President, IRINOX North America
On the scene for more than three decades, IRINOX has become the ideal partner for thousands of industrial food manufacturers and commercial kitchen operations all over the globe for their gastronomy, bakery, pastry, and ice cream sectors.
Five years ago, Ronald van Bakergem added to his strong resume the title of president for IRINOX North America Inc. It is the U.S. subsidiary of IRINOX SpA, a leading European industrial manufacturer that specializes in the production and sales of high-performance level commercial blast chillers and shock freezers.
While at the helm of the company, Ronald van Bakergem has increased sales by more than 200 percent, relocated the company headquarters to Miami, and expanded into new markets to rapidly grow the business. As an industry leader, he is continuing to educate others about better ways to preserve the consistency of fresh product by developing new relationships and programs with the foodservice dealer network and culinary institutions.
You have an interesting background prior to joining IRINOX. Please share your background with our readers.
For the last 15 years of my career, I’ve been able to successfully re-configure the “go-to-market” strategies for other medium-sized international manufacturers. I have been primarily specializing in the Chemical, Food, and Beverage sectors, engaging an important range of distribution partners, including multinational corporations and regional wholesalers. These efforts were strongly supported by the appointment of highly experienced regional sales representatives, which helped to almost triple their export revenue year over year, making their export areas stronger and healthier with the opening of several key markets in North America and Latin America at the same time.
Are there any mentors who shaped your career?
I attribute my professional accomplishments, for the most part, to my father, who spent the last 30 years of his career serving as Chief Executive Officer for numerous global organizations. He enthusiastically coached me through every single one of my past career paths. From him I learned the great joy of exploring new cultures, conducting research, determining how to get things done, and mentoring people as much as possible. I also saw the great benefits of belonging to a vibrant international community.
For those people who do not know about the product line, what is blast chilling all about?
A blast chiller quickly reduces the product’s core temperature through “the temperature danger zone” (140°F to 41°F) in order to stunt the development of bacteria. This process naturally extends the product’s shelf life and traps in the flavor, aroma, color, and nutritional value, and maintains the product’s texture by trapping in the natural moisture and reduces carryover cooking.
Can you please share the background of IRINOX with our readers?
IRINOX is a privately held company, founded in Italy in 1989, and established in the U.S. for more than three decades already. The company is known all over the industry as the “blast chiller and shock freezer specialist.” Over the years, IRINOX has developed a leading-edge line of refrigeration products, and proposed revolutionary concepts that have set market benchmarks in almost every major industry sector. Our technology offers the capability to blast chill, shock freeze, low temperature cook, proof, thaw, hold (hot and cold), regenerate and pasteurize. This technology provides product consistency and reduces product loss, which ensures utmost efficiency at work and is truly an indispensable tool in today’s industrial kitchen.
IRINOX currently operates in one of the most innovative manufacturing facilities in Italy, with a total production capacity of 20,000+ blast chillers per year. The company employs more than 300 staff members globally. Our company has mastered the art of collaboration between chefs and engineering for years. Chefs are the inspiration behind every cycle and capability IRINOX offers. This company was essentially born from an idea and has grown into the world’s largest manufacturer of blast chillers, shock freezers, and holding cabinets. More than 80,000 units are installed in 90 different markets around the world. To date IRINOX is the only company that focuses primarily on blast chilling and shock freezing, has an international chef network, and continues to do the research involving this technology.
When did the line come to the U.S.?
IRINOX made its first debut in North Easton, MA around 1994 and was represented by former industry Icon, Ira Kaplan, who had been leading another well-known manufacturing company, Servolift Eastern, advancing as president of IRINOX USA later in 2006, the first official US subsidiary of our parent company IRINOX SpA. We are now currently headquartered in Miami, FL.
What was the opportunity that you saw in the U.S.?
