Skip to content

Pandemic Drives Changes in Grocery Store and Refrigeration Designs

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

 

As essential businesses, food retailers were among the few sectors that had remained open during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Staying open meant they would have to adapt quickly to new operating protocols, which often included one-way aisles, plexiglass shields at registers and enhanced cleaning procedures. Grocers were also inundated with high volumes of click-and-collect orders, which tested their e-fulfillment capabilities and presented additional challenges. I recently contributed to an ACHR News article discussing the shifting grocery landscape and its potential impacts on store and refrigeration system designs.

 

Attempts to provide “contactless” shopping experiences were among the first areas of focus, as store layouts were modified to limit the need to touch physical items and surfaces. While these were originally intended as stop-gap strategies, some of these short-term measures have already become more permanent elements of in-store designs. In fact, new store builds and remodels will likely feature layouts and case placements that are designed to adhere to as many safeguards as possible and provide much-needed merchandizing flexibility.

Of course, this shift will also affect the type of refrigeration architectures grocers select to address these emerging challenges. Flexibility in refrigeration translates first into the ability to meet typical capacities, but also provides the freedom to scale up or down to meet fluctuations in demand — such as staging additional self-contained cases or enabling variable-capacity modulation in walk-in units that support click-and-collect.

Shoring up stores for click-and-collect

While demand for click-and-collect fulfillment surged significantly during the initial onset of the pandemic, months later it shows little to no signs of letting up. In fact, recent reports indicate a 23 percent growth in click-and-collect adoption from June to July. Many experts believe this change in consumer behavior will represent a more permanent change in buying habits — although the degree to which it becomes a preferred shopping method remains to be seen.

Fortunately for most major retailers, click-and-collect capabilities have been in place for several years. But that doesn’t mean they were necessarily prepared for pandemic-level order volumes. In terms of fulfillment and execution, this emerging business model presents a variety of cold storage, picking and associated labor requirements.

As retailers respond to the increased amount of online shopping, they will need to account for fluctuations in consumer demand and the impacts on refrigeration equipment loads. Refrigeration design strategies with variable-capacity modulating compressors — such as the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series and Copeland scroll compressors — will help retailers balance click-and-collect refrigeration loads more effectively.

Another effective strategy is to implement “dark stores,” which are dedicated online fulfillment centers. Retailers who operate dark stores essentially take load fluctuations from click-and-collect activities out of the equation, which may make it easier to balance refrigeration loads. Whichever method is preferred, retailers will ultimately approach click-and-collect services differently, depending on their local demographics and store design strategies.

Emerson to Participate in Online ATMOsphere America 2020

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

As an industry steward and leader in the development of environmentally friendly refrigeration technologies, Emerson is pleased to announce our participation and Silver sponsorship at the ATMOsphere America 2020 conference, which will take place October 20 through October 22. Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, this year’s event will utilize an online, virtual format to make the business case for natural refrigerants.

Per usual, the annual event will feature a packed agenda of keynote presentations, technology case studies, HVACR market trends and policy updates to provide a complete picture of the latest developments and future trends related to the use of natural refrigerants. In addition, ATMOsphere America 2020 will be expanding its scope to cover opportunities for natural refrigerant technologies in Central and South America. As a result, the agenda will include sessions that discuss both international- and national-level policy developments, highlight notable projects, and bring together stakeholders to talk about their experiences.

Policy and Standards panel discussion

Among the industry experts speaking at the event are Emerson’s Rajan Rajendran, V.P., system innovation center and sustainability; and Jennifer Butsch, regulatory affairs manager. Rajan and Jennifer will be participating in the Policy and Standards panel discussion on Wednesday, October 21 at 11:10 a.m. EDT. This distinguished panel will also include Tony Lundell, senior director of standards and safety with the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR), Christina Starr, senior policy analyst with the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), and Glenn Gallagher, air pollution specialist with the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

This panel discussion will explore the current status of federal hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) regulations in the U.S. and the potential impact of presidential administration changes upon future rulemaking. Rajan and Jennifer will give a short presentation and then take questions from the online audience.

