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Energy is becoming the great equalizer in the competitive world of display case merchandising.
Sensing that operating costs are becoming an increasingly greater burden to private label marketers, refrigerated case manufacturers are designing devices that are intended to run more efficiently.
Sustainability, meanwhile, also is becoming a key focus with newer systems engineered to use less refrigerant and have fewer refrigerant leaks.
Another motivator for system enhancements are U.S. Department of Energy regulations that were scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2012, and set limits on daily energy consumption of cases that are manufactured and sold in the United States.
“There will be a marked move away from T8 lighting to more energy-efficient LEDs,” states Carl Peterson, marketing and advertising manager for Zero Zone Inc., a North Prairie, Wis.-based case manufacturer. “High-efficiency electronic fan motors will become the normal choice. And low-heat or no-heat doors will replace some of the less-efficient heated door options.”
Indeed, Peterson predicts that “in the months and years ahead, we will see suppliers of these components scrambling to reduce energy consumption even further with new, more fully refined versions, replacing those that the 2012 DOE regulations render unacceptable.”
Newer Zero Zone designs include the Crystal Merchandiser, a refrigerated case that features LED lighting and shortens defrost times by up to 33 percent, Peterson says.
The 74-inch tall case also supports 35-percent more facings than traditional multi-deck cases, has up to 25-percent more capacity and is 5-to-7 inches narrower, allowing for wider aisles, he notes.
Peterson adds that glass doors also are becoming increasingly prevalent on refrigerated cases that were historically open air, especially those in the dairy, meat, beverage and produce departments.
Such doors help reduce energy consumption and also lower aisle temperatures. Open-case aisles can be up to 16-degrees colder than aisles with glass doors, he notes.
“When shoppers aren’t shivering from the cold, they linger longer and purchase more,” Peterson says.
Michael Higgins, vice president of marketing, strategic planning and business development for Hussmann Corp., a Bridgeton, Mo.-based case manufacturer, says that while energy-efficient elements are attractive, they also are creating merchandising challenges for retailers.
Glass doors in the dairy department, for instance, can cut case energy costs by 70 percent, but also discourage purchasing, he states.
“Merchandisers don’t want to create a barrier between consumers and products because it can hurt impulse buys,” Higgins notes. “But it is hard to ignore such a significant amount of energy savings in an economically challenged environment.”
Among Hussmann energy-efficient solutions are its EcoVision doors that are available for new or existing multi-deck dairy, deli and beverage cases.
The doors reduce refrigerant energy by up to 65 percent; have antimicrobial protection on handles; and are designed for maximum product visibility.
“While energy efficiency is important, retailers are in the business of merchandising and selling products, and not in the business of reducing energy,” Higgins says. “It is important to keep that prospective in mind.”
Suppliers also are targeting sustainability by reducing the copper piping that connects refrigerated cases to condensers. Condensers transfer refrigerant to cases.
Hussmann, for instance, is marketing systems in which pipes lead to condensers that are stored in ceilings or on supermarket floors instead of back rooms.
The company’s Protocol refrigeration system typically reduces refrigerant charges by 60 to 80 percent; uses 50 to 75 percent less piping; and has 50 to 75 percent fewer braze joints, which helps eliminate refrigerant leaks, Hussmann reports.
“Traditional installations have miles of pipe throughout the supermarket,” Higgins states. “And reducing pipes also reduces the amount of refrigerant that goes into the pipes.”
AHT Cooling Systems USA, Charleston, S.C., meanwhile, is merchandising refrigerated cases that have condensers self-contained within the case, says Howard Feig, AHT director of sales.
The configuration eliminates the need for aisle drains and to run refrigerant lines to the units. Stores, he states, can save tens of thousands of dollars by not having to install copper pipes, retrench floors and test for leaks.
The units, which support meat and seafood operations, can be used for both refrigerated and frozen applications.
Suppliers say that while energy savings will remain one of the top issues for private label retailers in coming years, sustainability also will be a growing concern.
As a result, Feig predicts that more “natural refrigerants,” such as propane and carbon dioxide, will become increasingly prominent.
Hussmann’s Higgins agrees.
“Carbon dioxide is getting more notice and we are doing prototype systems for customers in an effort to develop a solution that is efficient, cost-effective and will get widespread adoption,” he notes.
Future refrigerated case designs also will include more effective fan, door and lighting options, Zero Zone’s Peterson adds.
“The cases will need to appeal to the shoppers’ senses,” he states. “They have to assure them that the products inside are fresh, clean, evenly refrigerated and safe to share with their families without worry or concern over how they were handled or the conditions in which they were displayed.”
Change Is In The Energy Winds
“The DOE has determined that conservation standards for these types of equipment would result in significant conservation of energy and are technologically feasible and economically justified,” the agency reports.
The standards, the DOE states, will save approximately 1.035 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy over 30 years.
“This is equivalent to all the energy consumed by more than 5 million American households in a single year,” the DOE notes. “By 2042, the DOE expects the energy savings from the standards to eliminate the need for approximately 0.7 new 1,000-megawatt power plants. These energy savings will result in cumulative greenhouse gas emission reductions of approximately 52.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, or an amount equal to that produced by approximately 332,500 cars every year.”
The agency adds that the standards will help alleviate air pollution by reducing the amounts of cumulative nitrogen oxide and mercury emissions.
“The economic impacts on commercial consumers (i.e., the average life-cycle cost savings) are positive for all equipment classes,” the DOE notes, adding that equipment price increases will be offset by energy savings.