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“Ghost Kitchens” Offer New Foodservice Opportunities and Market Resilience

Paul_Hepperla Paul Hepperla | Vice President, Solutions Strategy – Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), more than 110,000 restaurants and bars in the United States closed for business either temporarily or permanently in 2020. “Ghost kitchens” — which refers to any foodservice operation that prepares orders for off-premises dining only — were among the few foodservice business models that proved resilient to the pandemic’s negative economic effects. In a recent article for Foodservice Equipment and Supplies, I discussed the business opportunities and challenges of this emerging virtual restaurant strategy.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, only an estimated 15% of operators reported setting up ghost kitchens. Yet by May 2020, more than half of restaurant operators had implemented a ghost kitchen strategy for some or all of their delivery orders. Not only did ghost kitchens allow many restaurants to stay open, but they also helped to offset the loss of dine-in sales with an off-premises business model that required less labor and offered the potential for shared real estate costs.

Out of necessity, consumers quickly familiarized themselves with the concept of virtual foodservice, which typically has the following characteristics:

  • Operates without a physical storefront
  • Provides no on-site dining or waitstaff
  • Offers third-party delivery service or take-out options only

Today, with the easing of in-person dining restrictions, it appears that ghost kitchens are here to stay. Industry experts expect sales from virtual foodservice to increase 42% this year and rise 25% annually over the next five years.

Advantages of a ghost kitchen model

The ghost kitchen concept appeals to a wide variety of foodservice segments, covering nearly every culinary category and operating under a range of business models, including:

  • Large, shared kitchen spaces with individual stations
  • Pop-up segments within existing restaurant kitchens
  • Fully functioning and autonomous kitchen pods

One similarity among these approaches is that multiple ghost kitchen brands are typically designed to share a common operating space. Regardless of the business model, ghost kitchens offer a variety of operational benefits, including:

  • Reduced start-up costs — Entrepreneurs can launch a ghost kitchen operation without significant capital investment or new construction.
  • Greater menu flexibility — Operators can introduce new brands in regional, smaller scales while larger, established brands can trial new menu items. They can also quickly change their offerings without concerns of having to update signage or printed materials.
  • Improved customer access — Operators can place ghost kitchens in strategic locations in metropolitan and/or rural areas to shorten the distance to their customers.

Key operator considerations

With the likelihood that multiple operators will share the same ghost kitchen space, equipment uptime and reliability become mutual concerns. Even though each vendor may have many unique food preparation requirements, they may still share walk-in coolers and freezers, combi-ovens and fryers. This will also result in larger refrigeration loads and potentially a greater variety of cooking equipment to accommodate offering diversity.

Equipment sharing also raises questions about owning and/or leasing of these critical assets. Will the facility operator incur costs, or will the vendors lease equipment based on a flat fee or usage? Additionally, usage monitoring will become more important, both to understand utilization patterns and assess equipment condition to ensure it is running at peak performance and efficiency.

To protect consumers and ensure food quality and safety, ghost kitchen operators will be required to implement standard protocols, such as:

  • Establishing hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) programs
  • Using temperature monitoring and probing devices to automate data collection and recordkeeping for local health inspectors

Determining energy consumption will be important in understanding the energy profiles of each ghost kitchen facility, food vendor or equipment type. Operators should consider a sub-metering energy measurement strategy to record usage per vendor and monitor energy consumption of each equipment asset. Whether energy costs are assessed via a flat fee per vendor or per equipment energy usage, this data will be important in developing energy-efficient and sustainable operational strategies.

Emerson has the tools and technologies to support all stakeholders in the ghost kitchen value chain. From refrigeration technologies to connected monitoring devices and facility management control platforms, we’re helping ghost kitchen operators and vendors to maximize food quality and safety, increase equipment reliability, and monitor performance to meet this emerging market need.

