LEDs lighting the way

Versatile LEDs are proving they can lower energy costs and offer design benefits.

Once considered purely functional, lighting is being viewed in an entirely new—pardon the pun—light.

With an eye on aesthetics, retailers are trending away from “light everywhere” to “lighting design,” a move that can save them both energy and create a more enticing shopping experience. Driven by the idea that when customers are comfortable they are likely to buy more, retailers are experimenting with decorative lighting fixtures to help create an attractive and familiar environment.

EcoShine-II“Good supermarket lighting is much more than light level and energy consumption,” says Jake Summers, director of specialty markets for Con-Tech Lighting based in Northbrook, Ill. “Retailers increasingly see that contrast between brilliantly illuminated areas next to darker ones has the ability to create a more inviting atmosphere, all of which can be achieved with the right light fixture.”

The past six months in particular have seen many new developments in lighting’s performance, capability and reliability. Industry observers say energy code changes are pushing retailers to turn to LED lighting systems because of their inherent energy savings. The up-side of this forced technology shift is that LEDs now deliver the performance, color and other key characteristics that retailers expect from the lighting systems in their stores, without sacrificing aesthetics or impacting the customers’ shopping experience.

Observers say the move toward energy efficient, long-life LED sources continues to grow at retail. Supermarkets are among those leading the charge as they can most benefit from the advantages LEDs offer. J.R. Krauza, senior product manager for Amerlux based in Fairfield, N.J., says the cost of LED lighting systems continue to decrease to the point where the ROI is much more feasible than in previous years.

As recently as two years ago, LEDs were considered a premature lighting technology that would have limited use in retail and supermarket applications because of its poor performance compared to traditional choices. With technology improving at such a rapid pace and light fixture manufacturers’ accelerated learning curve on the engineering of dedicated LED fixtures these lighting options can now be used throughout most departments of a supermarket.

Observers say a number of new LED products are starting to be used in retail including high bays, non-refrigerated display case lighting, track lighting and outdoor lighting. “The fear of switching to LED lighting has diminished and retailers are starting to look at the overall savings instead of just the upfront costs,” says Jeff Brooks, director of new business development for ElectraLED, based in Largo, Fla.

Possessing qualities such as lower lifetime maintenance costs, the fact less heat is created and energy savings, LEDs can offer retailers numerous advantages compared to previous lighting options. “Retailers now have a wide range of quality options including more appropriate Kelvin color choices for fresh food use and more choices as to where to incorporate LEDs into their store,” says Lee Rhoades, COO of BARO North America, based in St. Louis.

Observers say key lighting trends center on improving color temperature and color rendering consistencies of LED products. Bruce Schneider, sales specialist, merchandising lighting for Hussmann, based in Bridgeton, Mo., says this “is a win for the entire industry.” Developing flexible application fixtures is also a focus for Hussmann. “Retailers want fixtures that provide the ultimate ‘hat trick.’ They want fixtures to address energy and maintenance concerns and offer the highest quality in terms of color temperature and CRI,” he says.

Retailers also look for department appropriate lighting that can provide uniformity, so displays look natural and inviting. “Ultimately, retailers are in the business of selling quality foods and understand that the correct fixture and right lighting can help excite shoppers to purchase,” says Schneider.

He adds that when retailers first started installing LED fixtures in freezer cases, the higher K-Temperatures (4000K to 5000K) were blue in color and the CRIs were much lower. The result was unattractive food displays that did not pop. Observers say the industry has overcome many of these issues, primarily because of collaboration between manufacturers and retailers.

Lighting control systems and occupancy sensors are anticipated to be the next big wave in a multitude of grocery store lighting environments, including ceilings, parking lot and area lighting, signage and refrigerated display lighting. “Advanced control strategies for lighting and HVAC systems offer smart in-store lighting solutions for building managers,” says Susan Fowler, retail brand manager for Immersion LED Lighting Systems and Tetra Lighting Systems for GE Lighting, based in Cleveland, Ohio. GE and Trane recently collaborated on advanced energy management solutions for retail environments. Within the store environment, Fowler says there is a trend toward fewer fixtures and less cluttered ceiling and retail space. “With more targeted lighting that is merchandise specific, grocers can use LED lighting to respond to the location of products and the color of the displays underneath,” she says.

With the technological advancements in LEDs, retailers are also beginning to considering energy-efficient lighting solutions for their warehouse spaces, say observers. Fowler adds that GE’s Albeo high bay product line was created to fulfill that growing demand with an energy-saving solution.

As with any new technology, there is frequently a learning curve involved in understanding its features and knowing what qualities make one product or manufacturer stand out from another. Increasingly, grocers are realizing—sometimes the hard way—that the best value is not necessarily the least expensive fixture. While cost is often a key driver, retailers are beginning to understand they need to look a littler deeper and find out what the true overall lifetime cost of their lighting systems will be, both proposed and existing, while also studying any impact on sales a lighting change might have. For instance, some lighting products may have a cheap unit price, but in the long term might be fairly costly. “There is no point in saving money on energy if you lose more in sales,” says Rhoades.

Receptive to needs
Officials at Con-Tech Lighting are responding to the needs of the market and their customers by taking the latest and best performing LED chips and engineering them into a complete system—a light fixture designed to efficiently manage the thermal, optical and other properties of the LED chip, while optimizing its performance and life. Summers says an example of this is Con-Tech’s O2 family of high output LED track heads. Features include four housing options, three lumen packages, three beam distributions, high CRI (90+), superior optical control—which means no surface brightness or glare—and a 50,000-hour life. “All of these features combined makes it virtually maintenance free for five years or more,” says Summers.

