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Refrigeration Strategies for Small-Format Retailers

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

The trend toward smaller grocery store formats has taken hold across the global food retail industry. These small-footprint outlets — which can be located closer to customers in urban centers and universities — are designed to provide optimal shopping experiences that are tailored to appeal to customers’ regional preferences. While traditional centralized refrigeration systems are too large for these small facilities, new equipment is emerging to suit these smaller spaces and support retailers’ unique operational goals and constraints. As I discussed in a recent article for ACHR The NEWS, many retailers are adopting a more decentralized refrigeration approach to support their small-format operations.

Compared to typical large-format grocery stores — which can cover more than 100,000 square feet and are found in most suburban areas — small-format stores are usually less than 40,000 square feet in size and are popping up in non-traditional locations and under-served communities. In terms of refrigeration, large stores utilize complex refrigeration rack systems, which can contain thousands of pounds of refrigerant. Small-format stores require completely different refrigeration strategies — which often means taking a decentralizing approach for more flexibility and much lower refrigerant charges.

Space constraints drive refrigeration options

Lack of space for mechanical rooms and other facility access restrictions are among the primary considerations for small-format retailers. Some stores are located inside residential buildings, which may prevent the use of remote racks or condensing units to be installed on rooftops. In mixed-use spaces, basic considerations such as door clearances can also dictate equipment selection.
The good news for retailers is that there are many refrigeration alternatives designed to address these challenges. The alternatives are often more flexible and typically combine a distributed refrigeration architecture for primary refrigeration needs, along with stand-alone cases — which integrate the refrigeration system into the case — that can be moved around a store to support seasonal and regional offerings.
Distributed approaches to refrigeration system design typically rely on indoor or outdoor condensing unit (OCU) architectures that allow the refrigeration equipment to be installed in closer proximity to fixed display cases. Another advantage of this approach is the ability to deploy a distributed controls architecture, which allows individual refrigeration assets to be operated and controlled independently. Thus, if a facility controller were to fail, there would be little to no impact on individual assets.
In addition, utilizing distributed controls in tandem with a centralized building or facility management controller results in a hybrid approach that delivers the best of both worlds: independent asset control and centralized visibility to all assets.

Multiple approaches for varying preferences

As is the case with large-format retailers, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for selecting a refrigeration architecture for smaller formats. From environmental sustainability to system lifecycle costs and servicing requirements, retailers have a wide range of pain points and business criteria on which to base their individual decisions. Emerson is committed to supporting small-format retailers with a variety of refrigeration solutions that can be utilized in most existing and emerging small-format architectures, including:

– A full complement of compression technologies
– Facility management controls and valves
– Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series
– Copeland™ Indoor Modular Solution

We are actively partnering with OEM and retail customers to help create high-value, small-format refrigeration solutions. By combining refrigeration technology and component portfolios with design and domain expertise, our goal is to provide fully integrated solutions that can address a wide range of end-user criteria.

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