 

CO2 Emerges as an Industrial Refrigerant Alternative to Ammonia

Lee Van Dixhorn | Director of New Solutions Development, Vilter

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solution’s Business

With its excellent thermodynamic properties and high efficiencies, ammonia (aka NH3; refrigerant name R-717) has long been the preferred refrigerant in low-temperature (LT) cold storage warehouses and light-industrial refrigeration applications. But because operators assume a degree of risk when using ammonia, many are evaluating the potential of CO2 (refrigerant name R-744) as a green, lower-risk alternative. In a recent article for Engineered Systems, I explored the emergence of CO2 in the industrial sector.

 

Despite increasing global adoption in commercial refrigeration, CO2 has yet to make significant inroads in the industrial sector. Its high operating pressure and unique characteristics pose equipment design and system architectural challenges for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). But today’s industrial OEMs are building upon the framework of successful CO2 architectures used within food retail applications, such as CO2 transcritical booster and cascade systems. Theoretically, it’s a matter of scaling these systems up for industrial use.

Market drivers of CO2 adoption

Efforts to increase the supply of CO2-based industrial refrigeration equipment are driven largely by new market demands.

 

  • Last-mile delivery considerations — In response to the accelerated adoption of e-commerce in food retail applications, many light-industrial distribution and fulfillment (D&F) facilities have arisen in urban areas to shorten the distance to consumers. But the risk of an ammonia leak in highly populated areas threatens to not only shut down a facility but also evacuate the surrounding area. Operators of these light-industrial facilities are seeking a lower-risk, green alternative.
  • Lowering ammonia charges and designing for safety — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has mandated safety requirements for systems charged with more than 10,000 pounds of ammonia. This has led to the exploration of all-CO2system architectures and those that combine CO2 and ammonia to lower ammonia charges and move refrigeration circuits out of occupied spaces.
  • Global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant phasedown — The recent passing of the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act has brought the global HFC phasedown back into focus in the U.S. Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and/or U.S. Climate Alliance states are pushing forward with their own aggressive phasedown schedules. Industrial operators who have traditionally preferred using HFCs over ammonia are evaluating alternative refrigerant options, such as CO2.
  • Blurring of lines between commercial and industrial OEMs — With CO2emerging in the industrial sector, and low-charge ammonia systems being trialed in commercial architectures, OEMs are leveraging their legacy experience to cross into adjacent markets. However, commercial OEMs need to understand the increased demands of industrial applications and develop equipment that is built to withstand their rigors.
  • Sustainability initiatives — Regardless of all other market and regulatory considerations, many companies today are establishing and adhering to corporate sustainability objectives. This requires selecting refrigeration architectures that are both safe and environmentally friendly. As a green natural refrigerant, CO2is helping businesses to achieve these objectives.

Supporting the transition to CO2

Although it’s unlikely that CO2 will ever completely replace ammonia as the preferred refrigerant in large-charge industrial applications, CO2-based refrigeration equipment is becoming a more viable option in light-industrial scenarios.

With extensive expertise in both ammonia- and CO2-based refrigeration, Emerson is uniquely qualified to support traditional and emerging industrial applications. Our Vilter™ single-screw compression technology is not only built to withstand the rigors of industrial refrigeration, but it’s also capable of managing the high pressures of CO2 transcritical booster applications. In addition, our ever-expanding CO2 product portfolio includes a breadth of solutions for transcritical, cascade and secondary architectures.

From compression technologies, controls and variable-speed drives to supervisory services and a wide range of CO2-approved system components, we are a CO2 refrigeration solution provider and partner to leading industrial operators and food retailers.

 

Highlighting Cold Chain Best Practices During National Food Safety Education Month

         Greg Polce | Vice President of Marketing – Cold Chain

          Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designates September as National Food Safety Education Month. Their goals are to raise awareness about how to prevent food poisoning and educate the population on best practices for keeping food safe. At Emerson, we’re committed to protecting and preserving food safety throughout the various links within the food cold chain. To help in the CDC’s efforts to raise awareness, we would like to highlight some of the key areas where our cold chain tools and technologies are playing integral roles in this important mission.

