Making a cold case

Today’s refrigeration cases offer a wealth of features including style, energy efficiency and, in some instances, portability.

The plot for the television show Cold Case revolved around police detectives reopening investigative cases that had long been forgotten. The subject of cold case refrigeration equipment is often top-of-mind for grocers.

Known as one of the most important pieces of equipment in the store, today’s refrigeration cases do more than keep items cold. The best cases draw customers in, highlight products through the use of strategic lighting, create enticing displays, improve product accessibility and maximize product facings.

The EPA’s GreenChill goal of reducing refrigerant emissions and decreasing a supermarkEcoVision-Doors-with-EcoShine-LEDset’s impact on the ozone layer is also fueling a number of technological advancements in refrigeration cases. This is leading manufacturers and retailers to explore energy efficient refrigeration solutions that will reduce the carbon footprint and increase customer satisfaction while boosting profits.

“Today, retailers tend to look at their stores holistically, in the sense that they are much more aware of how all the elements of the shopping trip, including the store’s environment, interact and ultimately influence a customer’s experience in their store,” says Carl Petersen, marketing and advertising manager for Zero Zone based in North Prairie, Wis.

The emphasis on high-margin perishable departments has also created a demand for configurable, custom-designed refrigerated cases. Officials at Hussmann Corp., based in Bridgeton, Mo., say from a merchandising perspective, the flexibility to change over product mix depending on the time of day and shopping patterns of their customers has been instrumental in allowing retailers to react to demand.

Cheryl Beach, marketing communications manager for Hussmann, says food retailers are also focusing on reducing energy consumption through LED lighting. Not only are retailers looking for the most energy efficient new equipment, she says they also want ‘upgrades’ to LEDs and doors for their existing installed refrigeration equipment throughout their store.

“Shoppers’ continued focus on fresh and prepared foods drive a need for creative case design concepts that increase product appeal resulting in greater sales,” says Beach. For instance, the company created Isla, a “design-your-own island” merchandiser that offers retailers a flexible way to display refrigerated, hot and dry items—all in the same case. Isla can be configured in four-sided, three-sided or two-sided islands, as well as in-line and stand-alone cases.

The energy performance requirements for other refrigeration equipment have recently changed as well. The new ENERGY STAR standards for ice machines, which went into effect in late-winter require a 7% to 10% energy improvement. There are new ENERGY STAR efficiency standards for reach-ins as well, which will go into effect April 2014. These more challenging energy performance requirements are pushing retailers to find compressors that have the versatility to operate from low through high temperature applications and with a variety of refrigerants, says Rajan Rajendran, vice president, engineering services and sustainability for Emerson Climate Technologies, based in Sidney, Ohio.

Industry observers say many retailers have changed their mindset about incorporating doors and lids in refrigeration cases while also looking for flexible systems that are low maintenance.

“Traditionally the pervading retailer sentiment in the U.S. was not to have doors on multi-decks or horizontal island cases. The concern was that it would create a barrier and be less consumer friendly, which could ultimately impact sales,” says Howell Feig, national sales manager for North Charleston, S.C.-based AHT Cooling Systems USA.

He adds that as retailers explore ways to reduce operating costs they have come to see that lids can be functional, attractive and reduce energy consumption. “Our curved lids, for example, create a more appealing look, are easy to slide, offer optimum product visibility and are very durable.  The entire product line also comes standard with internal LED lighting, which has proven effective in drawing consumers to the products in the case,” he says.

The company’s product line includes refrigerated and frozen coffin/bunker/horizontal cases, as well as vertical/multi-deck cooler cases. According to officials at AHT, its plug-in systems offer greater energy efficiency, require less maintenance and are easy and less expensive to install because no drains or copper piping are needed. “And, unlike traditional units, due to the way ours are constructed there is no opportunity for dust and dirt to build up on the coils,” says Feig.

Heating up the cold case
Merchandise visibility, cubic capacity and energy efficiency may be dominant trends in the industry, but there are other trends to keep an eye on as well. As regulations develop toward reducing the use of HFCs, retailers are beginning to implement reduced HFC systems in many stores as well as also testing HFC-free systems in several trial stores, say Michael Lehtinen, Kysor/Warren lead case product manager for Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration, the Stone Mountain, Ga.-based parent company of Kysor/Warren.

