While the imminent ban on chlorofluorocarbons has prompted many distributors to implement conversion programs to new-generation coolants, others are still waiting in the wings before making changes.
Gooding's Supermarkets, Altamonte Springs, Fla., for instance, has no immediate plans to begin testing hydrofluorocarbons except in a small number of freezer cases.
"I would sooner let everybody else [test the HFCs] and sit back until the smoke clears," said Jim St. Charles, vice president of store engineering.
The retailer is converting medium- and low-temperature systems in some stores to hydrochlorofluorocarbons but maintaining a sizable amount of CFCs to meet other coolant needs for the foreseeable future.
"I'll have a very large supply of CFCs. I'm going back into the stores and tightening up, putting in leak-detection systems and cutting back on the amount of leakage we have. The [CFCs] I've banked are going to keep me in business for a long time," St. Charles said.
Other industry observers, however, said retailers following such a stockpiling strategy could be playing with fire. They warned that CFC prices will probably soon begin soaring and that existing supplies will quickly dwindle beginning next year.
"There's too much wait-and-see out there," said Norm Twisdale, a consultant who manages the refrigeration program of Jitney Jungle Stores of America, Jackson, Miss. "I've heard some really rash statements, like 'It's not going to happen.' But it is going to happen." Next year, "there's either not going to be any CFC product for retailers or it's going to be extremely expensive," he said. "It's not going to be a matter of how much money will CFCs cost, but how much can you get?"
Lowell Hettinger, refrigeration manager at King Soopers, Denver, sounded a similar note. "The ones that haven't prepared will probably be suffering from the consequences."
But Gooding's St. Charles said operators should not rush into making a decision simply because of the pending production ban.
"Many smaller retailers are relying on their refrigeration contractor to tell them what to do. Some might have a reputable contractor who will tell them like it is: 'Hold off, let's wait.' I see a lot of [retailers] making changes that don't need to be made immediately," St. Charles said.