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“Ghost Kitchens” Offer New Foodservice Opportunities and Market Resilience

Paul_Hepperla Paul Hepperla | Vice President, Solutions Strategy – Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), more than 110,000 restaurants and bars in the United States closed for business either temporarily or permanently in 2020. “Ghost kitchens” — which refers to any foodservice operation that prepares orders for off-premises dining only — were among the few foodservice business models that proved resilient to the pandemic’s negative economic effects. In a recent article for Foodservice Equipment and Supplies, I discussed the business opportunities and challenges of this emerging virtual restaurant strategy.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, only an estimated 15% of operators reported setting up ghost kitchens. Yet by May 2020, more than half of restaurant operators had implemented a ghost kitchen strategy for some or all of their delivery orders. Not only did ghost kitchens allow many restaurants to stay open, but they also helped to offset the loss of dine-in sales with an off-premises business model that required less labor and offered the potential for shared real estate costs.

Out of necessity, consumers quickly familiarized themselves with the concept of virtual foodservice, which typically has the following characteristics:

  • Operates without a physical storefront
  • Provides no on-site dining or waitstaff
  • Offers third-party delivery service or take-out options only

Today, with the easing of in-person dining restrictions, it appears that ghost kitchens are here to stay. Industry experts expect sales from virtual foodservice to increase 42% this year and rise 25% annually over the next five years.

Advantages of a ghost kitchen model

The ghost kitchen concept appeals to a wide variety of foodservice segments, covering nearly every culinary category and operating under a range of business models, including:

  • Large, shared kitchen spaces with individual stations
  • Pop-up segments within existing restaurant kitchens
  • Fully functioning and autonomous kitchen pods

One similarity among these approaches is that multiple ghost kitchen brands are typically designed to share a common operating space. Regardless of the business model, ghost kitchens offer a variety of operational benefits, including:

  • Reduced start-up costs — Entrepreneurs can launch a ghost kitchen operation without significant capital investment or new construction.
  • Greater menu flexibility — Operators can introduce new brands in regional, smaller scales while larger, established brands can trial new menu items. They can also quickly change their offerings without concerns of having to update signage or printed materials.
  • Improved customer access — Operators can place ghost kitchens in strategic locations in metropolitan and/or rural areas to shorten the distance to their customers.

Key operator considerations

With the likelihood that multiple operators will share the same ghost kitchen space, equipment uptime and reliability become mutual concerns. Even though each vendor may have many unique food preparation requirements, they may still share walk-in coolers and freezers, combi-ovens and fryers. This will also result in larger refrigeration loads and potentially a greater variety of cooking equipment to accommodate offering diversity.

Equipment sharing also raises questions about owning and/or leasing of these critical assets. Will the facility operator incur costs, or will the vendors lease equipment based on a flat fee or usage? Additionally, usage monitoring will become more important, both to understand utilization patterns and assess equipment condition to ensure it is running at peak performance and efficiency.

To protect consumers and ensure food quality and safety, ghost kitchen operators will be required to implement standard protocols, such as:

  • Establishing hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) programs
  • Using temperature monitoring and probing devices to automate data collection and recordkeeping for local health inspectors

Determining energy consumption will be important in understanding the energy profiles of each ghost kitchen facility, food vendor or equipment type. Operators should consider a sub-metering energy measurement strategy to record usage per vendor and monitor energy consumption of each equipment asset. Whether energy costs are assessed via a flat fee per vendor or per equipment energy usage, this data will be important in developing energy-efficient and sustainable operational strategies.

Emerson has the tools and technologies to support all stakeholders in the ghost kitchen value chain. From refrigeration technologies to connected monitoring devices and facility management control platforms, we’re helping ghost kitchen operators and vendors to maximize food quality and safety, increase equipment reliability, and monitor performance to meet this emerging market need.

 

Grow Your Bottom Line With Sustainable Refrigeration Retrofits

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Across the food retail market, supermarket operators are re-evaluating their legacy refrigeration architectures. A dynamic mix of regulatory mandates, sustainability goals and the emergence of e-commerce fulfillment models are dictating changes in the status quo of refrigeration. We recently published an article in the RSES Journal that discussed refrigeration retrofit strategies that allow retailers to meet their sustainability objectives while improving their bottom lines.