Rapid chilling and rapid freezing have become enormously important in the modern industrial kitchen world over the last few years. Cases of salmonella and food poisoning, which are still occurring regularly as you know, are increasing the demand for safer and more efficient food handling procedures in almost every market segment. When I first got introduced to the concepts of IRINOX’s technology, I had never been so impressed with this unit’s performance and endless product configuration options. More importantly, I realized that in the U.S., for those who follow HACCP guidelines, we chill to 70ºF in two hours, and then below 41ºF in another 4 hours or less, which truly raises a lot of serious questions, especially when we all know that bacteria doubles every 15 minutes when food temperatures hover between 140ºF and 41ºF, also known as the famous “temperature danger zone.” By comparing the six hours U.S. standard of chilling to the European standard of 90 minutes, one can see that as an operational person, I would choose the European standard, as labor time is a critical component in all of our operations. It quickly became obvious to me that IRINOX’s blast chillers were going to be key in helping American kitchens work smarter and boost profits.
Describe the flexibility from Catering to Gelato.
Our IRINOX MultiFresh® unit comes pre-programmed with 122 chef-inspired cycles, as well as the option to build a library of custom cycles that can be adapted to specific dishes. The flexibility and reliability of IRINOX’s MultiFresh® unit is one of the big reasons our blast chiller/shock freezer stands out in today’s market. It is the only blast chiller able to operate within a temperature range of +185°F down to -40°F, giving operators a wealth of possibilities on how to use the equipment. Restaurants can low temperature cook a roast or chicken breast, then set the unit to automatically chill, freeze, or hot hold. They can thaw frozen products without using a drop of water and then hold the thawed ingredients in a refrigerated state. The unit can even proof raw dough, melt chocolate, or dry age, all of the above in one single cabinet. “Ingenious”!
From a P&L standpoint, is there a restaurant cover count or B&I dining population threshold at which IRINOX makes sense?
We believe our blast chillers are financially suitable for any size operation, from a small mom & pop kitchen to a 500-seat fine dining restaurant and larger. We pretty much have a model for every production requirement. When opting for a blast chiller/shock freezer take into consideration the machine’s impact on your food cost, labor utilization, portion control, moisture loss, loss of additional servings, waste reduction, and energy savings and not just on food safety. Operators often purchase the equipment without totally understanding its true value. When you understand the potential of IRINOX’s use and how it can help make the customer experience better and ease production while maintaining quality, it makes sense to invest a little more money to achieve a faster return on investment (ROI), long-term savings, and a satisfied customer. The proper blast chiller/ shock freezer should be about the preservation of fresh food and making your operation “money”!
You have more completion around the world than you have domestically. What does that say about the U.S. marketplace?
Let’s start with a little history. Rapid or blast chilling has been around in the U.S. since the ’50s with the purpose of preventing food poisoning. In 1974, France passed a law (NF D 40-001) that required rapidly chilling cooked food to 50ºF at the core within two hours or less, or freezing food to 0 F within four hours or less. The British government took it a step further by requiring chilling two inches of product at a time to 37ºF in 90 minutes or less. What is important to mention is that the controls France imposed could not be accomplished by using standard walk-in refrigerators or freezers. The process needed to be accomplished by a specially designed unit. Hence the blast chiller was created, offering greater heat removal capacity and utilizing high-velocity, convected air directed through the product zone to promote fast, even cooling of foods.
Regrettably, in the U.S., conventional storage refrigerators have been the preferred chilling solution of choice for many years as a majority of foodservice operators never familiarized themselves with blast chillers until just recently. Standard coolers are not engineered and equipped to remove heat rapidly from a large load of hot food. Consequently, several hours are required to reduce product temperatures through the temperature danger zone, a situation which inevitably results in loss of product quality and sanitation.
Fortunately, there have been advancements with this technology as you know. IRINOX, I believe, capitalized on this opportunity really well when it introduced the line in North America in the early ‘90s and rapidly became the “Kleenex” for blast chilling systems in the U.S. thereafter, thanks to its early partnerships with prestigious culinary institutions, including the Culinary Institute of America, Johnson & Wales University, and Cornell University.