 

Ensuring a safe food supply chain is essential for supporting human health and well-being. Supermarkets, restaurants and convenience store (C-store) sectors rely on a safe and effective food cold chain for their reputations. Consumers place food safety and quality among the most important factors when selecting a location in which to dine or shop.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more public awareness to the topics of food safety, handling standards and best practices. Not surprisingly, the CDC has reported a lower rate of foodborne illness outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic — likely attributable to the renewed emphases on proper hand washing, hygiene and surface sanitation procedures. But to achieve comprehensive food safety, it’s also important to combine safe handling protocols with robust temperature management during the transportation, cold storage and preparation phases of the food cold chain.

Let’s look at some of the ways Emerson can help to monitor temperatures during these key steps.

Harvesting and processing

The freshness and safety of perishable produce and proteins can be protected by controlling temperatures via flash cooling/freezing, temporary staging in storage coolers, and pre-cooling shipping containers. Emerson provides pulp temperature-probing devices to measure internal product temperatures during the staging and loading processes. Our real-time temperature monitoring and tracking devices can be placed inside a shipping container to provide location, temperatures and other environmental conditions of in-transit perishable shipments.

Transportation

The cold chain journey can last anywhere from days to weeks — by truck, sea and/or air — and shippers should be able to ensure an unbroken chain of temperature certainty throughout. Transport containers must be equipped to maintain strict temperatures and provide visibility to internal conditions. Emerson’s field-tested compression technologies are built to withstand the rigors of the road to help stakeholders keep transport refrigeration systems at specified temperature ranges. Our complete line of temperature monitoring, logging and tracking devices — combined with our cloud-based software portal — enables live remote monitoring and alert notifications based on user-defined parameters.

Cold storage distribution centers

Upon receipt at cold storage facilities, quality assurance (QA) personnel must inspect product conditions according to their Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and/or Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventative Controls (HARPC) plans. Typically, this process starts by taking pulp temperatures and reviewing trip data from Emerson’s logging and tracking devices to validate that product was held at proper temperatures throughout the journey. After inspection, handlers must promptly transfer perishable cargo into a designated cold storage temperature zone.

Within these cold storage facilities, Emerson’s compression and refrigeration technologies help operators to establish and maintain proper temperatures in various cold storage zones. Our robust facility monitoring solutions help operators to remotely oversee conditions, ensure proper temperatures, and automatically record temperatures for use in HACCP reporting.

Grocery stores

Store operators take ownership of food quality and safety when perishable shipments are unloaded in supermarkets. This starts by checking pulp temperatures and trip data logs and continues with the prompt transfer of perishables into designated cold storage coolers or freezers. Once in cold storage, Emerson’s Lumity™ E3 supervisory control platform helps retailers to monitor perishable temperatures and optimize food quality.

For decades, the supermarket industry has relied on Copeland™ compression and refrigeration technologies as the collective foundation for their cold storage capabilities. Today, we’re developing sustainable refrigeration solutions with variable-capacity modulation to improve reliability, temperature precision and energy efficiencies in a variety of refrigeration architectures.

Restaurants

Restaurants assume responsibility for both the cold storage of perishable products as well as the safety concerns associated with food preparation. Staff must be trained in safe cooking best practices, such as those provided by the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe® certification course. Cook-and-hold procedures should also follow established HACCP/HARPC plans, with a dual focus on the prevention of bacterial growth and maximizing food quality/safety.

Emerson provides a wide range of technologies to automate data collection and reporting necessary to implement best practices and meet local health inspection requirements:

To learn more about how Emerson is helping to protect food quality and safety throughout the food cold chain, please view this infographic.

