Grocers are adding doors, LED lighting and other energy-saving features to refrigerated cases.
At home, consumers keep yogurt, milk and cheese in the refrigerator, behind closed doors. An increasing number of grocers are discovering that it makes sense to do the same in stores for a variety of reasons, including conserving energy and ensuring food quality and safety. Hence, many retailers are adding doors to their medium-temperature dairy, deli and beverage cases.
“Shoppers are very discerning when it comes to food safety today,” says Carl Petersen, marketing and advertising manager for Zero Zone, Inc., a North Prairie, Wis.-based manufacturer of refrigerated display cases and refrigeration systems. “The seemingly endless media reports of wisteria, salmonella, E. coli and other illnesses brought on by improper food handling, processing and refrigeration have them very concerned about the products they choose at the supermarket.”
According to the company’s shopper surveys, consumers feel more confident about purchasing refrigerated and frozen food that is displayed behind glass doors. “They tell us that a glass door refrigerated case reminds them of their refrigerator at home,” says Petersen. “They say they perceive the food to be fresher, colder and safer since it is handled less frequently than food displayed in open cases, where it is commonplace for shoppers and their children to move packages around.”
Refrigeration equipment manufacturer Hussmann offers Coition doors. These doors reduce refrigeration energy consumption by up to 65% and provide maximum product visibility for optimum sales and merchandising opportunities, says Cheryl Beach, marketing communications manager for the Bridgeton, Mo.-based company. The doors are available on new cases and can be retrofitted for existing cases.
While there was some initial resistance, Beach says that doors are becoming commonplace on refrigerated cases in supermarkets. “There were some [retailer] concerns initially that doors would hamper impulses sales, but we’re not seeing that,” she says.
Officials at REMIS America, a manufacturer of doors and coverings for cases, recently announced that it was expanding its American production to satisfy rising demand. “There is really an increasing demand for glass doors in North America and we’re seeing more interest in doors for medium-temperature cases,” says Matt Letcher, managing director for the Elkhart, Ind.-based manufacturer.
The company is launching the Curve XL, which can fit over short multi-deck cases with varying size shelves. “These types of cases are extremely popular, especially for end caps, but they aren’t conductive to a straight piece of glass,” says Rick Waldron, product manager.
With an increased focus on the new Department of Energy (DOE) standards and regulations aimed at improving the energy efficiency of all commercial refrigeration equipment, innovations are centered on creating more eco-friendly cases—whether it is the addition of doors to traditionally open cases or identifying more energy-efficient lighting, say industry observers.
Known as the Commercial Refrigeration Equipment Final Rule, the new DOE standards took effect at the beginning of this year. Aimed at reducing future energy consumption of commercial refrigerated food and frozen merchandisers, the rule sets forth a new standard of energy efficiency equipment specifications for products manufactured or imported into the U.S.
Observers say that retailers should see payback very quickly due to energy reduction costs resulting from the use of equipment that meets these new specifications.
“It is important that refrigeration equipment manufacturers remain ahead of the game when it comes to identifying ways to help supermarkets run an energy-efficient operation,” says Michel Clark, marketing communications manager, North America, for Columbus, Ga.-based Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration. “With our Kysor/Warren brand of refrigeration cases, we have focused on enhancing energy-efficiency for the past several years with our Stratus line of merchandise display cases in both medium and low temperature applications.
“As retailers continue to focus on creating more energy-efficiency for their stores, we’re likely to see a continual growth trend toward putting more merchandise behind doors—not only for frozen food applications but for medium temperature applications as well. The use of increasingly energy-efficient refrigeration equipment will only grow in the future because it makes good business sense for supermarkets having a positive impact on the retailers’ bottom line.”
The energy savings come in some unexpected forms, say observers. “Significant savings are also realized on the systems side when our Crystal Merchandiser lineups are selected to replace open air cases,” says Petersen. “Compressor counts are scaled down, horsepower requirements are greatly decreased, condenser sizes are reduced, the physical length of the refrigeration rack is shortened and the overall cost of the refrigeration system itself is lowered significantly.”
Petersen says one customer with a smaller store—about 14,000 square feet of selling space—realized a savings of $9,500 on rack equipment alone as a result of choosing the Crystal Merchandiser. He says that does not include other savings that resulted from installing a smaller refrigeration system. “Larger supermarkets, likewise, are seeing exponentially larger savings,” he adds.