The bar has been raised (pre-Pandemic) in terms of the quality of food that the U.S. consumer will eat in a restaurant. Given that, let’s talk about the quality of products that your system is able to create consistently.
With input from thousands of operators worldwide, IRINOX invented the Dynamic Fresh System®, later labeled as MultiFresh®, which allows operators to control daily product quality. As a product ages, it loses freshness to bacteria and oxidation. Standard refrigeration systems tend to dry out food, compromising its quality. The MultiFresh® allows you to choose the desired function and will automatically identify the ideal temperature and ventilation for each product. The result is much more delicate specific work cycles, which won’t damage or dry out foods, preserving all of their organic goodness.
Let’s talk about the technology that goes into IRINOX’s R&D to make that happen?
Moisture: Moisture loss due to evaporation and drying out, can be avoided with IRINOX. Our blast chillers are able to chill down the food from oven temperature. Most competitors’ chillers can’t chill the food straight from the oven. Chefs must leave the food at room temperature first, until it reaches a core temperature of at least 160°F, and then move it into the chiller. The process can take 30 minutes or more. Evaporation is in the process. IRINOX can chill food in a way that keeps this weight loss to the minimum, thanks to its indirect air ventilation system. When chilling from oven temperature (instead of 160°F), to colder temperatures immediately, the IRINOX creates a sealing effect on the product’s surface, closing the pores, and avoiding the moisture release. Please note that 80 percent of humidity is lost while chilling from oven temperature to 158°F. With an IRINOX blast chiller, you can save up to an average of 7 percent on weight loss, an average that adds up over the course of a year. It’s 7 percent of food that goes in the air!
Temperature: Standard chilling allows steam or moisture to escape from the hot product. The steam contains flavor, color, aroma, etc. The product will also continue to cook (carry over cook). A blast chilling process stops deterioration due to bacteria, evaporation, and overcooking. After several days, you can serve re-thermalized food, almost at the same quality of the freshly cooked food! With the traditional way of preparing food, what is cooked now is unfortunately not immediately served but placed somewhere in the kitchen at ambient/room temperature due again to the lack of technology and knowledge. At some point someone determines that that same product can be covered and placed into standard refrigeration. Standard refrigeration is designed to “hold” and not chill. By blast chilling in the IRINOX we reduce the core temperature of food directly from oven temperature to 37°F at the core in a much shorter time. This is thanks to IRINOX’s specially designed air flow pattern in its product chamber. The temperature curve goes down very quickly, passing rapidly the 140°F and 41°F phase, stunting the bacterial growth, extending the shelf life by two to three times, preserving taste, color and consistency.
Can you please share some of the success stories that IRINOX has been a part of in the U.S.?
We are currently working on future rapid chilling equipment roll-outs for multiple hospitals, senior living communities, restaurant chains, universities, U.S. Military ops, and food banks across North America. In the last five years alone, our team has developed and implemented new business growth strategies that has secured additional sales revenue with tier one clients such as Sweetgreen, Microsoft, Google, Amazon Fresh, LinkedIn, Hard Rock Cafe, MGM Group, Vail Ski Resorts, Ritz-Carlton Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Albertsons, Penn State University, Universal Studios, Baptist Health Medical Group, Frontera Restaurants, and Factor 75 are among those that have adopted the IRINOX blast chillers as a prime specification for their kitchens.
How does the move to blast chilling change the role and vision of an executive chef?
