More of the Green Stuff
By Bob Ingram
Energy-efficient equipment can save money for retailers and the environment for posterity.
In this still-pinched economy, food retailers remain acutely conscious of the bottom line, and they're seeking maximum ROI from all of their capital expenditures, including equipment, which usually requires a pretty hefty initial investment.
Today's equipment manufacturers are as conscious as their customers of the need for cost savings, and are making great strides in producing energy-efficient equipment, which allows supermarketers the twin wins of saving on their energy bills while demonstrating their environmentally conscious corporate citizenship.
Following are some equipment manufacturers' comments on the green movement, and a sampling of their products that are keeping the environment safer while putting some extra — and heartily welcomed — cash in their retail customers' bank accounts.
Steve Maroti is the president of Hickory Industries in North Bergen, N.J., which manufactures rotisseries, grills, display warmers and pizza ovens for customers like Kroger, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Harris Teeter and Fred Meyer.
Maroti has an interesting take on sustainable equipment: "I've been asked by some [customers] directly and in the bid process if we produce green equipment. I suspect that there are tax credits driving the issue. Supermarkets are in the business of sales and costs and margins. If there are any inherent cost savings, of course they are interested, but the interest is probably more politically mandated from above. The fact is that the green connotation is not universally applied. For example, there are no tests or standards vis a vis gas rotisseries that I know of. I have to argue with the term 'green.'"
That said, Maroti notes that his company has always had "the keenest of senses for saving energy and creating as efficient a process as possible." Hickory Industries has made a transition to forced-air burners, which pack in a higher volume of oxygen, to create a more efficient combustion process. The company also developed the Thermowave spit, which puts heat into the eviscerated section of the chicken, using exit cabinet heat more effectively.
"We create versatile controls on all equipment," says Maroti, "to use only the amount of energy required and no more. The sensing technology we use in our Visual Pizza Oven, combined with variable-flow valve technology, has allowed us to feed gas only at the rate required, and we create a variable flame to heat the deck. That is unique."
He points out that Hickory's rotisseries use about 5 cents' worth of energy per chicken and that the most efficient of the company's gas systems is the stacked N/7.5G.
At Liniere, Quebec-based Doyon Equipment, which makes bakery equipment such as pizza ovens, rack ovens, dough mixers and sheeters, proofers, warmers, and bread slicers, marketing coordinator Jennifer Letourneau says that her company's retail customers are looking for energy-efficient equipment to help them lower their gas and electric costs, and "if protecting the environment helps them save money at the end, then it is a great incentive."
Energy efficiency has always been a priority at Doyon, she emphasizes, and the company's patented Jet Air technology is a bidirectional ventilation system that helps items bake faster and more evenly without having to turn pans during baking time. "The Jet Air system will help save energy, because the doors don't have to be opened to turn pans," she points out.
Doyon's most popular green product, according to Letourneau, is the Jet Air Plus Oven (JA5P2618), an all-in-one cooking system that bakes, roasts and rethermalizes, combining modes for convection, or a combination of steam and convection heat. The sytem is Energy Star certified.
In the future Letourneau sees equipment built of recycled material. "Why not?" she asks. "It isn't in our plans yet, but I hope that some day it will be."
Henry Pellerin is director of marketing programs for Hill Phoenix, a Conyers, Ga.-based designer and manufacturer of commercial refrigerated display cases and application systems, which has over 600 stores in North America using its Second Nature technologies.
"Second Nature is our brand of alternative refrigeration that eliminates the need to circulate HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) throughout the store while at the same time providing increased product temperature performance," explains Pellerin.
He adds that of the 15 stores awarded the Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill Certification in the fourth quarter of 2010, Hill Phoenix equipment is installed at 12 and is the only manufacturer with installations at the stores that received Gold and Platinum certification.
Pellerin feels that Hill Phoenix's customers' interest in green or sustainable technologies is driven by one of the following:
Hill Phoenix's first green product, introduced in 1994, was the first domestic installation of refrigeration equipment using secondary coolant, according to Henry Pellerin.
He believes that green refrigeration technology "is advancing rapidly. The most recent utilizes CO2 as a secondary coolant for the medium-temperature system, and CO2 as a direct expansion cascade refrigerant for the low-temperature system."
Hill Phoenix's two most popular sustainable technologies are Coolgenix and Second Nature. Coolgenix is a proprietary case design that uses conduction refrigeration by circulating Second Nature fluid through the pans of the case. This provides increased product temperature performance while eliminating fans that typically remove moisture from the products in the case. Thus, Pellerin points out, "The operator is able to provide a higher-quality product and also reduce labor costs associated with the conventional technology, where food has to be constantly trimmed and stored in a cooler overnight."
He adds that this technology reduces refrigerant leak risks, "which are mainly the costs associated with the loss of refrigerant, repairing leaks and regulatory concerns."
These products, he concludes, "not only provide environmental stewardship benefits, they provide operational benefits as well. I think that is the key; if the reason was just to be green, the interest level would not be as high."
At Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia-based Market Group Ventures, which produces Promolux lighting and Econofrost night covers, Internet and marketing manager Samantha Criddle says: "Retailers are asking their vendors how they can achieve sustainability in their operations and make a difference. There are genuine efforts being made to connect and work together as a team so that both retailers and the vendors' sustainability objectives are in alignment."
She continues that her company has undertaken a number of large chainwide rollouts of retrofit night covers at such grocers as Kroger, Stater Bros. and Bashas'. "West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley's installed Econofrost night covers in 120 stores in 2000-2001," she notes. "Those covers continue to be in use today, with energy savings and reduced daily product shrink.
