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Factors Which Drive Innovations Toward the Next Generation of Refrigeration System Design

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the retail food industry’s collective focus on food quality, safety and sanitation in supermarkets while driving consumer adoption of click-and-collect. At the same time, industry regulations impact retailer behaviors. These factors have brought more attention upon refrigeration systems. In a recent Progressive Grocer article (pages 76–80), I explored how refrigeration products, monitoring and sensing devices can support these initiatives.

Impacting food quality and safety

A grocer’s approach to refrigeration is a fundamental part of creating ideal shopping experiences for consumers. Starting with the configuration of the display cases, merchandising strategies are designed to present food in the most appealing ways. Many cases are now equipped with enhanced controls that turn on lights when a shopper approaches. By leveraging case controls and the internet of things (IoT) technologies, retailers can more effectively keep perishable foods within ideal temperature ranges, thus positively impacting food quality and safety while maximizing shelf life.

Continued improvements in data analytics and cloud-based, IoT technologies are enabling connectivity among equipment and devices, which will allow retailers to achieve much greater holistic controls of not only their refrigeration assets, but also other key facility systems, such as HVAC and lighting. These are areas in which Emerson has invested significant resources and will continue to do so in the future.

Closely related to that are the abilities to monitor and track the temperatures and locations of perishable foods throughout various steps along the cold chain journey.

Acceleration of click-and-collect

If what we’ve seen in 2020 is any indication, the supermarket industry can expect the continued adoption of online fulfillment options. This change in consumer shopping preferences will continue to drive innovations in the next generation of refrigeration system design.

With the growing popularity of click-and-collect, retailers are adding capacity specifically for these cold-storage purposes. With variable-capacity modulation capabilities that can adapt to changing load variations, the Copeland™ digital X-Line series provides refrigeration flexibility and reliability in click-and-collect applications. In addition, its onboard controls can be networked into a supermarket’s building management system (BMS) for complete refrigeration control and monitoring.

Our facility management controls (E2) and enterprise software (Connect+) also help retailers to remotely monitor their refrigeration assets, optimize system performance, and provide data-driven, proactive alerts of potential equipment issues.

The role of regulations

The regulation of refrigerants continues to be a source of great uncertainty for our industry. For several years, regulations have targeted the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants to reduce carbon emissions and their potential contribution to climate change. Many retailers face global, national and state regulatory mandates that ban the use of refrigerants with high global warming potential (GWP) and call for the deployment of energy-efficient refrigeration equipment. As a result, the industry is undergoing a shift toward alternative refrigerants with lower GWP levels and no ozone depletion potential (ODP).

All of this has helped to bring low-GWP refrigeration solutions into the spotlight, and Emerson supports a wide range of options for retailers along the sustainability continuum.

Whether it’s natural refrigerants like CO2 or propane, or lower-GWP synthetic A1 or A2L blends, Emerson equipment is designed to cover the full spectrum of refrigerant preferences in various types of architectures. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for this refrigerant transition; food retailers are employing a wide range of strategies, depending on their unique regulatory and sustainability mandates.

Many operators simply may not immediately require a drastic reduction in refrigerant GWP and instead are seeking a more gradual transition toward their future sustainability goals. We are helping these retailers to develop equipment strategies that will allow them to transition to lower-GWP refrigerants today, while giving them a pathway for achieving reduced GWP levels in the future.

Energy regulations are also in play, and Emerson is committed to helping the industry meet Department of Energy (DOE) efficiency targets for commercial refrigeration equipment. For example, our recent launch of the Copeland digital X-Line series is designed to meet the DOE’s annual walk-in energy factor (AWEF) efficiency standards for walk-in coolers. These products can also help operators in the state of California to comply with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements for small-format grocery and convenience stores. The X-Line series utilizes low-GWP R-448A and is designed to service a limited number of medium- or low-temperature refrigeration fixtures — making it ideal for small, urban store formats or large supermarkets seeking to add refrigeration loads outside of their existing direct expansion (DX) systems.

Innovation throughout the cold chain

Leveraging the power of IoT, operational data and the software that can extract insights and value from this information will also play much larger roles in future supermarket refrigeration strategies. To that end, continued efforts to achieve connectivity throughout the various links of the cold chain will allow supermarkets to gain much greater control of food quality and safety well before it reaches the shelves of grocery stores.

 

 

Grow Your Bottom Line With Sustainable Refrigeration Retrofits

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Across the food retail market, supermarket operators are re-evaluating their legacy refrigeration architectures. A dynamic mix of regulatory mandates, sustainability goals and the emergence of e-commerce fulfillment models are dictating changes in the status quo of refrigeration. We recently published an article in the RSES Journal that discussed refrigeration retrofit strategies that allow retailers to meet their sustainability objectives while improving their bottom lines.

When considering refrigeration retrofits, food retailers must remember that sustainability is a two-sided coin. While reducing leaks of global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants is important for lowering direct emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), many supermarket operators often overlook the potential for indirect GHG emissions caused by poor system energy efficiencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that supermarkets are the most electricity-intensive of all commercial buildings. Commercial refrigeration systems account for 40–60% of supermarket energy consumption and are by far the greatest contributor to indirect GHG emissions. Combined, direct and indirect emissions make up the true measure of sustainability, or a system’s total equivalent warming impact (TEWI).