When considering refrigeration retrofits, food retailers must remember that sustainability is a two-sided coin. While reducing leaks of global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants is important for lowering direct emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), many supermarket operators often overlook the potential for indirect GHG emissions caused by poor system energy efficiencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that supermarkets are the most electricity-intensive of all commercial buildings. Commercial refrigeration systems account for 40–60% of supermarket energy consumption and are by far the greatest contributor to indirect GHG emissions. Combined, direct and indirect emissions make up the true measure of sustainability, or a system’s total equivalent warming impact (TEWI).

Reduce direct emissions with lower-GWP refrigerants

The transition from high-GWP refrigerants and those with ozone depletion potential (ODP) is inevitable. Common legacy refrigerant options such as the HFC R-404A will be phased down while hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) such as R-22 are being phased out. But this does not necessarily mean operators should immediately transition to an alternative refrigerant or embark on a complete refrigeration rebuild.

Lower-GWP A1 refrigerants, such as the hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) blend R-448A/R-449A, are available that allow end-users to retrofit their existing system, reduce GWP from direct emissions by up to 60%, and still maintain a familiar operational footprint similar to the one they have today.

For those operators currently using R-22, the transition to R-448A/R-449A is relatively straightforward and requires very few substantive architecture changes. The transition from R-404A to R-448A/R-449A is slightly more involved but can still be accomplished without significant architectural changes. R-448A/R-449A produces compressor discharge temperatures that run approximately 10–12% higher than R-404A. This may require additional compressor cooling mitigation such as head cooling fans, demand cooling modules, or a liquid or vapor injected scroll compressor. Consult your compressor OEM’s guidelines for specific retrofit procedures.

Improve system energy efficiencies

Any system retrofit or upgrade comes at a cost, so food retailers must ensure their investment delivers long-term viability and returns to their bottom line. This is where reducing indirect emissions by improving energy efficiencies plays such an important role. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that every dollar saved in electricity is equivalent to increasing sales by $59.

While it makes sense to undertake energy-efficiency measures in conjunction with a refrigerant transition, energy optimization best practices can — and should — be performed periodically on all systems. Before considering any retrofit options, start by performing a system assessment to determine your current performance metrics — which in many cases will deviate significantly from the system’s original commissioned baseline.

The next logical step in the energy optimization process is to enable a variable-capacity modulation strategy by either upgrading to a digitally modulated compressor or adding a variable-frequency drive (VFD) to a fixed-capacity compressor. Variable-capacity modulation provides significant system improvements, not just to energy efficiency but also to overall refrigeration system performance, reliability and lifespan. Benefits include:

  • Precise matching of capacity to changing refrigeration loads
  • Tight control over suction manifold pressures, allowing increased setpoint and energy savings
  • Improved case temperature precision
  • Reduced compressor cycling (on/off)

In digital compressor retrofit scenarios, we’ve demonstrated that replacing an underperforming, fixed-capacity compressor with a variable-capacity compressor can result in an additional 4% energy savings — even before activating digital modulation capabilities. And once digital modulation is activated, operators can expect an additional 12% energy savings.

Whether you’re trying to reduce your direct emissions with lower-GWP refrigerants or seeking to improve energy efficiencies and lower your indirect emissions, Emerson has compression technologies and sustainable refrigeration solutions to help you meet your specific objectives. The Copeland™ digital semi-hermetic and Copeland™ digital scroll compressors provide opportunities to transition to lower-GWP refrigerants and enable variable-capacity modulation to drive energy efficiencies.

Connected Strategies Drive Needed Cold Chain Visibility

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning,

Cargo Solutions, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

Over the last decade, connected technologies have transformed the ways in which food cold chain operators preserve food safety and quality. By utilizing monitoring devices connected via the internet of things (IoT), cold chain stakeholders have much greater visibility into their supply chains — and control of myriad factors impacting freshness, safety and quality. Today, with the acceleration of e-commerce fulfillment models, these tools and technologies are even more critical. I recently participated in an article from The Packer, which discussed the importance of cold chain connectivity in today’s challenging retail business climate.

