by James J. Hodl, Chef Magazine

This is an Equipment Solutions online exclusive article on display and merchandising equipment for the July 2009 issue of Chef Magazine.

One item every foodservice operation has plenty of is shelving, essentially because they keep assorted foods and other items where they are best located and easy to grab when most needed. In the front of restaurants--as well as in cafeterias, convenience stores and mall kiosks--shelving serves to display foods in all their mouth-watering appeal to passing potential purchasers.

To help foodservice businesses most efficiently organize foods (and add a little panache in the front sales/dining area), manufacturers have been upgrading their products in these categories to provide added value.

Among display/merchandising units, becoming "greener" is a major trend. A more environmentally conscious way to merchandise food to the grab-and-go market was unveiled by Eaton, Ohio-based Henny Penny Corp. during this year's NRA Show. Express Profit Center Merchandisers (pictured, right) employ air curtain technology that not only makes its easier for customers to snatch the displayed food product by eliminating barriers like doors and flaps, but also secures the internal environment by keeping heat and humidity around the food longer. This extends holding times up to four hours and also reduces food waste, according to Henny Penny. Another energy saver in these merchandisers is LED lighting, which uses only 15 percent of the electricity of a fluorescent bulb by lasts 10 times as long. Also in 3- and 4-foot-wide models, these heated merchandisers come with adjustable thermostats, adjustable shelving and optional basket sales accessories.

Energy-saving xenon lamps now illuminate the displayed foods in Glo-Ray GRCMW Heated Display Warmers (pictured, left) marketed by Milwaukee-based Hatco Corp. While using 70 percent less electricity than fluorescent lights, the xenon lamps work with mirrored glass back panels to make food items stand out, thus soliciting more impulse sales, according to the company. Other features include a thermostatically controlled heated base that maintains safe serving temperatures and separate humidification controls that keep foods at optimum moistness to retain "just-prepared" freshness for hours afterward.

Another trend is to provide more control over how cooked food items are stored in their display cases, to the exclusion that one uniform temperature serves all items. Each of the five shelves has its own thermostat in the HSM-48/5S Heated Shelf Merchandiser (pictured right) introduced last year by Alto-Shaam Inc., Menomonee Falls, Wis. This independent control enables the correct keep-warm heat for the particular grab-and-go menu item to be applied uniformly to the bottom of the shelf on which it sits, according to Alto-Shaam. As a result, these foods stay moister and tastier. Other features include low-wattage fluorescent lighting that illuminates the food while saving on energy bills, and front-mounted heat guards that protect customers when they reach for their meals. Glass side panels give food greater visibility.

An ideal holding environment for specific foods can be created inside the Hot Deli Merchandiser (picture, left) marketed by Fri-Jado Inc., Carol Stream, Ill. This is accomplished by upper radiant heaters that can be independently adjusted to control both the heat and humidity over each food, according to the company. Humidification can be set at four different levels, including "dry." Air circulation created by this system prevents condensation on windows that would block view of the food. Large front windows, mirrored glass interiors and halogen lighting make everything inside this merchandiser visible, thus further encouraging impulse sales among passers-by.

Marketed in 3, 4, 5 and 7 well sizes, the merchandiser also helps maximize employee productivity. Food trays are ergonomically placed for easy filling of orders, the front glass lifts up for easy cleaning, and the unit has a no-square-corners interior meaning no stray food can become trapped.

Heated display cases designed to create impulse sales of pizza--either whole or by the slice--continue to grow in available models. Hatco has added its Flav-R-Saver system, which creates humidified heated air that envelops foods to keep them at serving temperature longer, to its Model FDWD-1 Pizza Display Cabinet. Humidity is created in this cabinet by a top-mounted mechanism that mixes with heated air and directed downward on the food. The system better preserves flavors and moist texture than systems that merely blow hot air across foods.

A motorized rotating rack puts up to four pizzas in an appetizing display. Assorted shelf, rack and tree inserts enable the cabinet to be used to promote grab-and-go sales of other food, from hot sandwiches to pretzels.

Already-baked pizzas can be put on display by the Roundup Pizza Display Case (pictured, left) marketed by A.J. Antunes & Co., Carol Stream, Ill. But the Roundup Pizza Station goes one better by baking refrigerated or frozen pizzas in a self-contained oven below the merchandising display case. The oven, which has a maximum temperature setting of 375°F, has an adjustable baking rack and crumb tray. The display case has a rotating display rack that adds eye appeal.

Both units have thermostatic controls that enable raising the display cabinet temperature to make the pizza hotter as required. The Pizza Station oven, which also cooks cheese sticks and pieces of chicken, can be used at convenience stores and nontraditional food locations like bars, bowling alleys and recreational facilities.

Nemco Food Equipment, Hicksville, Ohio, has expanded its line of heated merchandisers to include the model 6480-S (pictured, right) has dual slanted shelves with dividers to give potential grab-and-go customers a better passing look at what it contains. Designed to hold up to 24 sandwiches per shelf, this merchandiser also can be used to display whole pizzas, hot snacks and baked goods. The unit is equipped with two toggle switches so each of the shelves can be operated independently, maintaining set temperatures of 165°F or more for 30-plus minutes. Each shelf has an aluminum dissipating plate that evenly distributes heat to foods.
Oldways and The Whole Grains Council are issuing a call for dining and foodservice outlets to enter the Third Annual Whole Grains Challenge. In the challenge, schools, hospitals, workplace cafeterias and restaurants compete to deliver the most creative and pervasive promotions of whole grain foods during the month of October. To be eligible, each foodservice operation must offer at least one whole grain choice daily during that month.

A total of ten winners will be selected, one from each of the Challenge's 10 categories: Quick Serve Restaurant, Family/Casual Restaurant, Fine Dining, Lodging/Catering, K-12 public schools, K-12 private schools, College/University, Workplace, Healthcare and Other (the best category for in-store delis).

Last year's winners included Papa John's, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Fair Hill Inn and Compass Corporate Catering.

Winners receive an attractive framed medal commemorating their success, nationwide publicity and valuable whole grain prizes so they can serve even more whole grains to their customers. Details and examples of last year's winning entries are available now at, where an entry form for the 2009 challenge will also be available starting Sept. 1. The deadline for this year's entries is Nov. 6, and winners will be announced on Nov. 15.