Latin America CO2 transcritical case study and training panel discussion

On the final day of the conference (October 22), Emerson’s Carlos Obella, V.P., engineering services and product development for Latin America, will present a case study in a session titled, Casos de Estudio: Refrigeracion Comercial e Industrial at 3:20 p.m. EDT. The presentation will demonstrate how they have applied an enhanced control algorithm to ensure the optimized system management of CO2 transcritical systems with liquid and vapor ejectors. The case study will highlight an installation located in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which utilized dynamic superheat management and the implementation of overfeed evaporators to considerably increase the overall coefficient of performance (COP) when compared to other direct expansion (DX) solutions. Other system features to be discussed include: heat reclaim regulation, dynamic suction setpoint and remote monitoring via a web-based application. In addition, Emerson’s Alonso Amor, technical manager for Mexico, will present on the learning centers in both Brazil and Mexico in a session titled, Panel de Discusion: Capacitacion at 12:20 p.m. EDT.

 

ATMOsphere America 2020 promises to be extremely informative for those interested in learning more about natural refrigerant technologies and the policies that impact their use. To learn more about the conference and view a detailed session agenda, please visit their website. To attend any of the sessions, please register here.

Connected Strategies Drive Needed Cold Chain Visibility

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning,

Cargo Solutions, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

Over the last decade, connected technologies have transformed the ways in which food cold chain operators preserve food safety and quality. By utilizing monitoring devices connected via the internet of things (IoT), cold chain stakeholders have much greater visibility into their supply chains — and control of myriad factors impacting freshness, safety and quality. Today, with the acceleration of e-commerce fulfillment models, these tools and technologies are even more critical. I recently participated in an article from The Packer, which discussed the importance of cold chain connectivity in today’s challenging retail business climate.

When you consider the international sourcing of fresh produce, overseas shipments can last from two to four weeks, often involving 20–30 steps to travel from farms to consumers. With today’s IoT-enabled monitoring and tracking infrastructures, cold chain stakeholders have the potential for much-improved visibility into each step of this journey — even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. Connected devices give operators the ability to monitor, control and track a variety of determining conditions, including temperature, humidity, the presence of ripening agents, lighting and much more.
Impacts of e-commerce acceleration
While the growth of the e-commerce grocery business began well before 2020, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this trend dramatically. In particular, click-and-collect business models have introduced new refrigeration requirements; but many of the walk-in cold storage lockers and reach-in coolers installed for these purposes were undersized for pandemic-driven spikes in volumes. What’s more, many of these coolers were not designed for high volumes of traffic, and frequent opening and closing of doors cause infiltration of warmer, humid air.
Simply put, retailers need new refrigeration strategies to manage the high volume of orders, maintain precise temperatures, and keep up with today’s demand. But it’s critically important to seize this opportunity and provide service levels that keep consumers coming back — especially considering studies show half of customers will stop shopping online with a retailer if they are not happy with the service.
To help address these challenges, Emerson recently launched the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series. This reliable and robust unit provides refrigeration for medium-temperature, walk-in coolers, such as those used by supermarkets making the transition to e-commerce business models. In addition, its wide applicability makes it ideal for display cases and food preparation areas that are commonly found in convenience stores, small-format stores and restaurants.
Making the cellular network transition
The ongoing evolution of wireless networks is impacting the connected infrastructures and devices utilized by cold chain technology providers. Currently, there are 4.5 million connected pieces of equipment monitored globally by Emerson’s Retail Solutions business. And in many regions, the mobile device industry is phasing out the use of 2G and 3G networks in favor of newer technologies such as 5G. As a result, any legacy real-time tracking device that relies on 2G and 3G networks to transmit data may experience brownouts in coverage.
This is why Emerson is currently launching new devices that utilize emerging technologies such as Category M, or “Cat-M” and Narrow Band internet of things, or “NB-IoT” — both of which are coming online as cellular providers introduce 4G and 5G networks. In fact, we recently launched our next-generation 4G/Cat-M real-time trackers at the Fruit Logistica trade show in Berlin. These new devices are designed to bridge the gap between 2G and these emerging technologies to ensure uninterrupted tracking and monitoring.
Key infrastructure upgrades
As part of our connected infrastructure upgrades, we have also recently introduced Oversight 2, a cloud-based online portal that serves as a real-time resource for monitoring in-transit shipment information. Oversight 2 provides stakeholders with key data points that may impact the quality of perishable cargo, such as temperature, location and other indicators.
For the retail store environment, Emerson’s ProAct™ Connect+ Enterprise Management Software provides near real-time access to critical information to help retailers immediately track, triage and respond to issues across their multi-site network and better meet food quality and safety expectations.

