Supermarket retailers today spend an estimated $10 billion a year on energy, maintenance and food spoilage, according to some estimates. Energy costs are generally a retailer's second-highest fixed cost, after labor. Thus, any investment in energy-based in-store equipment is made with a sharp eye on energy savings.
Perishables cases are a big part of that investment. Indeed, behind every great perishables selection is a great line of energy-efficient equipment -- cases, refrigerators, doors and the like -- to keep it fresh at a low cost.
Of course, stores also need robust heating/ventilation/air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and energy-lean lighting systems to make a good overall impression. Plus, they need networks that can monitor the well-being of all these systems to ensure they're running efficiently, with rising costs in mind, and 24/7.
In this special section on equipment, SN looks at some of the latest in-store equipment dedicated to providing the efficient energy-related services -- refrigeration, HVAC and lighting -- needed to keep food fresh and people comfortable.
Energy costs have become a larger factor in the selection of refrigerated and frozen food display cases, said Scott Martin, director of engineering at manufacturer Hill Phoenix, Conyers, Ga. "People want to buy cheaper products," he said. "The only way to do that is to reduce the fixed costs, and energy is a huge portion of the fixed costs."
One energy-reduction trend has been to remove heat from the glass doors in freezer cases, said Tim Dye, director of sales and marketing, Gemtron, Madisonville, Ky., which in February introduced glass doors that are designed to reduce energy consumption. However, a by-product of heat removal is that fog can form on the back of the doors. Therefore, said Dye, over the past six to nine months vendors have been designing doors that deter fogging in freezer units, such as Gemtron's "polar" freezer door. With such doors, he said, energy costs can be cut 20% to 25% in low-temperature cases, which amounts to $5,000 to $8,000 per 120-door store lineup.
Suppliers are also designing cases to be more space-efficient, which also saves energy usage. For example, about a year ago Hill Phoenix introduced a six-door reach-in case as part of its low-temperature ORZ series. This model can save $1,000 to $2,000 on installation costs per unit compared to industry-standard cases, according to Shawn Kahler, product manager, display cases, Hill Phoenix.
Roche Bros., Wellesley, Mass., a supermarket chain specializing in fresh merchandise and prepared foods, has installed the six-door ORZ case in its remodeled stores. "In a 30-door lineup, we would need only five cases instead of six," said Shafi Malek, facility manager for Roche Bros., which opened a new store in Mashpee, Mass., earlier this month.
Cases are being designed with corners that recede or protrude to fit into a store's concept. As a result, inner refrigeration coils are specially designed to conform to the intricacies of the design. Roche's Mashpee store features such cases, noted Malek.
Hill Phoenix also offers a refrigeration system called Second Nature, which uses low-pressure propylene glycol rather than Freon used in traditional systems. Propylene glycol enables the coils to work more efficiently with less maintenance by minimizing the opportunity for refrigerant leaks, said Martin. The biggest savings is on refrigerant charge, or the amount used, which can be reduced up to 70%, he said.
Howard Adkins, president of Howard's Market, Boca Raton, Fla., said he is surprised that mainstream supermarkets have been slow to adopt new products like the Second Nature system. Adkins said Howard's implemented Second Nature in July 2003, and the results have been impressive. "In addition to meeting our style requirements, we have been able to achieve energy savings with this cutting-edge technology and have saved on installation as well," he said.
Roche Bros. has been using Second Nature for about three years, and the Mashpee store is the fourth to implement it. Malek said Second Nature provides energy efficiency by maintaining a constant temperature in the cases. "Freon creates a variation of four degrees, but Second Nature controls within a one-degree range," he said. "As a result, shelf life increases by two more days. You do not need to remove the product at night."
Adkins agreed that Second Nature helps to increase shelf life of perishable products. "The product is fresher. We do not have to turn salads or wrap our meat or fish," he said.
Malek said a disadvantage of Second Nature is the initial cost of installation is 20% higher than that of Freon. However, with less leakage and lower service costs, there is a 20% net savings on maintenance. In addition, with Second Nature, he expects a 5% energy savings over Freon.
New HVAC Refrigerant
Today's state-of-the-art HVAC system is more likely to feature a refrigerant known as R-410A for air conditioning and heat pumps. Systems using R-410A often incorporate smaller, heavier-duty "scroll-type" compressors that are quieter and operate with less damaging vibration than older compressors that operate on the R-22 refrigerant.
Dave Hebel, product manager at Danfoss, Baltimore, said that within the past year, his company has introduced a line of components geared for use with the 410A refrigerant. These include expansion valves, filter dryers, pressure controls and the "Performer" line of scroll compressors. "We also introduced the ADAP-KOOL line, which includes AKD Variable Speed Drives that are easier and more economical to install," he said.
Another area of focus for HVAC systems is dehumidification. "Humidity is the biggest enemy," said Adkins of Howard's Market. Adkins employs four dehumidification units from DryKor, Fayetteville, Ga., which brings in outside air, cools it, and dehumidifies it. "As a result, we were able to reduce our air-conditioning tonnage [total weight of air-conditioning units] from 80 tons to 40 tons," he said. "The dehumidification helps to maintain the refrigeration system as well."
Howard's Market has achieved significant energy savings with its new equipment in the past two years while expanding its space from 3,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet. "Previously, we paid about $5,500 per month in electricity. Now we pay $7,000 per month, but our sales space has tripled," Adkins said. "In three to four years, we expect to recoup expenses based on energy savings."
