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MONTPELIER, Va. - Executive from Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Target, and Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge were among the attendees at Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion's unveiling of an innovative new refrigeration technology here yesterday, as the Delhaize-owned supermarket operator became one of the first U.S. grocery chains to join the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new GreenChill partnership, an initiative through which companies pledge to go above and beyond regulatory requirements in protecting the ozone layer and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"We have a commitment to understanding what's happening in the environment, and reducing the negative impact our equipment may cause," Kyle Mitchell, Food Lion's v.p. of store development, told Progressive Grocer at the event. "This is yet another example of the philosophy that permeates throughout our company - such as in our lighting strategies, cardboard recycling programs, and ceiling tile recycling initiative."
Indeed, for its efforts adopting and applying energy management practices and technology throughout its store operations, Food Lion received the EPA's Energy Star Partner of the Year awards in 2001 and 2002. In both years, Food Lion was the only supermarket company to receive the honor. In 2003, 2004, and 2005, the EPA again recognized Food Lion's energy efforts by awarding the chain the Energy Star Sustained Excellence award.
According to Mitchell, Food Lion chose the Montpelier store for the pilot because it offered a wide range of ambient conditions in which to test the technology.
In addition to reducing negative impact to the environment, Mitchell said he expects the technology to improve product quality and safety.
Because HCFCs - which are used in commercial refrigeration equipment -- play a role in depleting the ozone layer, the United States is phasing out their consumption by first limiting and then ending their production and import. The first part of this phase-out is a ban on production and import of HCFC-22 (also referred to as "R-22") and HCFC-142b, except for on-going servicing needs in equipment manufactured before January 1, 2010.
Participants in the GreenChill program, however, are taking action now. "The program involves finding leaders in the industry to spearhead this movement and find ways to replace R-22 in an environmentally responsible way," Julius Banks, refrigerant recycling program manager for EPA's stratospheric protection implementation branch. "Participants will pilot new technologies such as the system here today, and then sharing data about their findings so that other retailers can benefit."
The EPA estimates that widespread adoption of best practices, improved equipment design and service, and advanced refrigeration technologies could reduce refrigerant emissions by 1 million metric tons of carbon equivalent per year, which is the equivalent of taking 800,000 automobiles off the road, and save over $12 million in operating expenses.
Food Lion kicked off the unveiling, which was attended by officials and representatives of the EPA, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and retailers, with signing the GreenChill partnership pledge. In signing the pledge, Food Lion has committed it will:
-- Require all new and remodeled stores to be ozone friendly in advance of Clean Air Act phase-out requirements.
-- Establish an emissions inventory, which will be used to set emissions reduction targets.
-- Participate in an industry/government research initiative to assess the performance of advanced technologies including the secondary loop system in its Montpelier, Va. store.
The signing was followed with a tour of the new refrigeration technology in action - one that uses naturally occurring CO2 gas to refrigerate food product. Hill Phoenix, a designer and manufacturer of commercial refrigeration systems, developed this system, called Second Nature.
Retailers on the scene were all ears. "Anything that will help reduce emissions is going to help all of us," said Robert Sperl, store maintenance division manager, VA/MD, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., Rochester, N.Y., one of the retailers at the event. "We're interested because we use a lot of secondary refrigerants already."
Clayton F. Lester, v.p. of corporate marketing and special services for wholesaler Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., visited Food Lion to share his experience with the retailers his company service. "I'm here to learn about the GreenChill program and the benefits of the new technology," he said. "We serve 240 stores, and they can't all come here, so we'll bring the information to them."
This is Food Lion's second store to use Second Nature technologies from Hill Phoenix. The first store, in Dinwiddie, Va., opened in early 2006 with a medium temperature secondary coolant system that uses water and glycol to refrigerate products.
The Montpelier, Va. store is testing a low temperature system featuring CO2 (a naturally occurring gas) to refrigerate low-temperature food products.
Both systems will be tested together in a third location, Portsmouth, Va., which is scheduled to open in early 2008.
Food Lion and Hill Phoenix are working together to identify smarter ways to refrigerate food products using technologies that are gentler on the environment while also realizing cost savings to help keep grocery prices competitive.
Other retailers installing the technology include Richmond, Va.-based Ukrops, and ethnic food retailer Sedano's in Miami, according to Brad Schwichtenberg, v.p. business development for Hill Phoenix.
In November 2006, Ukrops' new Williamsburg store deployed Hill Phoenix's Second Nature technology for its medium temperature refrigeration. Sedano's is installing both the medium and low temperature systems in a Miami store, to be deployed in the second quarter.
Food Lion operates more than 1,200 supermarkets, either directly or through affiliated entities, under the names of Food Lion, Bloom, Bottom Dollar Food, Harveys and Reid's, and employs approximately 73,000 associates in 11 Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
-- Joseph Tarnowski