With consumers eating out more often, the hot food-to-go sector is proving highly lucrative for operators. Self-service food is a fast, convenient and affordable solution for a generation on the go.
A new age of foodservice and convenience retail is upon us with demand for innovative products that not only look and taste delicious fresh from the oven, but retain optimum quality for hours on display.
Nuttall development chef Warwick Wakefield, spends his week showing caterers and aspiring food-to-go operators how to create stand out hot food-to-go concepts as part of the pioneering Nuttall food optimisation service. He is based at the new Foodservice Innovation Centre in Leicestershire also headquarters to the The Alan Nuttall Partnership Ltd. This is his typical day…
I leave my home on the outskirts of Lichfield and make the 45-minute journey to Nuttall’s Foodservice Innovative Centre in Hinckley, where, in my role as development chef, I will spend the day exploring how clients can branch into or further build on one of the biggest trends in foodservice, hot food-to-go, which has exploded in recent years. Nuttall’s have invested over £250K in the centre which features the latest technology to aid new food product development. We assist everyone from Costa and Crussh to Pret a Manger, Dunkin’ Donuts and Asda with their hot food-to-go offers.
Once in, the first thing I do is switch on the coffee machine to get me started. This gives me an energy boost for what can shape up to be an intense day. I then fire up the cooking equipment we’ll need, as well as Nuttall’s Flexeserve Zone hot food display cabinet. This will be the test unit for holding the food during the day. I then catch up with my emails before the client arrives.
Once the client has arrived and settled in, we sit down for 30 minutes to an hour to talk through their requirements and discuss their objectives for the day. They can bring their own products for us to look at or they might want us to develop something bespoke for them.
We discuss menu ideas and current equipment on the market and how to utilise it. Or, if they prefer, I look at how we can assist with their own equipment and operation. Then, there’s the staff requirements. One client might want to keep labour costs to a minimum and employ staff that literally have to push a button, another might have fully qualified chefs with quite different needs.
Packaging is a huge part of the success for hot food-to-go and, unbeknownst to many, can mean all the difference in product quality, so, next, we look at packaging solutions a client can have to optimise their concept, from looking enticing on a display to hot-holding benefits. Hot food-to-go is such a big thing right now and packaging suppliers are keen to work in partnership with specialists such as Nuttall’s. Having access to a multitude of options and styles to show clients creates an unprecedented, joined up approach for hot food-to-go development on a different scale.
After this, we start looking at different cooking methods and begin test cooking products, which could be anything from quiches and noodles to breakfast bagels, lunchtime soups, rice pots, spaghetti and meatballs through to a variety of warm desserts. The innovation and ideas that are coming to the fore in this sector right now are fascinating and I really enjoy the challenge of making them work.
Once the products are cooked, we take them out of the oven or other cooking equipment and sit together on the food pass to sample a benchmark product. The remaining products go into the recommended packaging and are placed into the Flexeserve Zone holding unit, the aim being that they should retain optimum quality for up to 4 hours, depending on the client. To ensure transparency at all times and the client meets their legal requirements, we place a data logging probe into the products to record the temperature at each time period.
We take out the products and compare them to the benchmark product. If the required result isn’t quite achieved, it’s time to look at other cooking methods, perhaps steaming to increase the moisture. It might be a simple change of packaging or a recipe adjustment such as changing the type of fats used or altering the protein to carbohydrate ration.
For instance, we recently tweaked the cooking methods for a global food operator’s pies and pastries and the quality difference was dramatic. We are also currently working on a London high street chain’s filled, sweet and savoury crepes, taking a tricky, delicate product and turning it on its head to create improvements. It’s at this point in the day it becomes clear to the client just how different hot plated food is to hot food-to-go.
We wrap up the day by talking about next steps, has the client taken enough from the day or do I need to install myself in their kitchen and help out on-site? Do they want to come back for further testing and bring their own staff?
Finally I send the client an e-mail with the reports from the day. This includes the set of results from the days testing which gives a detailed breakdown of the full operation, equipment used and graphs showing the data logged during hot holding in the Flexeserve Zone Unit®. This ensures we are fully transparent with the client giving them peace of mind that their products are not just great to eat after 3 or 4 hours but are also maintained above safe and legal levels.
Once the client has gone, I clean down the kitchen and spend the rest of the day researching food trends, cooking equipment and ways to speed up operations or make life easier. Are there quick-serve operations and casual dining groups that would benefit from hot holding assistance?
The innovation we are seeing in hot food-to-go right now is unprecedented and whilst I have many years experience as a chef, I still spend quite a bit of time experimenting and gaining knowledge. Overall, I love working in such a fast paced environment and all the daily challenges that comes with this.
*Nuttalls’ is a leading manufacturer of food display equipment merchandising solutions and innovative counter systems, including the Flexeserve® Intelligent Chassis with its modular interchangeable units and the Flexeserve Zone®.
For more information on the new service, visit www.hotfoodtogo.nuttalls.co.uk
Already recognised as one of the UK’s leading shopfitters, The Alan Nuttall Partnership Ltd specialises in interior fit-out, main and principal contracting, retail display design, manufacture and installation of fixtures, signage, foodservice and refrigeration equipment for retail, commercial, hospitality, leisure, foodservice and the public sector.