Gloria P. Cahill writes about The Delfield Company — a cool, 52-year-old brand that is on the cutting edge of technology in food service and commercial refrigeration equipment.
Todd Eber, director of marketing at The Delfield Company, says there is a humorous commentary shared by colleagues in the commercial refrigeration business: The last big innovation was not having to put blocks of ice in a box. Well, not quite true. But Eber can revel in the jocularity because Delfield just introduced LiquiTec™, a groundbreaking development that cuts energy use by up to 75 percent in open-top food preparation and serving units.
Delfield’s position on the leading edge of refrigeration technology has made it a top brand in commercial refrigerators, freezers, chef’s stations, food-preparation surfaces and food-serving stations. Since its founding in 1949 by Paul DeLorenzo and Thomas Springfield (hence the name Delfield), the manufacturer has built its business on creating food-service and refrigeration systems for restaurants, fast-food eateries, delicatessens, cafeterias, institutions and other establishments.
“Since custom work is the biggest part of our business, our mindset is, ‘Yes, we will do that,’” Eber emphasizes. “We were built on custom. It’s our biggest product line and because of this, we approach our entire range of products much differently from mass manufacturers.”
Serving up Business
With annual sales in excess of $100 million, more than 1,500 dealers and 200 sales representatives, Delfield keeps its more than 800 employees and three manufacturing sites continuously busy. The main facility in Mount Pleasant, Mich., houses the company’s headquarters and 350,000 square feet of manufacturing space for its custom products, including some of the ventilation systems. A 185,000 square-foot facility in Covington, Tenn., makes Delfield’s standard products. The majority of the company’s ventilation products are manufactured in a 35,000 square-foot plant in Mississauga, Ontario.
Providing a perspective on these statistics, Eber notes that the manufacturing space equals the size of more than 10 football fields. He also states that Delfield uses 12 million pounds of steel a year and more than 150,000 two-by-fours for packaging. The company is, in fact, one of the largest custom stainless-steel manufacturers in the world.
In 1999, Delfield became part of Berisford PLC, an international corporation recently renamed Enodis. Between 1969, when it was first sold to Clark Equipment Company and 1999, Delfield was allied with several corporations and grew in those relationships.
According to Eber, membership in the roster of companies assembled by Enodis, the world’s largest food-equipment manufacturer, is providing important advantages. “Being part of Enodis creates opportunities for packaging entire equipment solutions for customers with cooling, storage, cooking and warewashing products,” he says. “This offers us another avenue to expand on a more synergistic level outside the typical single product line focus.”
Eber makes it clear that high-technology tools and innovation are central to all of Delfield’s operations, beginning with the design stage. “We’ve developed a custom configuration program, which allows our sales force to prepare quotations and drawings virtually right in front of our customers using the Internet,” he says. “This dramatically speeds the approval process and gives us an edge by getting it to the shop quickly.”
Describing one benefit to customers of using state-of-the-art technology throughout the manufacturing process, he comments, “We’ve reached a point where we are hitting 98 percent-plus for on-time shipping — and that’s coming up from the 70s just 18 months ago. This is important because many of our customers are now building restaurants in 12 weeks instead of 16 or 18.”
Emphasizing the need to advance refrigeration technology, Eber points out two new proprietary Delfield technologies. The aforementioned LiquiTec™ is the first of these, using a patented technology that combines eutectic fluid with conventional mechanical refrigeration to generate a supercooling effect. With LiquiTec™, pans no longer have to be sunk into the food station to satisfy the cold standards established by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). This results in increased accessibility, which in turn reduces labor time and improves overall food merchandising. As an added benefit, LiquiTec™ provides energy savings of 30 percent to 75 percent greater than current technologies.
The second new development, the Nordic Zone™ cold food bar, uses five “curtains” of refrigerated air to create a refrigerated display case without glass. As Eber describes this product, two refrigerated-air columns flow down the front and the sides, one flows down gently on the food, one flows across it and the other flows underneath the cooling surface. As with many Delfield custom products, Nordic Zone units can be finished with Corian® countertops, MinWax® stains, Formica® and Wilson Art® laminate, Drylac® powder coating and other decorative features.
Eber emphasizes that Delfield’s relationship with its customers drives the entire creative process. “We have a different kind of relationship with our customers because we’re constantly working directly with them to solve their specific challenges with a level of support and interaction others do not have,” he says.
As one example of creative work, he describes the food counter and serving line Delfield created for a ski lodge in Keystone, Colo. The design called for inserting wood logs of 12 inches to 16 inches in diameter through the counter to carry out the sophisticated lodge motif. Another example is food service in schools, he adds: “We do a significant amount of business with schools, grades kindergarten through 12. And we do some fun things. We make food stations and serving lines with themes — circus trains, boats, crayons, gardens, rockets or even a Beethoven theme. We do this with custom woodwork, decals, metals — whatever it takes to help the schools increase the participation level in their meal programs.”
Eber projects that the best is yet ahead for Delfield. “We are in a great position to further strengthen our image as a leader in the commercial refrigeration and fabrication arena,” he says. “We’re busier than we’ve ever been and we’re seeing very tangible results in the win column. Our biggest challenge will be to effectively align our resources with the current opportunities we see and those in the future not yet defined. One thing’s for sure…we’re ready.”