First published in Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer Magazine March 2015
Moveable, self-contained hydrocarbon cases may be in your future.
Imagine a world where merchandising people and refrigeration people live in perfect harmony. Most people who work in one of these two areas will claim to get along fine, but behind the scenes they’ll admit to frustration with each other. Refrigeration people admit to this frustration more readily, probably because merchandising often comes out on top in situations where the groups’ interests don’t coincide.
HOPE FOR KUMBAYA
There is hope for kumbaya in the future — and it lies in hydrocarbon self-contained units. These cases offer greatly improved merchandising opportunities, as well as energy savings and decreased maintenance costs.
Imagine being able to move frozen and refrigerated cases around the store wherever and whenever you want. Move chilled whipped cream next to your strawberries. Put some brie and bacon next to your figs and some fresh mozzarella and basil next to your heirloom tomatoes along with recipes for broiled bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with brie and mozzarella caprese. Move your hot dogs and hamburgers next to your beer for the 4th of July holiday. Put your specialty European butters next to your Dungeness crabs.
Create space in your store for people to stop in on their way home from work to pick up everything they need for a meal. Put a main course, salad, chilled white wine, and fruit for dessert right at the front of the store and take some business away from your local fast food chains. I’m not a merchandising specialist, but I am a shopper, and I can tell you that I’d appreciate ideas like that.
You know who else might appreciate ideas like that? Refrigeration people. Why? Hydrocarbon self-contained units can achieve energy savings of up to 40%, according to a presentation given by the self-contained case manufacturer, AHT Cooling Systems, at a utility workshop in January. These cases come factory-sealed for leak tightness, which reduces refrigerant expenses and maintenance costs, and the installation of the cases is as simple as plugging them in.
Today, most systems have refrigeration equipment in a separate room, with piping running to and from fixed-location cases. This system traditionally used less energy than a store filled with self-contained cases.
But the improved energy efficiency of hydrocarbon self-contained cases may make it more economical to take some cases off the remote system. Savings can be substantial, considering that refrigeration usually accounts for about half of a store’s energy use.
Aaron Daly, global energy manager at Whole Foods Markets, notes that “The hydrocarbon-based self-contained units we’ve deployed have enabled us to achieve energy savings over our previous cases while offering additional merchandising flexibility.”
Compared with earlier self-contained cases, today’s hydrocarbon units feature more display area and packout as well as lower levels of noise and heat generation.
“Modern self-contained units shouldn’t compromise the ‘look and feel’ of a remote fixture,” according to Geoff Amos, head of sales and marketing at Carter Retail Equipment Ltd. “Our cases use a horizontal scroll compressor with a low-profile condensing assembly hidden in the top of the case. Unlike conventional upright compressors, this has no impact on the case’s display area and volume for merchandising.”
TESTS ARE FAVORABLE
Testing has shown that the compressors in new hydrocarbon self-contained cases are quieter than remote case evaporator coil fans, and the heat that would be rejected from the self-contained cases into the store can be eliminated by dissipating it through a chilled water loop. This makes it more difficult to move the case around at will, but it doesn’t make it impossible.
I am eager to see some energy numbers from store pilot projects with hydrocarbon cases and hear merchandisers’ opinions on them in real store situations. This may be something that merchandisers and refrigeration people can both embrace wholeheartedly. I suggest you all get started on having conversations about the potential, ideally over a nice, cold beer.