TurboChef Technologies was the pioneer of rapid cooking technology when it was founded in 1991. It began by supplying rapid cook equipment to businesses that were not in the foodservice industry per se, such as movie theatre chains. Today, TurboChef has fifteen distinct product lines that it sells to many businesses involved in foodservice such as coffee and sandwich shops, cruise liners, and hotels.
TurboChef specializes in electric, countertop, ventless, high-speed cooking equipment, rather than gas or other vented cooking technology. Its product lineup can be broken down into three categories, and the first is ventless rapid-cook ovens that use a combination of impinged air and microwave technology to lower cooking times.
Unlike a convection oven that uses fans to move hot air, impingement ovens force heated air through jet nozzles to rapidly heat the surface of the food. These ovens are used in businesses such as Subway, Starbucks, 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts that must accelerate cooking speeds to increase profitability.
The second category is ventless high-speed conveyor ovens that rapidly heat food and are often used by pizza store operators. TurboChef was the first company to develop the unique conveyor technology in a ventless format. Vent hoods are expensive to purchase and maintain, and it is much more convenient for business owners to eliminate the hassle with ventless conveyors. “The cost of the vent hood alone would be more expensive than the capital cost of the conveyor, and that’s what we educate the consumer about,” says David Shave, vice president of global sales at TurboChef Technologies.
The third category is the ventless high-speed impingement ovens that use the same technology as the rapid-cook ovens in a batch format to save space. From a business perspective, counter space is highly valuable, so TurboChef developed products that would deliver the same performance, quality, and throughput in a batch format. These products allow the company to enter segments of the market where saving space is crucial.
The artisan style pizza fire oven can replace large, expensive pizza ovens that require a skilled individual to operate. “Our pizza oven has eighteen inches of counter space. It is ventless and produces an artisan-style pizza in around two minutes,” says David. “We’re looking at overall cost of ownership and expanding a customer’s ability to generate more revenue in a short period of time.”
TurboChef is a part of the Middleby Corporation, a publicly traded company that develops products for three distinct categories in the industry: commercial cooking equipment, industrial processing equipment, and residential appliances. Each division of Middleby Corp. is a master of its specific technology, and its knowledge does not get diluted in the brands of the other divisions.
“The beauty of Middleby is it’s a very flat structure; if you look at Middleby as a whole, from the chairman down to the person on the factory floor, there are only five levels,” says David. Fewer layers in a company mean less politics and more flexibility to get things done faster.
Carrollton-based TurboChef is located only fifteen to twenty minutes away from Texas’ Dallas Fort-Worth Airport in a 137,000-square-foot facility. It does not manufacture the cooking equipment, as it has found assembling the products to be an efficient way to do business, and this makes it capable of handling the high volumes required for significant orders. Its sales, marketing, culinary, and engineering teams are all under one roof. From here it also organizes its own website development and develops its oven software.
The company trades in 105 countries through a network of distribution partners and other Middleby Corp. partners. It employs just over two hundred people, some of whom are located in these countries around the world to support the local businesses with service.
“Our focus is on making sure that we’re engaged with not only the distribution arms of our business but the end users as well. It’s a very important thing as we go on our journey with rapid-cook technology that we make sure we can support our customers’ needs, adjust, and be flexible as we look to grow our business,” says David.
The company is experiencing regular growth and creates one or two new ovens every year by considering the gaps in the marketplace. It recently launched a new product called the Eco oven that would fill a need, particularly in Asia and Europe where counter space is not as deep, and energy usage is a major concern. This most efficient oven fits in kitchens with smaller counter space, uses lower power settings, and still provides the same product quality with similar performance.
“It [Eco] is allowing us to gain access to additional markets and customers without cannibalizing our core sales that we have. As we develop new innovations like the Double Batch oven which is a derivative from our conveyor technology, it allows us to enter into other markets where we previously couldn’t, and that’s how we grow,” says David. The company’s strategy to maintain its core customers while identifying customers in new markets has been very successful.
The products often created through a partnership with a customer to fill a specific need. One such example is the Bullet oven that was driven by work with Subway and the Sota oven that was created for Starbucks. However, similar to the Eco oven, its Double Batch oven was designed to maximize throughput in the available space and inspired by a gap in the marketplace without a specific customer in mind.
TurboChef recently underwent a massive restructuring of its distribution operation in the United States. It aligned itself with more manufacturer representatives that are Middleby-centric and have the whole kitchen of Middleby brands to offer. It is beneficial for the end user to only deal with one distribution company when looking for a full line of products.
“We see competitors come into the marketplace that want to look at the product from a lower performance and a lower price standpoint. We are the premium price player in the marketplace, and we have been able to maintain our market share,” says David. TurboChef products provide the customer with superior quality and flexibility. The company has integrated the internet of things to transmit information to and from the oven for increased efficiency.
Settings for new menus and limited time offers can be programmed into the oven temporarily, and performance information can be obtained from the oven at any point. “We can retrieve information from the oven such as how the ovens are performing, how the components are working inside the machines and the life expectancy of those components,” says David. The new integrated connectivity allows the TurboChef service team to get ahead of any potential problems and come up with solutions before the customer even notices a problem. This helps to keep the customer operating and generating income without any unwelcome interruptions.
The component within the rapid-cook oven that allows it to be ventless is a catalytic converter technology similar to that found in automobiles. It helps filter and clean the air continuously instead of venting it. This sustainable solution also requires less power.
Businesses that are serious about rapid cooking processes know that higher quality products are worth the investment. “We focus on making sure our customers see the products, have a product demonstration, have their products cooked in it, and then work with them if we need to develop new technologies. It’s about looking at the overall cost of ownership of that technology,” says David. The less expensive options from competitors may not have the same longevity or level of support that comes with TurboChef products. The company has seen customers consider TurboChef before choosing a competitive product for a lower price and then return in eighteen months when looking for a higher quality product that will last. The other rapid-cook oven companies also offer a far narrower range of products.
The robust products provided by TurboChef have increased functionality and a longer lifespan as a result of their innovative technology and monitoring capabilities. The company educates consumers on every level about how the oven works, how the company supports its customers, and how it plans to maintain the highest quality product on the market.
TurboChef understands the importance of the product, since in many cases its customers have only one piece of equipment to cook the food, and if it breaks down, there is no income being generated. It strives to instill confidence in the end users by providing equipment that is easily serviced and cooks consistently to deliver the best possible food.
TurboChef Technologies is looking forward to more business growth in the future. “We’re doing new things like bringing new products to market, consolidating the distribution domestically, and making sure we’re strategic in developing technologies that suit the marketplace,” says David.