 

Protecting Vaccine Efficacy Throughout the Cold Chain

Chris Ashbaugh | Head of Healthcare

Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

As has been widely publicized, COVID-19 vaccines come with more than a few challenges in terms of storage and distribution. When the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine became available, it was required to be stored at ultra-low temperatures between -80 to -60 °C (-112 to -76 °F). More recently, this ultra-cold storage requirement was removed from the Pfizer vaccine, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its storage and transportation at standard freezer temperatures for up to two weeks. The Moderna vaccine requires a frozen cold chain but can be refrigerated for up to 30 days before use. The Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine, meanwhile, must be refrigerated but never frozen, per guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To further complicate an already high-stakes process, cold chain integrity must be maintained throughout multiple hand-offs among stakeholders, including suppliers, distributors and healthcare organizations. In the process, distributors and healthcare providers need to meet varying — but nonetheless strict — temperature requirements to move and store these vaccines. Any temperature excursions, even for a short period of time, can reduce or destroy a vaccine’s potency and/or safety.

Investing in the equipment required to safeguard vaccines would be a risky bet if it were left to untested technology. The good news is the technology supporting the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is not unproven. In fact, Emerson has decades of experience providing the end-to-end temperature reliability that manufacturers, distributors and healthcare providers rely on to help protect vaccine efficacy.

Ensuring reliability in refrigeration system performance

All vaccines must be stored at precise temperature ranges. For this reason, refrigeration system reliability is essential to cold chain management. This is as true for the cold storage freezers at manufacturing sites as it is for the vaccine storage units at the points of vaccination and the refrigerated containers and reefer trucks used to transport vials. If any one of these cold storage units failed, hundreds to thousands of doses could potentially be wiped out.

Emerson’s highly reliable, energy-efficient Copeland™ compression solutions are designed to maintain more accurate setpoints and tighter control over temperatures. Our compression solutions deliver faster pull-downs to setpoint temperatures and maintain precise temperature control to provide greater energy efficiency without sacrificing system dependability. They also produce less wear and tear on system components, improving overall refrigeration system performance and lifespan.

Safeguarding efficacy through monitoring technologies

Monitoring solutions and internet of things (IoT) capabilities are proving foundational to maintaining temperature certainty.

At an enterprise level, Emerson offers technology platforms that provide nearly real-time visibility into refrigeration performance and help to protect the safety and efficacy of critical medicines. Long before the current public health crisis, our TempTrak® probes and enterprise monitoring solution have helped leading healthcare providers to achieve their patient safety and product integrity goals. In addition, Emerson’s ProAct™ Connect+ enterprise management software enables operators to monitor equipment performance and rapidly respond to equipment issues. Our Lumity™ E3 supervisory control and facility management system send alerts and notifications to provide continuous refrigeration monitoring that is essential to protecting vaccine efficacy.

For a more portable solution, we recently launched our Lumity wireless data logger to enable temperature monitoring of vaccine storage containers in accordance with the CDC’s requirements. This powerful, yet economical solution has a built-in information technology (IT) infrastructure to simplify deployment, including:

  • No Wi-Fi required for connectivity
  • No additional hardware or cloud software required for data storage and retrieval
  • Able to operate as a stand-alone solution or integrate with TempTrak software

To help ensure maximum temperature accuracy, the Lumity wireless data logger is available with different probes depending on the application, a standard temperature probe as well as a buffered ultra-low temperature (cryogenic) probe with or without a buffer sleeve. All told, it’s a quick and simple way to help healthcare providers of all sizes bring vaccine management into compliance.

Earth Day 2021: Partnering With Stakeholders for a Greener Future

John Rhodes |Group President, Cold Chain
Emerson’s Commercial & Residential Solutions Business

On this Earth Day (Thursday, April 22), more than a billion people around the globe will take stock of the planet’s health and the actions we all can do to protect the environment.

This year’s theme is “Restore Our Earth”. At Emerson, we see this as a call to action that we simply cannot ignore. Climate change and resource conservation are among the most pressing challenges facing our planet. According to NASA, Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record. It is just one of many data points that show we have work to do to reverse a long-term warming trend.

The commercial refrigeration sector has been focused on mitigating climate change for decades. The Montreal Protocol, ratified in 1987, resulted in a successful effort to ban refrigerants with ozone depletion potential (ODP). In 2019, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol created a framework for phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP).

