By Tim O'Connor
In the foodservice market, the ice made today is essentially the same as it was two decades ago. The machines may be getting faster and more efficient, but consumers are still choosing from cubed, crushed or flaked ice. However, as Hoshizaki America continues to evolve the inside of its ice making equipment, it also has begun to rethink the ice itself.
The company has long been recognized by its crescent moon-shaped cubes, however, restaurants and bars are increasingly asking for different shapes. The popularity of chewable ice has risen considerably in recent years, especially in the QSR segment. High-end lounges are now asking for a machine that makes square cubes that are more suitable for brandies and scotches. The shape of the ice helps set those cocktails apart as a luxurious drink worthy of a $15 price tag—which carries a higher profit margin for the operator. “All these mixologists are looking for the next greatest way to offer their customers a new experience,” Vice President Gary Weyhausen says. “We’re going to continue to look at different shapes of ice and we are going to release new models reflecting those shapes going forward.”
While the company develops machines that produce new ice shapes, its latest product launch will address the bar area in a different way. In August, Hoshizaki released a full line of glass door cases for storing chilled beer bottles and a direct draw system for pouring draft beer—innovations that could easily find themselves disseminated throughout the global market. Hoshizaki America is the North American branch of a Japanese company with manufacturing facilities and collaborative teams all around the world. It’s common for a breakthrough in the United States to be shared in other markets, and the increasing demand for ice machines worldwide will only further propagate the Hoshizaki name.
North America has long led the world in the demand for ice—as serving ice cubes in drinks is less common in European restaurants. Now, it is becoming more common overseas as fast-food chains expand to foreign markets and bring along their serving standards. That trend is reflected in the anticipated growth of the global ice maker market, which was valued at $4.1 billion in 2017, according to an IMARC Group report, and is projected to reach $5.9 billion by 2023.
“We’re seeing the world become more as one,” Weyhausen says. “You’re seeing more American concepts show up in Europe.”
Efficient and Reliable
The process of making ice may seem straightforward—just freeze water—but these days not all ice is the same. Hoshizaki’s equipment is designed so that ice is made on both sides of a stainless-steel evaporator, allowing it to produce twice as much ice using the same amount of energy as machines that run water over a grid of cells to make ice, which is a more common process in ice machines. “Competing equipment has to work twice as hard to make the same amount of ice,” Weyhausen says.
Further, because Hoshizaki’s machines produce more ice in every batch, it has to cycle less often to replenish its ice. As a result, Hoshizaki’s ice machines have 15 percent less overall energy consumption compared to most competing brands, and the use of materials such as stainless-steel means its machines will maintain that efficient output much longer. This push for greater energy efficiency has earned Hoshizaki recognition from the manufacturing industry, including Energy Star Partner of the Year awards for the last seven years, and caught the attention of foodservice businesses looking to reduce their operating costs. “We have more Energy Star-qualified models than any of our competitors,” Marketing Manager Sally Ray adds.
The focus on efficiency and reliability will continue with the latest version of the KMEdge, the KMEdge X, a 28-inch tall machine designed to fit smaller kitchens. As footprints shrink and machines must fill multiple roles, equipment failures become an even greater concern because downtime on one device can cause delays throughout the kitchen. To counteract that problem, all eight KMEdge X machines share the same core parts and an assisted cleaning feature, making them easier to service and decreasing the likelihood they will go out of operation for an extended period.
The KMEdge family of machines are not only smaller and use less energy, but the quality of the ice is better. The use of stainless steel results in clear, crescent moon-shaped ice cubes that are clear and hard. That’s a key advantage for major soft drink producers that want their dispensed beverages to taste as if they came from a can or bottle.
The move toward more energy-efficient equipment, smaller form factors, and clearer ice cubes all stem from Hoshizaki’s ability to listen to its customers and act on their requests. When Weyhausen joined the company a decade ago, he was brought in to be part of a new management team tasked with expanding into new markets. To identify those opportunities, Hoshizaki met with foodservice operators about what they needed and where their existing equipment was falling short. From there, the company determined where its capabilities lined up with that feedback. “The customer really helped to direct our future,” Weyhausen notes.
The message was clear: Customers wanted Hoshizaki to bring its reputation for building reliable and energy-efficient machines to the refrigeration market. It was a change that made sense for the manufacturer as well. At the time, the company was buying so much steel for its ice machines that it realized it already had many of the components needed to transition into manufacturing refrigerators and freezers without having to significantly increase its supplier base, an advantage that allowed it to reduce costs and shorten start-up time for the new line.
Today, Hoshizaki offers a variety of different refrigerator and freezer models, including many that meet Energy Star standards. All are designed with durability and efficiency in mind—continuing the Hoshizaki brand’s emphasis on quality. “The goal was to offer a premium box at a standard price, and that’s what we’ve done,” Weyhausen says.
Among the various types of refrigeration products, prep tables are a valuable piece of equipment for any foodservice operator trying to maximize their shrinking kitchen footprints. Hoshizaki’s prep tables are made to fit nearly any kitchen size. What’s more, they are designed with real-world conditions in mind. It’s common for cooks to leave their prep table lids open all day, potentially exposing ingredients to spoilage and creating a waste of food and dollars. But because kitchens don’t always operate the way that they should, Hoshizaki built its food prep tables to keep food fresh even in temperatures up to 100 degrees.
These kinds of equipment are how Hoshizaki is working to become a complete solution in the kitchen for anything that needs to stay cold. The breadth of those solutions will only increase in the coming years as the company responds to new foodservice trends. “With the increased number of new and different concepts coming out in the restaurant business, we’re seeing a rising popularity of ethnic cuisines and therefore more international restaurants contacting us from different parts of the world that want to come to the States,” Weyhausen says. Engaging those customers will continue to drive Hoshizaki’s product development and market strategies in the coming years, he adds, and help the company stay ahead of world market shifts. ■