The desire to expand the chilled offerings is behind another prominent trend occurring in retail—the increasing use of mobile spot merchandisers. These portable plug-and-play refrigerated units give retailers flexibility in terms of placement and are proving effective in driving impulse sales of both seasonal and everyday products, say observers. All that is needed is a single electrical connection.

Officials at Heatcraft’s Kysor/Warren division say during the past year the interest in spot merchandisers has dramatically increased. Lehtinen says retailers are more receptive to using mobile merchandisers and the revenue generating potential these small, easy-to-use workhorses provide. The company is now producing these types of units and maintains an inventory for quick turnaround orders.

The coolers may be small, but its cross merchandising potential is substantial. Megan Jones, marketing and customer service manager for Coolio North America, based in Burlington, Ont., Canada, says the units are proving to be popular merchandising vehicles for highlighting complimentary products, especially when one is chilled and the other is ambient.

“Getting customers to think about different ways they can use your products is a key feature of these units,” says Jones. “Roll a Coolio full of whipped cream next to the strawberries or move a Coolio full of hot dogs next to the buns. Let your imagination run wild.”

The wheeled unit weighs 65 pounds and can be moved to wherever it is needed that day, providing there is an outlet nearby. Jones says its custom-printed Freshboards can be changed quickly to create a 360-degree ad campaign. “Coolio is all about branding and re-branding your display. Constantly changing the graphic/message will continuously attract the customers eye and increase sales lift,” she says, adding that sampling is also made easier by placing a Coolio unit filled with product in a high traffic area.

Tackling sustainability
To address retailers’ demand for increased energy efficiency and lower energy costs, Hussmann designed its EcoShine II which features LED lighting that more evenly illuminates product display, minimizes hot spots and dark shadows and makes the overall product display more appealing to shoppers. With this set up, retailers can save up to 71% in case lighting energy costs compared to fluorescents, say company officials.

“Our EcoVision doors draw shoppers’ eyes to dairy, deli and beverage departments,” says Beach. The 24-inch French style, slim line doors, she adds, are easy to shop and are designed to maximize product visibility. In addition, the doors provide significant energy savings (up to 82%) versus open front multi deck refrigerated merchandisers. In fact, energy saving solutions are offered on all new equipment and as an “upgrade” for existing Hussmann and competitive equipment currently installed stores.

Hussmann’s Retail Optimization team exists to help retailers reduce energy consumption within existing store formats. The team can perform a level 2 audit providing a comprehensive, diagnostic review of the entire store including all HVAC-R systems, store lighting and controls and walk-in coolers to identify energy conservation measures (ECMs) to increase energy efficiency.

Officials at Heatcraft say their goal is to provide a refrigeration solution with the lowest Life Cycle Climate Performance (LCCP) and lowest total cost of ownership. To that end, the company has developed alternative refrigeration systems that include glycol secondary loop systems as well as CO2 liquid overfeed and direct expansion systems within its commercial refrigeration product portfolio. These cooling options can be used in systems that minimize HFCs or are completely HFC-free. “For refrigeration systems, the use of ammonia and CO2 continue to gain favor within the supermarket industry. We continue to educate customers on the benefits of each system type and aid them in identifying which of the solutions will provide them with the best LCCP,” says Lehtinen.

Emerson has recently introduced a new mid-size refrigeration compressor with one to four horsepower. The new Copeland Scroll ZSKA compressor delivers an improved energy efficiency rating (EER) of up to 15% compared to competing reciprocating compressors. Possessing a wide operating envelope from -25°F to 45°F for low through high temperature applications, the Copeland Scroll ZSKA compressor is compatible with a variety of refrigerants, including R-404A, R-507, R-134a, R-407A/C and R-22.

