Points of Light

Retailers are taking a shine to LEDs, expanding use to almost every part of the store.

Bright lights, big savings. That is the mantra for retailers upgrading lighting systems to LEDs. Not only is energy consumption going down, retailers are able to reduce maintenance and the lights retain their brightness over time—both key benefits.

While LED’s energy savings and maintenance benefits have been well documented, they are not the only reasons that retailers are making the switch.

“For retailers that previously had a fluorescent lighting system, they will be surprised to find quality LED products provide a better atmosphere than fluorescent in addition to the energy and maintenance savings,” says Lee Rhoades, chief operating officer for St. Louis-based Baero North America. “If the retailers do their homework they can purchase LED systems that lend their stores a sparkle and product presentation of which fluorescents are not capable of producing.”

The color rendering capabilities of LEDs has vastly improved as of late, according to industry observers. “Every six months or so we’re seeing rapid changes not only in performance but in the capability to control color and reliability,” says Michael Dwyer, vice president of national account sales for the Juno Lighting Group, based in Des Plaines, Ill.

Officials for Nualight say they have been able to take advantage of the new technology. “A color rendering index (CRI) of 100 is perfect lighting and we were not even close to that until recently,” says Vincent Guénebaut, head of product development for Nualight, an LED lighting maker based in Cork, Ireland, with U.S. offices in Charlotte, N.C. “We can now achieve a CRI in excess of 95.”

Nualight recently launched two Vivace lighting solutions that use the latest technology to bring out the richest natural colors in food. “Fresh foods, meat and produce are high-margin items and retailers put a great deal of emphasis on presenting them well,” says Guénebaut.

Produce in particular looks better under LED lighting, say observers. “[Retailers] are experiencing increased sales of products that are enhanced with the LED lighting,” says Bryan Warner, vice president of sales and operations for ElectraLED, based in Largo, Fla. “Also the shrinkage of produce is reduced because of the low heat output from the fixtures. This results in the produce retaining its weight at the register.”

LEDs also build on the technology’s core benefits of energy savings and low maintenance, observers say. “This is accomplished through reduced wattage usage, increased rated life performance and a variety of color temperatures,” says Susan Fowler, product marketing leader for GE Lighting, based in East Cleveland, Ohio.

“The technology to build even more sustainable options will continue to evolve so that LEDs will be brighter and consume less power,” says Ray Sjolseth, president of Seesmart, based in Simi Valley, Calif.

While LEDS in freezer and cooler doors have been on the radar for a while, Warner says ElectraLED is now seeing interest in using LEDs in horizontal case as well as track lighting over produce and wine displays. “Since LEDs have a low heat signature they are the perfect match for refrigerated cases of all types,” he says.

A well-executed lighting design plan with LED or other high-efficiency lighting options can improve the overall store environment, making it easier to shop and select goods, potentially increasing sales, observers say.

“You have the ability to put the light where you want it—on the product you want to sell—and not waste it where you don’t need it,” says Juno’s Dwyer.

“Layers of light where there is ambient lighting to highlight merchandise in various areas and select shelves are recommended,” says Cheryl Ford, applications marketing specialist for Osram Sylvania, based in Danvers, Mass. “LED lighting does a great job at highlighting merchandise due to the directionality of the light.”

Colored LEDs can draw attention to a specific section of a store or be used for store branding. “There are also opportunities to light other shelving in the store,” Ford says.

LEDs are working their way into bakery, seafood and meat cases, among other areas, says Don Knickerbocker, vice president, supermarket sales for Fairfield, N.J.-based Amerlux Lighting Solutions. “The benefit of LEDs for areas such as meat and fish is that there are different color temperatures that can be adjusted to suit the needs of a particular product, unlike a typical fluorescent lamp,” he says. “Plus, they do not throw off heat, which can melt the ice and increase shrink.”

Ambient lighting in the aisles, back office and back room are also targets for LEDs, Knickerbocker says. “The maintenance cycle is very attractive, as LEDs have a very long life,” he says. “Plus, they don’t project heat, potentially reducing the air conditioning load.”

Baero’s Rhoades says the technology is evolving to make it feasible for LEDs to be used throughout the entire store. “Although our LED fixtures average well above 3,000 lumens, we ourselves have only gone after the fresh food side up until now,” he says. “However, [we are about to introduce] an LED line that can deliver enough quality lumens to be incorporated across the entire sales floor. Our new Alpha H1 family of LED fixtures will be available in track, pendant and recessed options that will range from 1,936 to 7,875 lumens with several CRI, Kelvin and reflector options.”

He says a recent trial installation was successful. “We replaced a 150 watt ceramic metal halide display on a one-to-one ratio with our LED and had more footcandles on the display from our LED than the HID fixtures and at 40% energy savings.”

The transition to LEDs for overhead lighting has been slower than it has been in other areas of the store, observers say. “It has been a hard area to crack because T-8 technology is so efficient,” says Eric Schmidt, planner, planning services, Philips Lighting North America, based in Somerset, N.J.

Since many grocers are open 24 hours a day, they can benefit from the reduced maintenance of LEDs when used in overhead lighting. “A supermarket is not like a store in a mall that has limited hours, as many grocers are open around the clock,” says Juno’s Dwyer.

While retailers continue to explore the use of LEDs throughout the store, freezers and refrigerated cases continue to drive interest in the lighting technology. Observers say there have been a number of advances to make the lights more durable as the cases are cleaned with water.