Pandemic Reveals Importance of Cold Chain Integrity

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Even the most resilient food supply chains are being challenged in ways never imagined before the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, consumers, retailers and regulators are demanding more visibility and transparency into food’s entire journey — from meat, dairy and produce plants all the way through to dinner tables, according to a recent Food Logistics article for which I was interviewed. Also quoted were my colleagues, Katrina Krites, marketing and business development manager, food retail, and Amy Childress, vice president of marketing and planning, Cargo Solutions, both with Emerson’s cold chain business.

The food supply chain is one of the segments hardest hit by the pandemic. Consumers quickly switched their buying behaviors from brick-and-mortar stores to online groceries. Spikes in demand and disruptions throughout the food supply chain led to acute shortages of certain product categories. One-third of consumers surveyed in NPD Group’s NET COVID-19 Pantry & Food Strategy Tracker still experience out-of-stock inventory months after the outbreak began.

It’s no wonder then that 81 percent of shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important to them, both online and in-store, according to a study by FMI, The Food Industry Association. Responses to the survey also revealed that consumers believe grocery retailers should provide detailed product information. Food safety clearly remains a top concern because of pandemic-related interruptions.

Delivering safe, high-quality food starts with understanding everything that contributes to food quality and safety throughout the cold chain. It’s staggering to realize that there can be potentially as many as 20 to 30 individual steps and multiple changes of ownership throughout this journey. Stakeholders at each point are now able to monitor, control and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food quality, including temperature, humidity, lighting and more.

Providing this greater visibility and management of inventory will require operators across the supply chain to integrate cold chain monitoring solutions and other technologies to assure food safety and on-time delivery. In addition, operators will need to implement the following:

  • Stringent operational processes
  • Enhanced supplier sourcing
  • Strong company relationships
  • An overarching standard to produce, deliver and sell food safely and ethically

See into the cold chain in real-time

Food chains have historically been opaque, long and complex. Increasingly, they are becoming more transparent, shorter and traceable. That’s occurring because consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and how it’s been handled. The impacts of the pandemic significantly increased the urgency behind this push.

According to Dan Crossley, executive director for Food Ethics Council, the question businesses should be asking is, “If our customers could see everything about how our food is produced, distributed, stored and sold, would they still want my product?”

One way to answer this question is by improving cold chain integrity. As Amy explained in the article, Emerson participates in the IBM Food Trust, where we leverage advanced cold chain technology “to provide temperature-related information on in-transit, refrigerated cargo to improve shelf-life estimates and food freshness, enabling more actionable data for IBM Food Trust network members.”

Smarter approaches to food safety

Expanding use of real-time and near real-time tracking devices and cloud-enabled software systems to monitor in-transit shipping conditions will also help operators to ensure food safety and quality. This is especially critical to keeping up with the global demand for year-round access to perishable products. Consumers want a variety of fresh produce, regardless of the location of its origin or the complex cold chain necessary to transport it by land, sea and/or air. The supply chain begins at the point of harvest and continues through processing, cold storage and distribution — all before the food ever begins the last-mile delivery to a store, restaurant or consumer. Overseas shipments can often last anywhere from two to four weeks.

Precise tracking of the condition of this food is possible with advanced hardware and software systems. For example, ProAct™ Connect+ enterprise management software from Emerson can help retailers by providing near real-time access to critical information to help retailers immediately monitor, triage and respond to issues across their multi-site networks. It also provides alarms/notifications using Emerson’s Site Supervisor and E2 facility management systems to provide continuous building and refrigeration monitoring at any location and across the enterprise.