Excellence Industries has collaborated with UL Laboratories to develop safe technologies for servicing the new hydrocarbon refrigerants, an important step in continuing to enhance green technologies and redefine sustainability standards in the commercial food retail industries. “We’re just now starting to see the rewards from our joint efforts to facilitate the transition to hydrocarbon refrigerants among the major food retailers and look forward to the trend catching fire,” says Dell Dahl, president of Excellence Industries based in Tampa, Fla. Dahl says that since the EPA approved the use of propane in commercial refrigerators and freezers, energy efficiency potential has been significantly enhanced and the industry standard for sustainability redefined.

The company recently introduced a commercial propane recovery system approved for use in the U.S. Known as the RECCO3, this unit enables the safe transfer of flammable/explosive refrigerants necessary to service propane-cooled refrigerators and freezers, say company officials.

The two newest products from AHT being offered to North American retailers are a dual temp spot merchandiser and the XL-Slim cooler. The dual temp spot case is available in two different sizes and comes standard with auto-defrost, LED and side glass panels for additional product visibility. To maximize merchandising space, the XL-Slim measures 47 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 77 inches high with 12-inch deep shelves, making it ideal for placement in-line to merchandise refrigerated product next to dry goods. Hans Joergensen, CEO of AHT, says that during the next year, AHT will bring technologies from Europe to the North American market that are expected to further reduce energy consumption by as much as 50%.

Increasing capacity
Sometimes the need to be more energy efficient does not necessarily mean new refrigeration or freezer cases are needed. Thanks to advancements in technology, many of today’s older cases can often be retrofitted to perform better. For instance, earlier this year Key Refrigeration introduced CoolSmart, a system created to increase the capacity of existing refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Robert Kolarich, owner of the Brick, N.J.-based company, says CoolSmart was designed to address issues associated with pumping liquid refrigerant in supermarkets. Approximately 60% of supermarkets, he adds, still use centralized rack systems for which his item can be retrofitted with.

He says the CoolSmart unit features no moving parts (aside from the liquid refrigerant pump), can extend equipment life, reduce service calls, lessen refrigerated product shrinkage, save retailers money and is so energy efficient cases can often be run at cooler temps, saving retailers upward of 30% on their electric costs each year. Based on an aggregate number of factors, Kolarich says that New Jersey retailer Norkus Foodtown, was able to save about $900,000 in electric costs during a 10-year-period throughout its four stores.

Kolarich adds that the CoolSmart system improves the operation of the more common centralized rack systems and may prove to be a further enhancement to the new cutting edge systems, by allowing their vapor compressors to run at discharge pressures below their minimum set points when outdoor temperatures are cool enough.

Energy efficient… and good looking too
For more than fifty years Zero Zone has specialized in the design of energy-efficient glass door reach-in display cases. Some industry observers say the company’s Crystal Merchandiser line of medium-temp cases with 74-inch-tall CoolView Doors is a great example of innovation.

Officials for the North Prairie, Wis.-based company say that when compared to open multi-decks, the Crystal Merchandiser is able to decrease energy costs by as much as 84%, increase facings as much as 35% and improve pack out by as much as 25%.

“The Crystal Merchandiser is designed to provide an elegant ‘picture frame,’ minimizing the case itself and drawing shoppers’ attention to the products inside,” says Carl Petersen, marketing and advertising manager for Zero Zone. The products are further highlighted by the brightness and uniformity provided by six-feet of LED vertical lighting. Petersen adds that the combination of these elements makes for an energy-efficient, enticing display unit that accommodates more product variety and capacity, doing so in the minimal aisle space of a narrow, standard-height case.

Zero Zone has recently added a new case model with 24-inch-wide pairs of French-style doors and in 8- and 12-foot case lengths. Petersen says this new addition to the Crystal Merchandiser line is appealing to merchandisers who prefer 48-inch planograms, similar to what they were used to with open multi-decks. “The 48-inch opening also allows easier shopper access to bulky items like cases of beer, making this version of the Crystal Merchandiser even more shopper-friendly,” he says.

Working in tandem with the Crystal Merchandiser line is the full range of Zero Zone refrigeration systems, designed with sustainability in mind. The newest additions to their systems’ line up include their Edge Distributed Systems and ColdLoop Secondary Systems (glycol or  CO2). These systems offer retailers ideal options for decreasing leak potential and for using natural refrigerants that have minimized global warming potential.

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