It takes passion to create meals that satisfy and surprise customers every day. Chefs and foodservice operators have that passion, it is found in their attention to details, their constant research for the best raw ingredients and suppliers, and their mission to make simple food a treat for any palate. All of this takes confidence in your equipment, reliability, and certainty in the technologies used daily to ensure freshness of every dish brought to the table. The IRINOX MultiFresh® blast chiller has completely eliminated the stress factor in the kitchen and allowed thousands of chefs to set their products in our machines and forget about them until they’re ready to be served. The IRINOX has a chef’s back 24/7. It has become their “trusted kitchen assistant.” By utilizing more current technology like IRINOX, chefs not only save on the bottom-line food costs, but also decrease waste and energy consumption, increase yields, manage labor more effectively, and increase product shelf life. When hot products are chilled properly, it allows chefs to prepare items ahead of time, streamline production more efficiently, and make the most out of the equipment even when the kitchen is closed at night, thanks to our exclusive overnight low temp cook and automatic chill feature, for example.
Life has changed, since I saw you in Milan and in New York since show floors. How have the needs of your customer base evolved through the Pandemic?
While many of our customers are trying to restructure their operations in this difficult time, our team is 100 percent focused on staying creative and currently offering numerous monthly training seminars that are a great opportunity for our foodservice designers and operators to discover the many remarkable functions of our equipment. Operators who joined these webinar sessions recently were able to gain a much better understanding of the contributions IRINOX has made to the global foodservice industry over the past decades. The future of the restaurant landscape has changed really fast. Over the last few months, a mass of traditionally dine-in restaurants had to pivot to an online food ordering deliver and takeout focus, making the IRINOX blast chiller an even more indispensable kitchen tool for them.
We may have seen the end of self-serve in catering or corporate dining. How will that change your role?
With the Online Food Ordering Delivery and Takeout System becoming one of the fastest growing models for most businesses to stay in business or become more profitable, our blast chillers have now truly become a vital resource in these kitchens. Online Food Ordering Delivery Industry growth rates have skyrocketed as millions of customers have shown themselves more than willing to have food delivered at the press of a button. The key is to be able to deliver that food fresh from point A to point B, safely. In 2018, Frost & Sullivan estimated the industry at $82 billion in terms of gross revenue bookings and is set to more than double by 2025. I honestly think IRINOX has a historical opportunity to become one of the largest equipment players in this particular arena.
You have new technology on the horizon with MultiFresh® Next. What are your goals for the line?
We always aimed at becoming the first ever 100 percent ECO FRIENDLY Multi-Function blast chiller, using natural refrigerant in the industry and clearly succeeded at this mission back in 2019, with the official introduction of MultiFresh® Next at HOST Milan.
MultiFresh® Next was mainly created for kitchen professionals requiring the best of the best, high-performance, high-power, and high-speed chilling and freezing. This unit’s exceptional performance is achieved with new high-efficiency fans using electronic speed management adjusted to each type of food texture and new compressors that are now running on R290 natural gas. This exclusive refrigeration system offers greater performance than any other blast chiller on the market. Our Turbo package for instance, guarantees top notch results and is capable of operating in 109°F ambient temperature conditions. It comes equipped with a 10” touchscreen, swiping capability between pages, and a redesigned home screen with icons arranged in a tighter grid. The refined layout gives you more room for apps and information.
Our new integrated FreshCloud® app allows you to connect to our blast chiller at any time with your smartphone and ensure proper operation, even if you are not around or are busy doing something else. It also allows you to remotely monitor operating data for any ongoing cycle and change settings such as core and cabinet temperature, ventilation and phase duration, remotely launch the pre-chilling and pre-heating phases of a cycle, Save HACCP data in handy PDF reports sent by MultiFresh® Next, receive real-time alarm notifications, and much more!
When will it be released?
The line will officially take off in the U.S. and Canada in June 2021, with a progressive roll-out strategy as we still need to phase out the current MultiFresh® generation over the next few months.
Will it retrofit or supplement existing technology?
The new line will simply become an additional model option for existing operations with current generation MultiFresh® systems in place.
What’s the next step for a dealer/consultant or end user operator who would like more information?
Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find more detailed information on our latest products directly on our website. Follow us on Instagram:
#irinoxnorthamerica or on LinkedIn on the IRINOX Professional North America page.