By Stacy Ward
Editor in Chief

The future is now for QSRs and other large chains working to connect with consumers already accustomed to the speed and convenience that digital technology provides. That’s the message that Welbilt wanted to drive home at this year’s NRA Show when it debuted its new digital solutions platform KitchenConnect® for its independent foodservice customers. Packaged as an all-encompassing managing and monitoring system developed to help restaurateurs optimize operations, the digital services platform gives anyone in a foodservice operation—chefs, restaurant managers, multiunit operators—the ability to manage their equipment and processes via a suite of applications on a dashboard. Chefs can simultaneously update menus in multiple locations from a mobile device. Franchisees can access store equipment information remotely or receive alerts when it’s time to clean or service a machine. 

Using the Report Management module, one large QSR burger chain documented a $4,000 per year savings in oil from adherence to proper oil management through KitchenConnect equipment data analysis, Welbilt reported.

“I think seeing the leaps we’ve taken surprised many of our general market customers,” says former CEO Hubertus Muehlhaeuser, credited with leading the rebranding of the foodservice E&S business after its spinoff from The Manitowoc Co. “When you talk KitchenConnect with general market partners, usually they equate it with a solution that’s four or five years away,” he adds, “but we showed them that an operator can save anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars, per appliance, if they’re connected—today—not somewhere down the road.”

QSRs, on the other hand, are already feeling the effects of change brought on by mobile-app use and the popularity of delivery. Pioneers like Taco Bell and Panera Bread have been the aggressors in working to connect the dots by investing in digital and automated ordering platforms, POS technologies and tabletop tablets. On the E&S side, Welbilt has been equally proactive on multiple levels—integrating easyTouch® technology across multiple lines, featuring an intuitive touch screen, self-diagnostics, and lots of recipe storage; partnering with visionary Zume Pizza to revolutionize the delivery model by putting kitchens in trucks. It’s all part of the Tampa, Fla.-based, manufacturer’s strategy to transition from selling appliances to selling entire kitchen solutions.

One of those, Welbilt’s fitKitchen™, focuses on the processes and structures unique to each customers’ needs and then designs a space to hit on the pain points— inefficiencies in flow and productivity, labor shortages, inconsistencies in food quality, waste. KitchenConnect addresses the same concerns by exploring the impact of connectivity. 

“There is traumatic change coming to the industry because the world around us is moving at high speeds from an analog world to a digital online world,” says Muehlhauser, explaining the drive behind KitchenConnect. “The iPhone has become the new drive thru and QSRs are struggling with how to take that POS data and sync it with our equipment, so we have to transform the kitchen into a digital world.

“QSRs want their systems to speak to our equipment. They want to do asset management and automated menu downloads. They want to have predictive and preventative maintenance. This is not something that is going to happen in 10 years. This is their reality today.”

Which is why in 2017, Welbilt announced that it was establishing digital as a corporate function and threw additional muscle behind aligning its products, services and business model with its strategy to become the leader in automating the commercial kitchen. “All of Welbilt’s equipment is going to be digitally-enabled,” says Muehlhauser. “We have three boards in our equipment that can connect to a software platform that we provide. If operators have their own platform, we can hook up our equipment to it. Or, if they want to use another manufacturer’s equipment, they can use our platform.”

That foresight is what grabbed the collar of Zume Pizza’s CEO Alex Garden, who initiated a meeting with Welbilt last year. The two are now partners and have big plans to elevate the food delivery business by equipping Zume’s trucks with hyper-efficient, custom-built equipment, and then broadening the platform to offer customized solutions for other operators interested in embracing the model.

“A supplier was trying to sell them standard equipment, but they didn’t need standard equipment,” explains Muehlhauser about why Zume reached out to Welbilt. “They needed completely new-to-the-world solutions that did not exist.”

A week after their initial meeting, the two companies had an agreement and Welbilt had an exclusive contract. “Now we’re developing all the automated solutions, starting with baking pizza but there is going to be frying and grilling equipment as well,” adds Muehlhauser. “What we’re trying to do is reduce the labor component, so grilling, baking and cooking can be done, ideally, in response to POS data that comes from someone ordering five miles away.” ■ 

“QSRs want their systems to speak to our equipment. ...This is their reality today.” — Herbertus Muehlhauser

Interim President Takes Over for Muehlhauser

Welbilt’s Board of Directors appointed Josef Matosevic to assume the role of interim president and CEO after Hubertus Muehlhauser resigned in August to become the CEO of CNH Industrial N.V., a $27 billion global manufacturer of capital goods comprising agricultural and construction equipment, commercial and specialty vehicles and powertrain technologies.

Matosevic joined Welbilt in August 2015 and most recently served as Welbilt’s executive vice president and COO. Prior to Welbilt, he held executive positions at The Manitowoc Co., Inc., Oshkosh Corp. and Wynnchurch Capital/Android Industries.