While energy efficiency has been top-of-mind for grocers and manufacturers over the past few years, they are also looking to improve merchandising.
“As always, retailers are looking for enhanced merchandising in their refrigeration equipment which allows them to store more food products with increased capacity and visibility,” Clark says. “However, a key feature of any quality refrigeration equipment is the ability to combine both enhanced merchandising with energy efficiency. Any refrigeration manufacturer with a goal of being a solutions provider for its customers should be in the business of helping supermarkets store more merchandise using less energy.”
“Compared to open air cases, the Crystal Merchandiser delivers as much as 84% annual energy reduction, 35% more product facings and 25% more packout—all in a footprint that allows for up to 7-inch wider aisles,” Petersen says. “In addition, the bright 6-foot LED lighting, expansive 74-inch CoolView Doors and narrow mullions draw shoppers’ attention to the fresh selection of products inside while the case elegantly frames those products without calling undue attention to itself,” he says.
Using cases that can be moved around the store to optimize merchandising opportunities is another trend, says Howell Feig, director of sales for AHT Cooling Systems USA, a provider of plug-in refrigerator and freezer equipment based in Hanahan, S.C. “Our solutions are adjustable to customer needs and focus on cost savings, high-quality, minimum heat emissions, low sound, high food quality and excellent product presentation,” he says.
Among AHT’s offerings are the Paris wide island, Athens jumbo island, Malta shop-around model and Manhattan narrow island cases. The U.S. division will soon be introducing the Vento line, which is a plug-in modular refrigerated multi-deck case.
To enable retailers to display more product, Hussmann is among the case manufacturers that are reconfiguring equipment to maximize space. “Our Freedom line of reach-in coolers is taller so that more product can be displayed without increasing the footprint,” says Beach.
Spotlight on case lighting
Another trend in cases is the changeover to LED lighting, which can lower maintenance costs, reduce energy consumption and enhance product appeal, say observers.
“We have seen vast improvements in color consistency and LED chip quality,” says Bryan Warner, vice president of sales for ElectraLED, a Largo, Fla.-based producer of LED lighting products.
He says that there is keen interest in LEDs for horizontal, open-air mid-temperature cases. “We’re seeing that as an up-and-coming area for LEDs,” Warner says. “Freezer cases continue to be strong. We’re seeing new construction almost exclusively with LEDs and most of the grocers have begun retrofits and have done at least some stores. No one is really lagging behind.”
Since horizontal cases often contain fresh food items, the uniform bright light can have a positive impact on purchasing decisions. The Immersion RH20 LED lights from GE Lighting Solutions, based in East Cleveland, Ohio, are designed to make food look its best with an 80-plus color rendering index, says Eric Stevenson, general manager of specialty lighting for the manufacturer.
To draw the customers’ attention to specific products, adjustable clips allow retailers to rotate the LED light fixture, angling light directly toward select items, he says.
Hy-Vee, the West Des Moines, Iowa-based grocer with 235 stores in eight Midwestern states, is among the retailers benefiting from adding LEDs to its cases. According to Hussmann officials, the company’s EcoShine LED lighting upgrades at the Midwestern Hy-Vee stores have resulted in more than 3,700,000 kWh in annual energy savings and more than $473,000 in utility company rebates for the retailer. Hussmann officials add that the average payback for the EcoShine LED upgrades is 1.8 years.
Hussmann also manages the rebate process for Hy-Vee, negotiating with the utility companies, completing necessary paperwork, filing energy saving documentation and providing materials for the stores to post explaining the LED energy saving benefits to their customers.
“I knew our local utility company had dollars allocated for energy efficiency upgrades, but we needed a vendor partner to help make it all happen,” says Jon Scanlan, director of refrigeration and energy management for the retailer.
Nualight, a Cork, Ireland-based LED lighting manufacturer with U.S. offices in Charlotte, N.C., offers retailers its Vivance and Perfino lighting technologies. Sainsbury’s, a London-based retailer, recently partnered with Nualight and is using the LED technologies for low- and medium-temperature specialty cases in all its new stores.
Nualight officials say the LED lighting is expected to reduce lighting-related energy consumption for Sainsbury’s by 70% in low-temperature cases and by 40% in medium-temperature cases. Officials add that Nualight LED lighting is also maintenance-free with a guaranteed lifetime of 50,000 hours, further enhancing its sustainable and cost-saving credentials.