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Loaded for Bar.

Giant Eagle recently opened its third Market District location, a 150,000-square-foot unit in Robinson Township near Pittsburgh, and this showplace destination is chockablock with food bars: there are hot and cold bars featuring home-style favorites, wings, fresh vegetables, gourmet toppings and pizza, as well as a Rosti bar for the national dish of Switzerland, a shredded Yukon Gold potato dish with a variety of toppings. The Rosti bar is alongside a crepe bar, and there is also a beverage bar with coffee roasted on-site, seasonal specialty drinks like mulled cider, and fruit smoothies. The newest Market District store also has a sushi bar and an Asian street bar with a Singapore sampler of specialties from a tandoori oven, in addition to peanut-sauce dishes from a satay grill, stir-fries and fresh-baked naan.Supermarket food bars have obviously come a long way from the ubiquitous salad bar, and food bar equipment design has enabled this transition. "We"re seeing a lot of customers wanting a larger variety of bars," says Dan McMurray, vice president of design at Southern Store Fixtures, Inc. "We"re creating a lot of different sizes -- from plug-and-play to 20- to 30-foot double-sided bars. There are smaller bars for specific programs like olives, seafood salads and wings. There are cut-fruit bars backed right up to bulk produce. There are subtle differences for salsa bars, and barbecue bars often incorporate soup to go along with items like chili and Brunswick stew."Food bar design is indeed becoming more subtle and sophisticated, and even reflects aspects of pop culture. Dave Boring, sales manager of the display division of Industrial Support Inc. (ISI), which does all custom work, says his company designed a hot soup bar with a cold storage display above for packaged soup. "The bar was commissioned by a major chain in the Northeast to capitalize on a famous soup restaurant in New York City featured in the hit show 'Seinfeld"," he notes. "All this is contained in one small footprint in the store." The Soup Nazi lives!Another design that Boring terms "interesting" is a shrimp bar that allows customers to select product from a large super-cold well on one end and place it on top of salad items from the other wells on the bar. The bar was designed wrapped in stainless steel for a very clean, hygienic look as befitting the seafood service area of the market.At Southern Store Fixtures Inc., critical food temperatures are seen as an important design element, says McMurray, and the company has incorporated panels in its bars that isolate zones for proper temperatures. He goes on to note that sanitation is especially important in cold bars and that in 2006, Southern debuted a new platform with all removable internal parts for easier and more efficient cleaning.Nancy Green, national sales manager at Amtekco Industries, Inc., points out the emerging "green" aspects of food bar design. "Our designs and experience continue to grow with the popularity of natural and sustainable materials, and the movement to reduce energy consumption," she says. "Amtekco"s capabilities include the use of energy-efficient fan motors, compressors and high-efficiency LED lighting. When designing with 'green" materials, the choices are endless and include popular natural granite and man-made stone materials for top surfaces, rapidly renewable wood products, and laminates for the base materials. Stainless steel is another popular 'green" choice and is 100 percent recyclable." ISI is also a green-conscious food bar equipment manufacturer, having redesigned its products to incorporate LED lighting vs. fluorescent, and using all recycled shop materials like wood, cardboard, steel, aluminum and oil, among others. The company has a "Green Awareness" program on its Web site to enable visitors to find fast and easy ways to improve the environment.At Southern Store Fixtures, Dan McMurray says that in addition to a move to LED lighting, his firm is also raising the temperature at which bars can operate, thus saving energy through reduced evaporation and prolonging product life. Energy-efficient heat lamps are also coming into play.McMurray goes on to note that one issue affecting food bar design in 2010 is a regulation from the National Sanitation Foundation for food shields that changes the opening size from 7-inches-by-14-inches to 13-inches-by-9-3/4-inches. The current "hottest" trends in supermarket food bars reflect consumers" busy lifestyles and a demand for quality and convenient takeout foods. ISI"s Boring says he sees more small hot food and soup bars offered as stand-alone units that can fit in an existing open space in the store."Rather than waiting for a major remodel of a space, store managers can add hot soup or other dishes in the area in front of the deli or sandwich counter to offer hot alternatives to the cold sandwiches and salads already on display," he notes. To make the most effective use of this space, ISI has designed double-decker units that offer hot pans on the first level and a hot shelf on the second for prepackaged hot food, effectively doubling the selling space in a small footprint that was not otherwise productive.At Amtekco, Nancy Green says that among the hottest food bar trends are hot bars such as soup bars and wing bars, a football season favorite. "We see an increase in hot bars that incorporate soup: shrimp and soup, hot and cold soup bars, and the traditional salad and soup bars," she says. "Customers love the food bars with hot entrees and sides, a great alternative to restaurant dining at a great value. Our customers drive the bars and, really, there are as many possibilities for food bars as there are prepared foods: grain bars, seafood bars, antipasto bars, chicken holding bars, fruit and dessert bars, to name a few." Green also sees combination hot and cold food bars as "a great way to give a full meal choice in one location," and says they give a lot of flexibility, taking stores through breakfast, lunch and dinner hours. These combination bars, ISI"s Dave Boring points out, isolate the hot from the cold with glass partitions above and insulated walls below to keep the units energy-efficient. "If space allows," he goes on, "it makes sense to use a double-sided bar with salad and its containers and condiments on one side of the bar, and hot food and soup, with pop-up cup dispensers and appropriate utensils, on the other side. This allows the best presentation and flow for the customer who is only getting hot or cold food, and not both."Nancy Green concludes that supermarket food bars offer consumers value and convenience, and are a key component of the prepared foods presentation mix. She adds that self-service is a great way to reduce labor costs and increase accessibility for the shopper. The bar is indeed being raised, and it will only go higher.
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Author:Ingram, Bob
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2010
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