New lighting technology is helping food retailers to cut costs. This year, Giant Eagle has introduced fiber-optic lighting for its wine coolers in place of incandescent spot lights, noted Jim Lampl, director of conservation at Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh.
Giant Eagle will install fiber-optic lighting, from Fiberstars, Fremont, Calif., in a new energy-efficient store slated to open this week in Brunswick, Ohio (see story, Page 55). The lighting system will replace the heat associated with eight 60-watt incandescent spot lights by utilizing two 73-watt ceramic metal halide illuminators that are mounted above the wine cooler outside of the refrigerated space, noted Lampl. The light energy is transmitted via four fiber-optic cables connected to each illuminator that run through the ceiling of the wine cooler to the eight light heads.
With fiber-optic lighting, said Lampl, only light is transmitted and not heat, resulting in an estimated savings of 4,000 kilowatt-hours per year from the reduction of wattage and heat within the cooler. In addition, Giant Eagle expects to experience lighting maintenance cost savings because of the longer lamp life.
In another case lighting scenario, Food Lion is using T8 cold temperature lamps with jackets from General Electric, called the "arctic lamp," said Ken Hurd, national account manager at Amtech Lighting Services, Anaheim, Calif., which has worked with Food Lion over the past two years. The jacket is a covering around the lamp, an inch away from the bulb, which keeps the heat inside.
"A freezer is a tough environment," explained Hurd. "Cold temperature is not good for any fluorescent bulbs because it decreases the light output. Opening and closing the glass doors creates more stress on it." Food Lion's goal was to find a way to reduce energy costs for its older lamps in these conditions. With the T8 jacket lamp, he said, lamp life increased by at least 50% over the earlier model, and the T8 made the products look better because it has a higher color rendition index (CRI).
Energy savings and color rendering are the two most important factors in retail lighting, asserted Ernie Watson, vice president of national retail at LSI Industries, Cincinnati, which has provided lighting systems for Food City, Abingdon, Va. "The T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps are both energy-efficient, provide a long life, and have better color rendering properties than in the past," he said. "Supermarkets would use these primarily for ambient light or for wall washers."
At the same time, Watson added, ceramic metal halide lamps, long-lived and with an excellent CRI, are now in vogue for ambient and task lighting. "We utilize both the ceramic metal halide along with compact fluorescent lamps in our decorative high bay fixtures," he said. "The ceramic metal halides provide great coverage where the retailer can cut down on the number of fixtures required." Retailers may elect to use compact fluorescent in these fixtures for lower ceiling heights and the ceramics for higher mounting heights.
Tying It All Together
After all of the refrigeration, HVAC, lighting and other store equipment is installed, retailers need a way to monitor it. To that end, Emerson Climate Technologies, Sidney, Ohio, has recently introduced intelligent store networks to the supermarket industry.
Rather than looking at individual components within the system, intelligent store networks integrate them into a storewide system architecture that monitors and controls each piece, according to Ross Dueber, Emerson's vice president of strategic planning.
The integrated architecture gathers data and uses the power of predictive intelligence to improve the performance of store systems and give retail operators a single view into their store operations.
An "intelligent store environment," said Dueber, combines devices, controls, and around-the-clock store monitoring equipment and services. These capabilities help retailers to better monitor equipment and store conditions, recognize potential system failures, and identify areas for improved operation.
To run the energy-based systems at its Mashpee store, including Second Nature, subcooling, HVAC and lighting, Roche Bros. uses the CPC controller called Einstein 2 (E2), from Computer Process Controls, Kennesaw, Ga. "Compared to the previous version, E1, we expect an additional 10% to 15% savings with the temperature fine-tuning, running the compressor racks, etc.," said Malek.
"The entire store is on a single wire echelon network. There is also more flexibility because you can go on the Internet to control the in-house network for all stores that use E1 and E2."
Supermarkets Shine for EPA
Some food retailers that have excelled in improving in-store energy efficiency have been recognized with "Energy Star" awards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., received an Energy Star Sustained Excellence award in March for its leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "I think the EPA liked the fact that Food Lion has demonstrated a companywide effort to improve energy efficiency," said Gina Rye, energy engineer, Food Lion.
In addition, more than 120 of Food Lion's 1,200 stores are Energy Star-designated. Besides awards, EPA's Energy Star program offers energy-efficient solutions to businesses and consumers.
In the past three years, Rye said, Food Lion has saved 1.2 trillion BTUs of energy. Its goal for 2004 is 300 billion BTUs; so far, it has saved 220 billion. Last year, the chain reduced natural gas consumption by 8.8%, electricity by 7.4%, and energy cost per square foot by 5.6%.
Rye said an important component of Food Lion's program is a strong scorecarding process. EPA gives every store a scorecard on a quarterly basis telling how much energy it has saved.
Currently, Food Lion enters scorecarding information manually, but it is working to enter data automatically on a monthly basis, which should increase the number of its Energy Star stores, said Rye. Another partner in the Energy Star program is Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, which received the Energy Star Partner of the Year award this year for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implementing state-of-the-art energy management technologies. Jim Lampl, director of conservation at Giant Eagle, said energy-efficient equipment is one of the main reasons Giant Eagle received this award.
An example of Giant Eagle's commitment to energy efficiency is its new store in Brunswick, Ohio, expected to open by this week. For example, wind power generation will supply more than 50% of the Brunswick location's electrical energy, said Lampl.
Giant Eagle is in the process of applying to the U.S. Green Building Council to make the Brunswick store the nation's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified supermarket. To become certified, a store needs to meet a broad range of standards for environmentally friendly performance, materials and construction methods.