The National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers Show happened this past week in Anaheim, CA. Oh, what fun! Or so my son tried to convince me as we talked about his upcoming trip to the Show from Chicago. Since my wife and I live in Palm Springs, we are close enough to go visit him while he was there. But more than that, he convinced me to go to the show on the thought I might be able to assist him in his endeavors for the Chicago Foodseum.
Now, I’ve been to many such “industry” shows in connection with my previous employment, although talking to manufacturers of military equipment and their uses is a far cry from talking to those whose primary concern is food preparation, preservation and/or presentation. Once past that difference, however, this Show was remarkably similar to my previous experiences.
Getting past the registration desk was quick (love those computers) and once I had the necessary badge hanging from my neck, I was able to enter the acres of exhibitor space and wander around. Just as with the military shows of my past, I was not really their primary customer (long story). Therefore, I avoided most contact with the individual company representatives, as talking to me is not why they were there. However, my son had suggested I might write a blog about the Show, so at least I had a cover story, if I needed one.
Companies that caught my attention:
Michigan Maple Block Company — We’ve lived in Michigan on and off for 14 years, and consider it a great place of interest. That and the woodworking connection made this vendor a favorite!
Chef Specialties Co, Inc — This company’s display indicated its product line as exclusively pepper mills. A very nice representative saw me gawking and kindly showed me the internals of their product and how they worked. I give them credit, the metal grinding wheel was more sophisticated than one I saw at another exhibitor in the show. This lends credence to their claim to create the best mills available. Their website suggests they also supply salt dispensers, but their focus is clear. They have to win the award for the company with the most singularly focused product line at the Show.
Duke Manufacturing Co. — This is a much more diversified product manufacturing company, although what first caught my eye were the panels describing the firm’s history. The company started in 1925, with a single product – the first waterless hot food well. Now I don’t have a clue what this does for the buyer, but it must have been well received (no pun intended), as now the company has over 4500 different products which it sells around the world. In reading the history, it has as clients several recognizable names in the fast food industry, as well as restaurant chains that are not so “fast”. In reading through the history, I came to the realization that this company is as forward-looking as any of the ones I have studied as potential investments — a demonstrated sustainability concern in product offerings, selling not only products but custom solutions, and energetic international expansion just for example — and to my surprise, it’s a privately-owned company. By definition, investment is only possible with public companies, so my experience with private ones is very limited. My, investigations have led me to believe that the shareholders expectations are the drivers for continuous growth and improvement. Well, OK; market competition is the ultimate driver of change, but the requirements of anonymous shareholders require management to be constantly up-to-date in responding to those changes, right? Of course it must be the same way for private companies (duh!) if they are to compete with public ones. The sign says that the current Chairman and CEO is an owner, so clearly in some cases it is not necessary to have distance and anonymity between owner and management to assure a top-of-the-line, leader-of-the-pack growing company. Alright, a lesson in the obvious, but every once in awhile I need one of those.
Vollrath Co., LLC — A large company with many product and service offerings, what caught my eye at their stand was the “Induction Seduction” sign. Induction cooking is not common in homes as yet, but thanks to a friend of ours, we have just installed one at our house. Induction heats through electrical induction rather than thermal conduction as is the case with the usual gas or electric stoves. The induction element has a heating performance comparable to a gas burner, but is significantly more energy-efficient. It also has in common with gas stoves the advantage of almost instantaneous adjustment of heating levels. (Information from “theinductionsite.com”). Vollrath was not the only induction stove vendor at the Show, I should point out, but rather one of only 17.
Clearly one of the chef’s most important possessions is his knife (or knives, of course), so it was not a surprise to find Victorinox with a number of its traditional products on display. While not always the first thing to come to mind when thinking of food equipment manufacturers, one does have to clean up the kitchen and dining room, so why not Rubbermaid? Looking like a poodle skirt of the 1950’s, their latest mop-head upgrade has along the bottom a band of material to facilitate the mop’s spread, thus its usefulness. Innovation is valuable to us all!
True Food Service Equipment, Inc. — This company, started in 1945 by a man and his son making a roll-top bottle refrigeration unit for beer at their local bar, continues to focus on refrigeration equipment for a wide variety of food and beverage applications. One of the sales team noticed I had hesitated to read the signage describing their recent upgrade to use of R290 refrigerant. The sign described in simple-to-understand graphs and numbers the much reduced environmental impact due to the introduction of this hydrocarbon refrigerant. Although not the only vendor at the show using this new approach, they made it the center of their exhibit. The sales agent was kind enough to take a few minutes to help me understand the benefits described in more detail, but I deliberately kept our conversation short.
Atosa Catering Equipment, Inc. — As I was walking by Atosa’s area, one of their sales reps came out to greet me. It was later in the day, so I was less wary of taking up his time. He told me that Atosa is a Chinese company, with only a 26-month presence in the US. They already have distribution bases in five major cities. My new friend told me they are a leader in China in this business, and have a considerable distribution presence in many other countries besides China. They make virtually any catering equipment that can be made out of stainless steel, but their primary products are related to refrigeration. As with many of the vendors with large sales areas at the show, they are a wholesale-only business. I noticed there were a number of internationally-owned businesses at the show, but this one struck me as probably one of the newest in the US.
Lakeside Manufacturing, Inc. Milwaukee, WI — Many vendors offered carts of various kinds, but this company’s informal enhancement to their “MOBILITY” offering caught me a bit off-guard. Given the company’s base of operations, however, it was easily understood!
NAFEM has a very useful phone/tablet application which with my son’s help I was able to get into using the QR reader code supplied. The most popular product offered was racks and griddles, perhaps not too surprisingly for people who are familiar with the industry. A couple of new items for me are the Bain Maries (a container of hot water into which a pan is set for controlled-heat cooking) and the Mandolines (slicing tool to get even slices). Perhaps not surprisingly, the item that was on offer from the fewest vendors was fabric napkins.
Industry conventions or shows are very useful for the industry involved, but it is easy for me to learn interesting things as well, and that makes them fun.