However, phasing down high-GWP refrigerants is not enough to halt climate change on its own. We must also consider the total equivalent warming impact (TEWI) of commercial refrigeration systems — which takes into account direct emissions and the energy required to run these systems.

Emerson is committed to helping our customers to understand, navigate and comply with environmental and regulatory challenges. By providing solutions and guidance that promote sustainability and conservation, we are partners in the race to reduce commercial refrigeration’s TEWI.

Committed to global sustainability initiatives

At Emerson, we share a unified purpose to drive innovation that makes the world healthier, safer, smarter and more sustainable. Our planet is among the five causes supported by this important initiative, which drives us to deliver sustainable solutions that improve efficiency, reduce emissions, and conserve resources.

Around the world, we have intensified our efforts to be more efficient in our energy usage and reduce the intensity of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But we know that’s not enough. Sustainability measures have a greater impact when they are part of a team effort. To that end, we have established an environmental sustainability framework that reflects our drive to be a partner for change. This “greening” framework defines our environmental initiatives according to three categories:

  • Greening OF — driving down our GHG emissions intensity by 20 percent by 2028
  • Greening BY — providing products, solutions and services to help our customers transition to a low-carbon future
  • Greening WITH — engaging with external stakeholders to develop innovative solutions and shape future policy

In short, we are continually innovating and fine-tuning technologies, tools and insights to help operators and businesses meet their own environmental, social and governance initiatives.

For example, consider our efforts in the cold chain. Using technology and data-driven insights, cold chain stakeholders can create greater temperature stability and certainty. This, in turn, can curb energy usage and reduce waste at every step along the journey from farm to consumer and beyond. Our cold chain solutions encompass an ever-widening scope:

  • Managing refrigeration — Continuing advances in refrigeration technology, monitoring and controls help operators to maintain proper temperatures, comply with food safety regulations and reduce spoilage.
  • Optimizing facilities and reducing energy — A commercial refrigeration system accounts for 40 to 60 percent of total electricity consumption in supermarkets. Advanced asset management solutions enable operators to optimize refrigeration, HVAC and lighting systems for greater facility and enterprise-wide energy efficiency.
  • Reducing food waste — End-to-end cold chain solutions help ensure refrigeration reliability via equipment, systems and monitoring technologies to extend shelf life and prevent waste.
  • Converting waste to energy — Food recycling turns wasted food into an energy-rich slurry that can be used for energy production.
  • Electrifying the supply chain — Replacing diesel-powered refrigerated transport systems with environmentally friendly electric solutions.
  • Renewing energy — Explore technologies to capture biogas from landfills and transform it into renewable energy.

When component manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), contractors and end users collaborate to develop ambitious solutions, everyone — including the planet — benefits.

Lower-GWP refrigerants continue to factor into sustainability plans

Advanced refrigeration technologies and new architecture strategies are providing operators with greater control over TEWI. However, in the quest for greener refrigeration, refrigerants still take center stage. Global policy and state and new federal rulemaking, including the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act), reassert our country’s commitment to phase down HFC refrigerants.

Many retailers and restaurants are leading the way in exploring low-GWP refrigerant options. For some, this means retrofitting existing refrigeration architectures to transition to lower-GWP A1 refrigerants, such as R-448A/R-449A. Others are diving in by adopting greener options, such as R-290 integrated cases and CO2 transcritical and/or cascade systems. Meanwhile, our industry is closely evaluating the progression of A2L refrigerant safety standards in the U.S., as these mildly flammable alternatives offer very low-GWP levels and are gaining wider adoption in Europe.

Whether you’re looking to transition to lower-GWP refrigerants or lessen your TEWI, Emerson has the products and resources to support your goals. Our solutions can help you to optimize your facility operations, reduce energy use, minimize equipment failures, improve food quality and safety, and achieve regulatory compliance. Together, we can restore our planet for a better future.

 

 

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