STAMFORD, Conn. -- In a new solutions-oriented effort to address the wide range of needs of the retail-food industry, Welbilt, here, will officially launch its Food Retail Group this week.
The unit, based at the Welbilt Technology Center in Tampa, Fla., will be comprised of eight to10 senior executives. Welbilt has named Kim Cavanaugh, who was a marketing executive with the company's Frymaster subsidiary, as director of the new organization.
The company has used a similar approach effectively in the restaurant and food-service sector, according to Welbilt's chief executive officer, Andy Roake.
"The Food Retail Group will coordinate the efforts of all of our subsidiaries, so that we can offer our customers one-stop shopping," he said.
Welbilt plans to kick off its Food Retail Group in dramatic fashion at this week's Food Marketing Institute show in Chicago. Under the banner of "Welbilt Live!," the company's massive exhibit will feature four working retail kitchens that will produce fresh foods for show-attendee sampling. The kitchens will be up and running during regular exhibition hours at the FMI show.
Howard Solganik, president of Solganik & Associates, Dayton, Ohio, who is working with Welbilt on the project, sees both the and the creation of the new retail group, as major statements by the equipment manufacturer.
"The display is a huge thing, one of the biggest in the north building [at the show]," said Solganik. "The majority of the celebrities are in the other building. We wanted to create something that was just as alive in the equipment side."
The move comes as part of a more fundamental makeover by Welbilt, which, after its acquisition last fall of Scotsman Industries, is trying to fully step into its bigger shoes. Welbilt, whose subsidiaries now include such equipment brands as Frymaster, Garland, Cleveland, Scotsman Ice, Kysor/Warren, Lincoln Foodservice and Aladdin Temp-Rite, among others, is now a $1.5 billion corporation.
Each kitchen in the exhibit is focusing on proven supermarket food programs: pizza, chicken, fresh deli and a central kitchen. Roake said that the kitchens are being staffed by working retail chefs from Dorothy Lane Market, Rice Epicurean Markets and Heinen's. "Sometimes when you're just looking at refrigerated cases, it can be a chilling experience," Roake said. "The live kitchens will add a very dynamic component to the FMI show."
Such enhanced live cooking may reflect another effort by the industry in its continuing campaign to try to adapt to consumers' increasingly busy lifestyles. Solganik noted that retailers are learning new ways to send the fresh message to their shoppers.
"Now that we've moved beyond providing mere ingredients to cooked and ready-to-eat foods, it's a natural progression that we expand into the finishing business," Solganik said. "There is a perception, by the customer, that if the product is finished there, it's fresher. So you need to do things in front of the customer that are important to them. Chopping onions may not be important, but grilling shish-kebobs is."
At last year's North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers show in Dallas, Welbilt deployed a single live kitchen. But Roake explained that "Welbilt Live!" at the FMI event will take the concept into a much larger dimension.
"At NAFEM, we focused on the nuts and bolts of how to use the equipment," he said. "At FMI, our theme will be showing specifically how to use an array of equipment to maximize traffic and profits in a part of the store. We won't be featuring the brands so much as the total capability."
Roake noted that, except for the central kitchen, all the working kitchens will be set up as they would in a supermarket. Although food cannot be prepared to order, Roake stressed that the exhibit will "try to simulate the normal pattern of food preparation, at the normal cooking speed."
The pizza kitchen, for example, will employ both deck ovens and conveyor ovens, to highlight real-life settings of producing whole pizza pies as well as reheating slices. The chicken kitchen will use fryers and different rotisserie ovens.
Through the live kitchen exhibits, Welbilt also hopes to help buyers develop practical operational protocols by demonstrating which kinds of recipes are best suited for supermarket kitchens, and also which to stay away from.
"There are certain kids of food preparation that work in a retail environment," Roake said. "Foods that require relatively simple preparation and short cooking time lend themselves well to cooking in the store. Bulk cooking, more complicated items, or when food safety is paramount would shift more in the direction of a central commissary."
Finished foods prepared in the "Welbilt Live!" kitchens will then be placed in Kysor/Warren display cases. Roake also said that Cbord software for the retail market will be used to schedule all food prep at "Welbilt Live," and that recipes for prepared foods will be available to FMI attendees.
Solganik, the consultant, said that Welbilt's new retail group will directly benefit supermarkets.
"Garland, Lincoln, Cleveland and all the [other Welbilt] equipment that's been sold to supermarkets has been done through the traditional dealer network. They've never had this kind of clear focus on the retailers' needs, he said.
Solganik added that the concept has attracted the attention of at least one "major retailer," who has just committed to finishing cooking meats in the meat department.