"Thanks in part to the many retailers who have installed Econofrost night covers, we have reduced global carbon emissions by over 35 million tons," she adds.
Econofrost night covers are modular in design, and nearly 70 percent are 8 feet long, which means the number of units required to cover the case lineups is reduced. There are fewer parts, less servicing and a lower overall reduced retrofit project cost, as well as reduced daily operation time, according to Criddle.
While the retrofit night covers are in great demand, "Econofrost has many customers, with installations dating back more than 10 and 15 years," says Criddle, who notes that future pressure will continue on supermarket equipment suppliers to conserve energy, reduce waste by better packaging and using environmentally friendly construction materials, and engage the entire supermarket industry and communities to do the same.
Master-Bilt, based in New Albany, Miss., makes a line of refrigeration equipment, including ice cream freezers, walk-ins, glass-door merchandisers, deli display cases, open-air cases, foodservice reach-ins, prep tables, refrigerated warehouses and refrigeration systems.
Lynn Burge, the company's advertising and promotions manager, says that Master-Bilt's patented Master Controller Reverse Cycle defrost controller system, which electronically controls walk-in cooler and freezer refrigeration systems, is a recent green technological advance whose reverse-cycle defrost, paired with an electric expansion valve mounted to the evaporator coil, reduces energy use by up to 27 percent over mechanically controlled systems.
Master-Bilt's most popular green products, Burge says, are endless glass-door merchandisers and multi-compressor and parallel rack refrigeration systems. "The endless merchandisers feature remote refrigeration systems, which remove heat and noise from the store sales space, using less air conditioning and saving energy costs," she points out. "These merchandisers are versatile and can be configured to meet practically any number of doors needed. With multi-compressor refrigeration systems, users can remotely locate refrigeration systems to a roof or outside the building."
The parallel rack systems have the same advantages as the multi-compressor systems and efficiently match refrigeration capacity to actual load, Burge notes. This amounts to 20 percent or greater energy savings over single-compressor units.
"With the LEED program and federal guidelines for refrigeration equipment, it's obvious that the push for energy-efficient and sustainable equipment continues and is picking up steam," Burge says.
Kysor/Warren, a Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration company based in Columbus, Ga., manufactures frozen, medium-temp and heated display merchandisers; mechanical refrigeration systems; and remote and mechanical and electrical houses.
George Parsons, the company's VP, engineering & product development, says that his company supplies "a wide variety of retailers across the supermarket industry," and that "retailers are very interested in green equipment because it is good for business — it impacts the bottom line" and "is good for the environment as well." Also, "as green technology initiatives and a focus on saving our planet move to the forefront of our social consciousness, shoppers prefer to do business with retailers who are committed to being good stewards of our environment."
He continues that Kysor/Warren has made the production of green equipment a long-standing priority and is "extremely proud of receiving the 2009-2010 GreenChill Distinguished Partner of the Year Award from the Environmental Protection Agency."
Now that Kysor/Warren is part of Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration, the combination of the two organizations "will allow us to expand our green product offering in a way that we could not do individually," Parsons says.
He notes that the most recent advances in green technology have been focused on display case technology that can be as much as 30 percent more energy-efficient and on refrigeration systems that use carbon dioxide as a fluid in secondary systems. "Our CO2 system, for example, lowers the global warming impact by 50 percent, helps reduce the harmful impact on the ozone layer and has helped our customers' stores become GreenChill certified," he points out.
Among Kysor-Warren's successful new products are the STRATUS open-front multi-deck display cases, which offer energy efficiency and sustainability while improving overall merchandising flexibility. Parsons says they offer a sleek design that places the emphasis on the merchandise rather than the case while still remaining energy-efficient.
The company will soon be launching STRATUS Door Case products, which will include taller doors for showcasing more merchandise. "With products behind doors, [the line] provides even greater energy efficiency," he says. "Out STRATUS dairy door case product, the DX6, also features innovative French door-style design with less fogging when opened. The STRATUS dairy cases and reach-in cases are scheduled to be available in March."
Carl Petersen, marketing and advertising manager at North Prairie, Wis.-based refrigerated display case and refrigeration manufacturer Zero Zone Inc., points out that many retailers have switched to his company's glass-door Zero Zone Crystal Merchandiser from open multi-decks and have realized energy savings of as much as 84 percent.
"Additional cost savings are also realized through the reduced size of the refrigeration system that is required to run those Crystal Merchandiser lineups," he adds. "All of the refrigeration rack components can be downsized, along with a physical shortening of the rack itself, to the tune of thousands of dollars in additional savings."
Petersen notes that new Department of Energy (DOE) regulations on commercial refrigeration equipment, which take effect next year, are another factor motivating retailers to go green sooner rather than later. He adds that in 2012, the DOE will reveal new energy regulations that will take effect in 2015, and that these regulations will be even more stringent than those due to take effect in 2012.
"That increased regulation, combined with ever-increasing societal pressure to safeguard the environment, will prompt retailers to step up their green efforts even further. At some point, these efforts may begin to cost more than they currently save in operating costs," he says, "but we have not necessarily reached that point yet."
The GreenChill Partnership, of which Zero Zone is a member, has been highly active in exploring and using alternatives to traditional refrigerants, and Petersen says Zero Zone offers its ColdLoop Secondary Systems to meet this need.
He concludes that the biggest future challenge will be to design and adopt "hybrid" refrigeration systems that will effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also limiting energy consumption.
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