When you consider the international sourcing of fresh produce, overseas shipments can last from two to four weeks, often involving 20–30 steps to travel from farms to consumers. With today’s IoT-enabled monitoring and tracking infrastructures, cold chain stakeholders have the potential for much-improved visibility into each step of this journey — even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. Connected devices give operators the ability to monitor, control and track a variety of determining conditions, including temperature, humidity, the presence of ripening agents, lighting and much more.
Impacts of e-commerce acceleration
While the growth of the e-commerce grocery business began well before 2020, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this trend dramatically. In particular, click-and-collect business models have introduced new refrigeration requirements; but many of the walk-in cold storage lockers and reach-in coolers installed for these purposes were undersized for pandemic-driven spikes in volumes. What’s more, many of these coolers were not designed for high volumes of traffic, and frequent opening and closing of doors cause infiltration of warmer, humid air.
Simply put, retailers need new refrigeration strategies to manage the high volume of orders, maintain precise temperatures, and keep up with today’s demand. But it’s critically important to seize this opportunity and provide service levels that keep consumers coming back — especially considering studies show half of customers will stop shopping online with a retailer if they are not happy with the service.
To help address these challenges, Emerson recently launched the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series. This reliable and robust unit provides refrigeration for medium-temperature, walk-in coolers, such as those used by supermarkets making the transition to e-commerce business models. In addition, its wide applicability makes it ideal for display cases and food preparation areas that are commonly found in convenience stores, small-format stores and restaurants.
Making the cellular network transition
The ongoing evolution of wireless networks is impacting the connected infrastructures and devices utilized by cold chain technology providers. Currently, there are 4.5 million connected pieces of equipment monitored globally by Emerson’s Retail Solutions business. And in many regions, the mobile device industry is phasing out the use of 2G and 3G networks in favor of newer technologies such as 5G. As a result, any legacy real-time tracking device that relies on 2G and 3G networks to transmit data may experience brownouts in coverage.
This is why Emerson is currently launching new devices that utilize emerging technologies such as Category M, or “Cat-M” and Narrow Band internet of things, or “NB-IoT” — both of which are coming online as cellular providers introduce 4G and 5G networks. In fact, we recently launched our next-generation 4G/Cat-M real-time trackers at the Fruit Logistica trade show in Berlin. These new devices are designed to bridge the gap between 2G and these emerging technologies to ensure uninterrupted tracking and monitoring.
Key infrastructure upgrades
As part of our connected infrastructure upgrades, we have also recently introduced Oversight 2, a cloud-based online portal that serves as a real-time resource for monitoring in-transit shipment information. Oversight 2 provides stakeholders with key data points that may impact the quality of perishable cargo, such as temperature, location and other indicators.
For the retail store environment, Emerson’s ProAct™ Connect+ Enterprise Management Software provides near real-time access to critical information to help retailers immediately track, triage and respond to issues across their multi-site network and better meet food quality and safety expectations.

Tracking Food Safety Data During the Cold Chain Journey

MattToone_2 Matt Toone | Vice President, Sales & Solutions – Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Whether you’re a convenience store (c-store) operator, quick-service restaurant (QSR), or a fast casual or fine dining establishment, ensuring food quality and safety is imperative to your success. In this blog, the third of a three-part series based on a recent E360 article, Minimizing Food Safety Risks From Farm to Fork, I explore how advanced technologies can protect food safety at every step in the cold chain.

Tracking Food Safety Data During the Cold Chain Journey

Food safety and quality are the cornerstones to any successful foodservice operation. The ability for operators to deliver on both, however, hinges in large part on an interdependent supply chain of multiple, diverse stakeholders. Yet many operators are unaware of the efforts required to maintain food safety and quality throughout this cold chain.

Until now.

The rise of internet of things (IoT) technologies is providing unprecedented opportunities to monitor, control and track the many factors that influence quality during food’s long journey from farms to customers. For foodservice operators, this means greater control over ensuring that food is safe on receipt. Exercising this power starts with understanding the cold chain and how data is collected.

