Innovation, trends & technology | NAFEM through the eyes of James Camacho

Foodservice professionals looking for the latest and greatest in equipment for the industry descended on Orlando in February for the biennial NAFEM Show, where more than 500 equipment and supplies manufacturers trotted out their products and services for customers to see first-hand.

James Camacho, FCSI, CSI, is a leading foodservice consultant — and a member of VantagePoint’s Foodservice Advisory Board. He is president of Camacho Associates Inc., serves as board chair for FCSI The Americas and was recently awarded NAFEM’s Doctorate of Foodservice Award.

We asked James what impressed him at NAFEM, what it says about the foodservice industry and what it’ll mean for his clients.

What kind of product developments or advances do you look for at NAFEM?

I’m usually looking for things that will improve efficiency or convenience for my clients.

Manufacturers need something that’s a little bit new to draw people in, but once I’m in the booth, I’m going to be looking for tweaks or updates that benefit my clients. Have they increased efficiency in that fryer? Is the oven easier to use?

Any examples that caught your eye this year?

Gaylord Industries highlighted a new hood that incorporates filters and scrubbers in the hood system, which helps solve the challenge of venting for a kitchen in an office tower, for example. And it reduces the cost of in-line scrubbers and filters that are often installed in the ceiling.

Imperial Brown was also showing keg hoists in their walk-in coolers, which is a great convenience for restaurants getting into the craft beer trend.

Technology is on everybody’s mind in restaurants these days. What technological developments did you see that may start to change how restaurants operate?

Technology and digital tools are definitely increasing in the equipment world. There were several examples of automated products that take the guess work and human error out of the equation.

One manufacturer was showing an oven that can detect on its own what’s being cooked and then automatically set the appropriate temperature and baking time.

I also saw a new beverage gun from Berg that can be programmed with a pre-set drink menu. It basically mixes drinks for you based on predetermined combinations. Bartenders can push a button and pour a Long Island Iced Tea or Bahama Mama without all the measuring.

These kind of digital tools are good for the labor market — restaurants don’t need skilled labor to operate this equipment. And you avoid the human error if you can simply tell the oven to prepare menu item no. 22.

But there are potential maintenance concerns since these tools will be harder to repair. With electronics and new technology, there’s always that issue.

Food trends are always a hot topic in any discussion of restaurants. Did you see any examples of equipment designed with food trends in mind?

A lot of restaurant innovation actually starts with the food and with what the chefs are trying to accomplish. They’re all looking for something to help them stand out in the market and draw people in.

A chain trying something new will often work with a manufacturer to develop a new piece of equipment, which can eventually end up on the market for everybody else to use.

I noticed Carter Hoffmann’s GardenChef herb and micro green growing cabinets. It’s obviously a great way to incorporate fresh herbs and greens into a menu, but it’s also a great marketing tool for the restaurant.

I also saw several new beer and beverage systems, particularly for craft sodas, which just reflects the growth of that beverage sector in restaurants.

Do you have any advice for exhibitors at NAFEM?

NAFEM is a great chance for people like me to see what’s out there and know what to ask for more information about, but it’s not going to change what I do overnight.

A shiny new product on display at NAFEM may sound great, but I’m not going to run out and specify it right away. It needs some proof. I want to see it on a job site or out in the field for a year before I start specifying things. I’ll often follow up with a manufacturer’s representative after the show and ask to set up a visit or lunch and learn to hear more about the equipment.

At the show, things can get overwhelming quickly. It’s huge, and there’s a ton to see. Manufacturers need to understand show attendees have a limited amount of time and be prepared to set up appointments ahead of time to tour the booth highlights on a one-on-one basis.

Let us know what most interested you at NAFEM in the comments below. And click the links for more insights from VantagePoint’s Foodservice Advisory Board on considerations for selecting foodservice equipment and trends and challenges in the foodservice industry.

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