As Katrina said in the article, “By providing enterprise management of refrigeration and other key facility systems, ProAct Connect+ can help retailers preserve food quality while meeting food safety compliance mandates.”

In-transit monitoring of food temperature, location, light, security and other sensor data for perishable cargo can be accomplished with Emerson’s GO real-time loggers and trackers and complimentary cloud-based online portal, Oversight 2. The solution’s automated reporting, real-time alerts and historical reports increase visibility into the status of in-transit cargo.

New normal: Verify food in-transit

The pandemic exposed areas of the global food supply chain that are susceptible to disruption by rapid changes in consumer behavior as well as food safety concerns. Food must be resupplied faster and kept fresh longer. Building these capabilities along with resiliency into the supply chain, will require even more focus amid our “new normal.” Those efforts will begin with the implementation of cold chain technologies that enable businesses to verify the condition of food at any and every step in its journey from producers to consumers.

 

Focus on Cold Chain Visibility for National Food Safety Education Month

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning, Cargo Solutions

Emerson’s cold chain business

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year an estimated 1 in 6 Americans (i.e., 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food. To help prevent food poisoning and improve awareness of food safety best practices, the CDC has designated September as National Food Safety Education Month. For Emerson’s cold chain business, improving the quality and safety of food throughout the supply chain is a core principle. Among the many ways we are helping stakeholders fulfill this mission is through a focus on cold chain visibility technologies designed to monitor and track food conditions along its journey to consumers.

Effective cold chain visibility is a goal shared by nearly everyone actively involved with or impacted by the food supply chain. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new initiative called the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, of which traceability is a key component. Designed to build upon the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), it outlines a path forward using science and risk-based standards to help ensure food safety and prevent foodborne illnesses. With respect to traceability, the blueprint seeks to utilize modern technology to provide visibility of food from farm to table and rapidly trace contaminations to their source locations.

Temperature control and visibility technologies

Achieving precise temperature control during staging, shipping and storage is the backbone of Emerson’s strategies for helping our customers promote and achieve food safety and quality. Our products and services are designed to help stakeholders in each segment of the food cold chain implement their unique cold storage best practices and quality control methods — from proper container and facility insulation to reliable refrigeration strategies — and maintain the tightest possible temperature ranges.

Enabling visibility into food’s journey throughout the supply chain is a critical component of ensuring proper temperature control. This means our customers must have the ability to track and monitor food’s condition throughout the journey to the point of sale.

To that end, we provide refrigeration monitoring solutions that help growers, producers, shippers, restaurants and food retailers keep food within ideal temperature ranges. Throughout multiple steps of cold chain custody, our real-time monitoring devices and tracking infrastructures are helping stakeholders automate the processes of recording and documenting key data points related to food conditions, including: location, temperature, humidity, vibration and security. By leveraging these products and services, stakeholders can better use information to support their food quality and safety programs.

And since we work with multiple stakeholders, we’re better able to help facilitate information sharing and wider cold chain visibility, thereby limiting the potential for disputes while keeping the focus on preventing food safety and quality issues.

Participation with industry workgroups

Our dedication to driving food safety and quality initiatives is further demonstrated through our participation in and support of leading industry initiatives and organizations, including: the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI), Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, and the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Global Food Traceability Center. Collectively, we share the common goal of increased cold chain visibility and traceability to promote food safety and minimize global food waste.

These are all part of our efforts to further empower the cold chain by providing more actionable data for our customers and the industry. Today, our customers utilize a variety of enterprise resource planning (ERP), transportation management systems (TMS) and other information technology (IT) architectures within their businesses, and we’ve designed our devices and data formats with the flexibility to integrate with a variety of system infrastructures — all of which further promotes visibility and information sharing in the supply chain.

Achieving industry-wide visibility will require participation from all stakeholders along the chain of custody. It’s estimated that of produce shipped in the U.S. have been applied with standardized PTI case labels. Emerson encourages all growers to participate in this and other traceability initiatives. As an industry, we must help all stakeholders understand the value of capturing cold chain data and leveraging available tools and standards.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: