Tucker sees include a wide range of servingware from wood to marble in lots of different colors—including products in earth tones like mocha and wheat going into autumn, but predominantly black going into winter with harder, colder materials to match, such as marble, glass and slate.

Centerpieces and décor, however, are trending toward the warm and homey. “We’re seeing more centerpieces—lamps, urns, vases—that are different and interesting,” she says. “No more glass votives. They’re things you’d find in your home, but nothing that looks uniform or commercial.”

The increased spending, at least in New York, also has been for better, more durable tableware. “There’s been a move toward bone china with significant ash content,” Tucker says, “with real translucence and increased durability. People are using bone for both color and for its long-lasting wear. My customers are going back to that super-vitrified plate with a lifetime warranty instead of the inexpensive porcelain adopted a few years ago to cut costs.”

The big trend in smallwares, she says, is toward tools and equipment that can go from the back of the house to the front. “Anything that can do that easily is a winner. Things that are interchangeable, push-and-play, that they can move and use in different places.”

In addition to utensils and cookware that can double as servingware, Tucker cites small countertop equipment that operators can use for single service and put away—counter convection ovens, induction burners, even waffle irons for desserts or the latest New York craze, chicken and waffles.

Accessorize For Value

Wasserstrom Co., Columbus, Ohio

Ursula Vermillion, Executive V.P.

2009 supplies volume (smallwares & tabletop): $260 million

Even in the worst of times, of which we’ve had plenty lately, you want to stay ahead of the curve. Your customers may not be spending as freely as they were a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with the same old thing. Restaurants grow older, and both décor and menus get stale.

“Restaurants are still trying to remodel, refresh, and stay current, trendy and hip,” says Ursula Vermillion, executive v.p. at Wasserstrom, Columbus, Ohio. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to do it.

 “A lot of operators are doing things with beverage programs,” Vermillion says, “so they’re looking at unique glassware, different sizes and shapes.” Glassware made from recycled glass is hot now, too.

Accessorizing is an inexpensive way to add color and/or uniqueness to your tabletops without a big remodel. “Operators are using accessory pieces on the tabletop for sauces, and small plates from french fries to desserts and beverages—whether it’s through color or particular shapes, anything to make their products sizzle.”

Vermillion sees more wire products, in use on tabletops, for example, as bread baskets or condiment holders, in either black or stainless steel finishes. At the same time, casual is in, so she sees more earth tones coming back across a broad range of tabletop product lines.

The trend to be trendy isn’t limited to high-end or white-tablecloth restaurants, either. “Even fast-casual chains are upgrading their presentations, moving from disposables to melamine, for example, to give their line more sizzle. Fast food is trying to accomplish the same thing with packaging to upgrade their presentation and make items look like more premium products.”

A Lot Of Potential

So there you have it—several overtrends, a lot of new products, and a lot of potential for making your operation more functional, more flexible and fresher looking. For a look at some specific hot new smallwares, check out the gallery products that accompany.

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