The 2011 North American Pizza & Ice Cream Show (NAPICS) kicked off today in downtown Columbus, Ohio. This year’s event showcases about 150 vendors, displaying everything from energy-efficient ovens to gluten-free crusts.
Efficiency remains a big focus in the pizza industry, as cutting-edge ovens can save operators up to 40 percent on energy bills per year, according to Middleby Marshall Oven Company’s Jason Bireta. The Middleby’s Wow! Oven, for example, uses infrared energy technology that idles when food isn’t present.
Avantec Equipment’s oven is 20 percent smaller than standard equipment but has 20 percent greater capacity. It also boasts a patented technology air-flow system that controls the levels of air on two belts and can cook a variety of items at once, such as pizza and chicken wings. MF&B Restaurant Systems’ Edge Ovens also features an energy efficient system.
Efficiency is not limited to the baking process. Cooling is also a big culprit of waste. Hobart Corporation’s refrigerators, freezers and refrigerator/freezers cut down on such efficiencies, earning the appliances Energy Star ratings.
Saving on energy bills isn’t the only topic generating interest at NAPICS. Robust point-of-sale technology and digital signage/digital menu boards are also piquing curiosities.
“I think people are just now starting to figure out what they can do with (digital menu boards) and how beneficial they can be," said Eric Degori of Integrated Solutions Inc. & Cable Connections, out of Moon Township, Pa.
"They allow the opportunity to add specials or change the menu easily, which will also be huge when restaurants start displaying nutritional information. But the big benefit is the advertising potential. You ideally should be able to interest enough local businesses to advertise on this signage that the system will quickly pay for itself.”
Point of sale systems are far more than a simple financial exchange, and many operators are taking advantage of additional opportunities offered by comprehensive, streamlined technology.
Arrow POS’ robust system offers the chance for consumers to provide their email address or cell phone numbers for direct, customized marketing purposes. Future POS Ohio Inc.’s system includes an LCD screen that displays advertising messages to customers during transactions.
SpeedLine Solutions Inc. provides live menu updates from the POS to restaurants' online and mobile ordering applications, kiosks and digital menu boards. This capability ensures that all points of order and display are real-time accurate.
Technology and efficiency aside, the basics of NAPICS come down to the food. Meat, cheese and sauce options abound, but this year’s story is nontraditional crusts – notably gluten-free offerings, which have grown an estimated 10 percent in the past year.
Mike Voorhees of R.W. Bakers Co. in Muskegon, Mich., attributes most of this growth to a new, simpler testing process to detect celiac disease and increased health insurance coverage opportunities.
“If you offer gluten-free, are you going to get busloads of celiacs showing up at your restaurant every night?," Voorhees said. "No, but you will get a group of people who may have one or two celiacs or someone who is gluten intolerant with them and they will seek your restaurant out and they will return.”
The sixth fastest growing segment, according to a spokesperson from MaMa Rosa’s, is refrigerated pizza. Different from frozen pizza in many ways, refrigerated pizza is not unlike the take-and-bake concept and is available in the meat section at most major grocery retailers. MaMa Rosa’s is rolling out a grill-able pizza in early May. The Pizza Grillers will be available in pepperoni, four cheese, Italian sausage and roasted chicken with barbecue sauce.