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There’s a New Cook in the Kitchen: The Internet

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. —Your manager unlocks the convenience-store doors at 5 a.m. and discovers the ice machines are down. Your fryer has been dying a slow death—but you don’t realize it until 20 minutes before the lunch rush. You roll out a new menu, backed by weeks of marketing and promotional efforts, only to find half your stores didn’t properly upload the menu to their high-speed ovens.

Sound like nightmares akin to showing up for college finals late and naked, but with thousands of dollars in lost revenue to boot? Yeah, thought so.

But these scenarios may soon become history. Manufacturers are bringing the “Internet of things” to the commercial kitchen, allowing your entire fleet of equipment—ovens, warewashers, fountains, ice machines—to communicate via mobile or computers with store managers or corporate headquarters, thereby reducing downtime and improving the consumer experience.

Cro-Magnon Convenience

The need to keep equipment up and running has been a priority since early humans first controlled fire. But the technology of today—where it’s rare to find an oven or cooler that doesn’t have a USB port or some sort of “smart” capability—requires more advanced systems lest the retailer be left with way too much data, improperly used bells and whistles, or both.

For its part, Emerson Climate Technologies Retail Solutions is positioning itself as the Switzerland of kitchen connectivity, working with a number of equipment manufacturers to roll out such communications into one service. What’s more, the Kennesaw, Ga.-based company is making its Connected Kitchens program part of its “Intelligent Store” framework, which includes lighting systems, refrigeration, HVAC and more.

Emerson’s advances in the area came directly from c-store clients seeking solutions for their foodservice equipment.

“The traditional approach from building-management system manufacturers has been to focus on energy,” said Paul Hepperla, director of new solutions development and enterprise product management for Emerson Climate Technologies Retail Solutions. But in talking with manufacturers and retailers, the company immediately discovered that energy management is “a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have. The need-to-haves were equipment uptime, and secondly the ability to send a new menu or firmware to a piece of equipment.”

The latter has been “probably the biggest hot button we’ve encountered,” said Hepperla. A common concern is that there’s no confirmation that the information was uploaded properly. “We talked to one retailer who said that a year and a half after they’d done a menu change, they walked into a store and realized none of the ovens in that store had been operating,” said Hepperla.

“One of those [high]-speed ovens within a c-store, over its lifetime, will generate about $1.5 million in revenue for that store,” said Dean Landeche, vice president of marketing for Emerson Climate Technologies Retail Solutions. “But to do that it has to be up and operating and fully functional.”

Distilling the Data

All this connectivity can lead to a lot of noise, and countless beeps and buzzes can quickly numb your managers to the important notifications amidst the racket. Fortunately, along with the technological advances is coming a streamlining of the communication process.

It’s certainly what Emerson hopes to do by working with multiple manufacturers across the store to roll everything up into one system. (Existing foodservice equipment can be retrofit with the technology, by the way.) “[Managers] have no ability to manage 25, 30 different applications,” said Landeche.

Within all the global monitoring Emerson conducts, it receives more than 30 million alarms each year. Less than 10% result in any sort of a store contact. That 3 million is filtered out even more via algorithms or user experience, and about half of those 3 million result in an actual notification to the manager.

“It’s the difference between data and information,” said Hepperla.

Abbie Westra


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