The cold chain journey

As foodservice operators well know, the pressure to protect food safety is felt most acutely where customers buy or consume food. But every stakeholder in the cold chain is responsible for maintaining food quality and freshness:

  • Harvesting and processing: The cold chain journey begins at the moment of harvest, where everything from the time of day to environmental conditions affect quality. Processors use a variety of strategies, including temperature controls, to slow or halt the decay process. The pipeline of data monitoring also begins at this stage, with pulp temperature probes and temperature loggers and trackers.
  • Transportation: Whether food is shipped by land, sea or air, reputable transport companies will apply a variety of best practices and technologies to protect its quality. Independent temperature monitoring, logging and tracking devices that provide real-time communications are essential at this stage. These systems enable remote monitoring and issue alert notifications when deviations in temperatures, humidity, modified atmosphere settings and vibration occur.
  • Cold storage: Cold storage distribution centers are another vital link in the cold chain. Here, data is collected at several points to ensure that food meets documented food safety standards. Many of these facilities employ different temperature zones and use both industrial and commercial refrigeration technologies. Devices that can work across disparate systems to monitor, record and maintain proper temperatures are critical to providing temperature certainty.
  • Restaurants: From the moment they accept a shipment, operators take ownership of food safety. For this reason, they should meticulously inspect all data accrued during the product’s journey to ensure it was kept at optimal conditions. After receipt, advanced facility and refrigeration controls can help operators maintain proper temperatures and comply with food safety regulations.

Solutions to protect food safety at every step

The cold chain can involve multiple hand-offs as food makes a days- or weeks-long journey to its final destination. That’s why end-to-end solutions for cold chain technologies are so essential to protecting food safety. An unbroken chain of data, paired with the streamlining capabilities of IoT technologies, puts greater oversight of food quality into the hands of operators and their suppliers.

At Emerson, we have both the refrigeration expertise and targeted solutions for nearly every point along the food supply chain. Our growing portfolio of connected, communicating devices and enterprise management software provides the solutions and resources our customers need to achieve cold chain temperature certainty and verification throughout food’s journey.

From compression and refrigeration system technologies, to case controls and facility management devices, to temperature loggers, trackers and probing devices, to software and services — we’re a leading single-source partner dedicated to helping our customers ensure full cold chain integrity.

So if you’re ready to take your operation to the next level with advanced controls and technologies, contact Emerson today.

 

E360 Breakfast at NAFEM: Automating the Commercial Kitchen Panel Discussion

Paul Carlson_Blog Paul Carlson | Vice President/General Manager Foodservice
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Before the doors open at the NAFEM show on February 8, join us at 7 a.m. for an E360 Breakfast and panel discussion on automating the commercial kitchen.

The internet of things (IoT) is making its way into commercial kitchens, connecting equipment and processes to deliver greater degrees of automated efficiencies. Bringing these concepts to life will have significant impacts on business operations in a variety of areas, including: maintenance and service, food quality, labor efficiency and technology.

Enjoy a free breakfast on us as you listen to an expert panel discuss the possibilities and challenges of automating commercial kitchens. The panel discussion will be followed by a Q&A segment where you can pose some of your most pressing questions.

After breakfast, be sure to visit the Emerson booth (#4100) on the NAFEM show floor where you’ll find many of our leading technologies, including:

  • Copeland Outdoor Refrigeration Unit (X-Line) — see how leading retailers are saving space, improving efficiencies and reducing noise, rather than using self-contained or rack refrigeration systems
  • Copeland M-Line Condensing Unit — this R-290-ready, M-Line condensing unit helps OEMs and operators move to an environmentally friendly, natural refrigerant platform
  • Site Supervisor — designed for small formats, this flexible facility control platform gives retailers powerful control over key store systems
  • ProAct™ Software and Services — combine smart mobile alert software with ProAct service experts for continuous monitoring, full-time support and consulting
  • Connect+ Software — see the unveiling of our newest software suite, designed to utilize IoT to provide advanced operational efficiencies across a multi-site retail network

Register now to reserve your seat at this informative, idea-filled E360 Breakfast — and get your day at NAFEM off to a great start!

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