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As demand for ‘fresh’ grows, how can stores add affordable refrigeration?

Meeting the growing demand for fresh foods, beverages and even supplements requires refrigeration, which we all know isn’t cheap. Three experts share their strategies for adding refrigeration without breaking the bank and making the cooler space you already have more effective and efficient.

Melaina Juntti

July 8, 2015

4 Min Read
As demand for ‘fresh’ grows, how  can stores add affordable refrigeration?

Store Designer

Brian Franks, store design manager at United Natural Foods Inc.

Add cases at checkout. In our new store plans, we like to include refrigerators right at the checkout to inspire shoppers to buy bottled juices or other grab-and-go items on impulse. For existing stores, self-contained units work well because you don’t need to put in a floor drain to capture the condensation or pipe up to a condensing unit on the roof. These are more plug-and-play. They do give off heat and make noise, but they’re a lot less complicated to install.

Stick with 404A. When retailers are looking to buy new equipment, we still recommend 404A as the refrigerant of choice. Even though many big-box stores are switchingbrian_franks.png to CO2 or glycol, in a small application, the added expense isn’t justified. As much as you want to reduce your store’s carbon footprint, studies show that CO2 isn’t much more energy efficient than 404A. Besides, they won’t do you any good if you can’t find adequate local technical support.

Light with LED bulbs. We’re always taking a look at energy efficiencies within stores and trying to be as green as possible. This is especially important when adding refrigeration. Make sure you have LED lights within cases as opposed to old fluorescent bulbs. You pay more money for them up front, but they end up being a huge savings because they don’t use as much energy or give off nearly the amount of heat. And you don’t have to constantly change bulbs and ballasts.

Business Development Expert

PJ Hoffman, business development director at National Co+op Grocers

pj_hoffman.pngSwap out self-contained units. Having some self-contained fridge cases is OK, but if the units are fairly small and not moved very often, it’s a good idea to replace them with remoted systems. Self-contained units tend to be energy hogs, the interior machinery takes up a lot of space, and they’re usually not as deep or wide. Remoted units are a bigger cost up front, but they let you display more products more clearly—and save a lot of money over time.  

Switch to door cases. I’m a strong proponent of replacing open cases with door cases, which are far more energy efficient. Grocers are very concerned with their bottom lines, as well as global warming, and cases with doors can require only 20 percent of the energy that open cases do. Door cases manufactured in the past few years create much better product visibility than those of the past, and LED lighting is much better. Retailers who’ve switched haven’t seen their sales decrease.

Replace cases over 10 years old. Refrigeration units are far more energy efficient than they were even 10 years ago, so I’d advise replacing any that are over a decade old. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued two edicts setting energy requirements for new cases, so manufacturers have had to go back and re-engineer their units. These may be expensive, but they’ll pay off in the long run.
in St. Paul, Minnesota


Dean Nelson, owner of Dean’s Natural Food Markets in Ocean Township, New Jersey

dean_nelson.pngGet a free fridge. One cost-effective way to bring in new refrigeration is to get manufacturers to supply cold cases in exchange for exclusivity. Typically, these are 24- or 36-inch reach-in coolers that cost about $2,000 a pop, so if we want to get behind a certain product, we’ll say yes. Even some supplement manufacturers that sell flaxseed oil or probiotics offer such arrangements, so instead of customers having to walk across the store to the dairy case, they can find those products right in the supplements aisle.

Consider refurbished units. We buy everything refurbished, with the integral parts like the compressors replaced. It’s literally pennies on the dollar. Plus, you can have cases painted to match your color scheme. Another huge savings: The purchase of refurbished equipment usually includes delivery and placement. In my 18 years in business, I’ve had only one issue with a refurbished case, and even then, the company replaced it at no charge.

Seek manufacturers’ merchandising help. Another thing we do to make better use of our space is seek the advice and expertise of bigger manufacturers that will create merchandise sets in our cases. For instance, our distributor recently sent a rep from a meat company who created a 4-foot set. That company even supplied the pegs necessary to build this section, so we didn’t incur the cost of merchandising aids.

About the Author(s)

Melaina Juntti

Melaina Juntti is a longtime freelance journalist, copy editor and marketing professional. With nearly two decades of experience in the natural products industry, she is a frequent contributor to Nutrition Business Journal, Natural Foods Merchandiser and Melaina is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and is passionate about hiking, camping, fishing and live music. 

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