Con-Tech has also introduced the Lux Beam, a 2”x2” grid lighting system. Summers says the Lux Beam creates “people scale” by lowering the ceiling height with a faux ceiling structure without having to install a full ceiling or exposing unsightly unistrut. “By adding ‘people scale’ to specialty departments, customers are more likely to linger and purchase more merchandise,” he says.

Amerlux officials say they designed their new Fiato fixture to address the specific needs of a retail environment. Fiato targets the 39w CMH lamp and delivers over 2000 lumens of light from a single point LED source. “Fiato’s 33,000 CBCP 10 degree narrow spot optics make it the perfect fixture for accenting from a high ceiling,” says Krauza. “The LEDs are binned below the black body, like CMH lamps, creating a more pleasing white light that helps pop color on produce and other types of merchandise.”

Designed to breathe, Fiato (which means breath) is passively cooled to keep maintenance concerns at a minimum. “High output, excellent color Quality, a 50,000 hour life and our industry leading 10-year warranty make Fiato the prime choice for supermarket and retail conversion or when higher outputs are required for new construction,” he adds.

Rhoades says as one of the smaller light fixture manufacturers in the U.S., BARO North America has to work harder to stand out from the larger companies. Being responsive to retailer needs has been instrumental in helping them stand apart. He says they do this by being the only manufacturer that completely specializes in creating and delivering lighting solely for supermarkets and fresh foods. BARO Lighting offers 6,000 and higher lumen LED fixtures, which create value because retailers can replace two or even three existing fixtures with one of theirs, says Rhoades. “This reduces up front costs, labor costs, energy costs and, years down the road, replacement costs,” he says.

Along with the company’s unique reflector options Rhoades says they can shape their light package over greater distance with a common spacing of eight feet, compared to many of their competitors who use two-foot spacings. “Our ability to do the job with less fixtures means more value,” he says.

As consumers spend less time in store aisles shelf lighting is more important than ever. A growing concern is that too often cases with lit shelves only light the top of the products, rather than shedding light on the face of the product. Additionally, luminaires are being designed around the light source, instead of LEDs being put into traditional fixture products, giving lighting designers a new way to show off the LED light.

“GE’s new Lumination EL Series LED Luminaire marries fashion and function with a never-before-seen LED lighting technology option for indoor spaces,” says Fowler.
Given retailers’ recent interest in adding doors to open multi-deck medium temperature cases, Hussmann introduced its EcoShine II Plus fixtures that are specifically designed to fit within the thinner mullions of the doorframes. “Having a fixture designed for this application is extremely important because it addresses the need to both throw and spread uniform light deeper into the case cavity,” says Schneider. “In our experience, when a frozen door LED is used in these types of upgrades, retailers will have issues with shadowing and dark areas within their cases, so providing the right fixture is critical.”

Observers say that when lighting beverage or meat cases, many retailers want waterproof or watertight fixtures that can be easily cleaned.

Retailers are also looking for lighting that will not ruin their fresh products or create a glare behind glass. “It is great to have fixtures that save you money on your electric bill, but it is added benefits, such as these, that retailers are really looking for,” says Summers.

Lighting the future       
Officials at the major lighting companies say they plan to continue developing products to offer the highest quality and features possible while stressing value. “We will continue to push the envelope in regard to lumen capabilities so grocers have the ability to light their entire grocery store without any sacrifices,” says Rhoades. “Currently we are at the top when it comes to offering high lumen quality LED light sources for supermarkets. Look for us to introduce fixtures that deliver over 10,000 lumens this summer.” He adds that these new lighting choices will be ideal for use in the main aisles or stores with very high ceilings.

GE Lighting is introducing GE’s Immersion RH30 LED lighting system this year. It was designed to transform horizontal refrigerated displays housing fresh meat, packaged dairy and deli items, as well as in service cases at butcher and seafood counters. Fowler says by replacing T12 high output and T8 linear fluorescent lamps in horizontal refrigerated display cases, RH30 produces 75% to 77% energy savings without compromising light quality. “A diffused lens removes glare and hot spots on food packages, encouraging customers to reach in and add product to their shopping cart,” she says.

Con-Tech recently introduced a linear LED wall wash track head. The product’s features include 56W, which Summers says is ideal for illuminating signage and banners and has the same spacing criterion as traditional track mounted wall wash lighting products, plus its 50,000-hour life makes it virtually maintenance free for five-plus years.

Officials at Hussmann are seeing dramatic sales growth in their newest LED Canopy and Under Shelf fixtures. Both of these products offer diffused lensing that reduces glare on packaging, but more importantly, the canopy’s light is dispersed asymmetrically and delivers a uniformed light wash on the products. “These fixtures help provide the ‘wow’ factor that traditional fluorescents are unable to consistently provide,” says Schneider.
ElectraLED offers a variety of track lighting solutions including Total Eclipse, ideally suited for the frozen/refrigerated foods section. The product was named for its ability to be unseen through the glass doors. “Other products on the market create a glare or allow streaks of light through the doors which make it hard for customers to see what they are looking for,” says Brooks. “The main goal of switching to LED lighting in refrigerated cases is to save energy, but retailers don’t want to forfeit the quality of light or the ability to view products easily through the glass doors.”

In addition, ElectraLED is introducing a watertight LED fixture later this year designed to replace conventional lighting systems in damp or wet locations. The fixture was designed for use with high performance LED light engines and has L70 life of 64,000 hours. It can be used in warehouse areas, food prep rooms, walk-in coolers and freezers as well as various locations outside such as parking garages.

 

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