“When you are dealing with fresh foods, there is misting and cleaning that has to be done to the cases, so there is a lot being done ensure that the lighting can withstand the water,” says Anshuman Bhargava, global product manager LED lighting and integrated system for Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussmann Corp. “There has been tremendous advances in the ability of LEDs to improve merchandising, distribute light and provide consistent color and the breadth of offerings is much greater for service cases, specialty islands and closed cases.”

Installation has also been simplified, he says. “It is almost plug-and-play and takes just a few minutes to install. They attach with magnets and there are quick connectors that connect to the back of any case, so that you don’t have to open up the case and remove the harness.” Hussmann, which has an alliance with Nualight for case lighting, also helps retailers with energy audits, rebates and project management.

While retailers are concentrating on advanced lighting options in all departments when building new stores, retrofitting existing stores is on the upswing as well, say observers.
“New construction utilizing LEDs is a no-brainer so to speak, but retrofits also make sense,” says ElectraLED’s Warner. “With all of the utility rebates available and the energy savings that occur when retrofitting with LEDs in an existing store, the payback is generally two years or less.”

Trip Straub, president and CEO of St. Louis-based Straub’s Fine Grocers, recently worked with St. Louis-based Villa Lighting Supply to upgrade the lighting in a Price Chopper store it operates in House Springs, Mo. The grocer installed LED lights in the produce and liquor departments. “We had a whole bunch of 400-watt metal halide fixtures that were just high energy consumers,” Straub says. “We’ve reduced our energy use by about 15%.”

However, replacing traditional lighting with LEDs is not always the best solution, says Steve Barker, Villa’s vice president of sales. “It does not always make sense, but when you’re replacing ceramic metal halide, the energy savings and maintenance gains can be significant.”

Grocers continue to focus on designing stores with a residential feel, which means that LEDs will play a greater role going forward, observers say.

“Most successful grocers think about lighting in context of the whole store design and how it will impact the customer experience,” says Michael Lehman, vice president of marketing and product development at Con-Tech Lighting, based in Northbrook, Ill.  “It is all about making the customer more at home, so they are using interior designers and dedicated lighting professionals to create a comfortable environment.”

LEDs also provide an opportunity to re-think the appearance of lighting fixtures, say observers. “You’re not stuck with the one form factor, a big metal bucket hanging from the ceiling,” says Lisette Ditters, director of market segments for Philips Lighting. “Because they don’t emit heat, you can put the fixtures closer to the products and on the shelves.”

Taking it to the street
Retailers are even taking LED use beyond the sales floor. “There are now high quality LED luminaires for street, area and landscape lighting,” says Sylvania’s Ford.

The directional nature of LED sources allows for more of the lumens generated to be emitted from the luminaire compared to traditional light sources making these luminaires extremely efficient, she says.

“The advancements in LED technology has lead to higher efficacy and higher lumen LED chips, as well as chip on board technology minimizing or eliminating heating sinking requirements, enabling the development of luminaires for general ambient lighting that deliver over 100 lumens per watt,” Ford says.

LED parking lot lighting is being evaluated and installed by many retailers since it provides at least 50% energy savings over high pressure sodium and metal halide lighting options and long life up to 100,000 hours, Ford says.

GE’s Fowler says the lighting manufacturer recently worked with Lufkin, Texas-based Brookshire Brothers on a facility-wide lighting update including in-store, parking lot, exterior signage and refrigerated case fixtures. Brookshire Brothers officials expect that the renovations will reduce annual operating costs more than $235,000.

“When we looked at options to impact our total energy costs, we identified several areas at different stores where new lighting, including LED fixtures, made a compelling case, both indoors and out,” says Eric Johnson, director of construction for Brookshire Brothers. “The store directors have all been impressed. The parking lots shine, the signage is crisper and the colors of the products show much better.”

Observers say one of the next innovations in lighting is organic LED (OLED), which is a flat light emitting technology uses a series of organic thin films placed between two conductors.

“There will be further LED efficacy improvements, more LED fixtures with intelligent controls and further development of general lighting applications,” says Ford. “Currently, OLEDs are more of a niche product due to the high cost, but organic LEDs open up new possibilities because of the thin, flat profile—essentially any object, piece of furniture, walls, ceilings, windows and many other items can be turned into a light source.”

The light of day
While energy-efficient light sources are grabbing the spotlight, retailers are looking for ways to make the most of natural sunshine. Some grocers have added traditional skylights to brighten up the stores, but that only works on sunny days and is fairly limited to the area beneath the skylight.

Others are using daylighting systems from companies such as Vista, Calif.-based Solatube International, which harnesses daylight and can bring it to all areas of the store.
Marc McKillop, independent owner of a Giant Eagle in Altoona, Pa., says he is saving 40% on his energy bill with a Solatube daylighting system. “It is pretty impressive and we are now a LEED-certified gold store,” he says. “We started out primarily in center store and now it is store-wide, even in the office.”

While the energy savings are significant, he says the daylighting system also improves the shopping experience. The reliable distribution of natural light provides perfect color rendition, making products more appealing and making the store feel brighter, cleaner and more comfortable for shoppers, he says. “In addition to taking costs out, we wanted to give our customers a different experience,” McKillop adds.

“Natural light makes a grocery store bright, fresh and clean,” says Valerie Dennis, national sales manager for Solatube International. “Products are seen in their true colors, which makes the produce especially irresistible.”

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