Reduce direct emissions with lower-GWP refrigerants

The transition from high-GWP refrigerants and those with ozone depletion potential (ODP) is inevitable. Common legacy refrigerant options such as the HFC R-404A will be phased down while hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) such as R-22 are being phased out. But this does not necessarily mean operators should immediately transition to an alternative refrigerant or embark on a complete refrigeration rebuild.

Lower-GWP A1 refrigerants, such as the hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) blend R-448A/R-449A, are available that allow end-users to retrofit their existing system, reduce GWP from direct emissions by up to 60%, and still maintain a familiar operational footprint similar to the one they have today.

For those operators currently using R-22, the transition to R-448A/R-449A is relatively straightforward and requires very few substantive architecture changes. The transition from R-404A to R-448A/R-449A is slightly more involved but can still be accomplished without significant architectural changes. R-448A/R-449A produces compressor discharge temperatures that run approximately 10–12% higher than R-404A. This may require additional compressor cooling mitigation such as head cooling fans, demand cooling modules, or a liquid or vapor injected scroll compressor. Consult your compressor OEM’s guidelines for specific retrofit procedures.

Improve system energy efficiencies

Any system retrofit or upgrade comes at a cost, so food retailers must ensure their investment delivers long-term viability and returns to their bottom line. This is where reducing indirect emissions by improving energy efficiencies plays such an important role. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that every dollar saved in electricity is equivalent to increasing sales by $59.

While it makes sense to undertake energy-efficiency measures in conjunction with a refrigerant transition, energy optimization best practices can — and should — be performed periodically on all systems. Before considering any retrofit options, start by performing a system assessment to determine your current performance metrics — which in many cases will deviate significantly from the system’s original commissioned baseline.

The next logical step in the energy optimization process is to enable a variable-capacity modulation strategy by either upgrading to a digitally modulated compressor or adding a variable-frequency drive (VFD) to a fixed-capacity compressor. Variable-capacity modulation provides significant system improvements, not just to energy efficiency but also to overall refrigeration system performance, reliability and lifespan. Benefits include:

  • Precise matching of capacity to changing refrigeration loads
  • Tight control over suction manifold pressures, allowing increased setpoint and energy savings
  • Improved case temperature precision
  • Reduced compressor cycling (on/off)

In digital compressor retrofit scenarios, we’ve demonstrated that replacing an underperforming, fixed-capacity compressor with a variable-capacity compressor can result in an additional 4% energy savings — even before activating digital modulation capabilities. And once digital modulation is activated, operators can expect an additional 12% energy savings.

Whether you’re trying to reduce your direct emissions with lower-GWP refrigerants or seeking to improve energy efficiencies and lower your indirect emissions, Emerson has compression technologies and sustainable refrigeration solutions to help you meet your specific objectives. The Copeland™ digital semi-hermetic and Copeland™ digital scroll compressors provide opportunities to transition to lower-GWP refrigerants and enable variable-capacity modulation to drive energy efficiencies.

Supermarket Food Safety: Emerson Cold Chain Solutions

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Providing consistently safe and high-quality food in supermarkets is important to each stakeholder in the food retail supply chain. From farm to fork, grocers depend on their cold chain suppliers to collect, share and report on the handling and shipping practices that contribute to food safety. In the first blog based on an article in PerishableNews.com, we examined food retail market trends and risk factors impacting food safety and quality. In this companion blog, we will explore how Emerson is helping food retailers and stakeholders address these challenges at nearly every step of the food supply chain.

Harvest and processing

The potential decay of perishable produce starts the moment it is picked, but this can be stunted by controlling temperatures and the ambient environment via: flash cooling/freezing; temporary staging in storage coolers; and pre-cooling shipping containers. Shipping containers may be modified with ripening agents, and processors often measure the levels of ethylene, a natural gas that can accelerate ripening.

Emerson provides temperature-probing devices that can be used to measure internal “pulp” temperatures prior to and during the staging and loading processes. Our real-time temperature monitoring and tracking devices can be activated inside a shipping container to immediately begin monitoring location, temperatures and other environmental conditions of in-transit perishable shipments.

Transportation

Food’s journey to supermarket shelves can last anywhere from days to weeks — by truck, sea and/or air — and grocers rely on their shippers to provide an unbroken chain of temperature certainty. Loading best practices promote airflow and shipments to be “load locked” in order to limit excess vibration. Transport containers must be able to maintain temperatures and provide visibility into container conditions. Mixed-load cargos may have different refrigerated temperature zones within the same shipment.

Emerson’s field-tested, proven compression technologies can withstand the rigors of the road while helping operators to ensure that their transport refrigeration systems preserve product at specified temperature ranges. Temperature monitoring, logging and tracking devices — combined with our cloud-based software portal — can provide real-time temperature and location conditions of product in-transit. The software enables live remote monitoring and issues alerts to stakeholders based on user-defined parameters, such as: temperature excursions; changes to shipping atmosphere; vibration; security breaches; and shipping delays.

Cold storage distribution centers

Upon receipt of food at a cold storage facility, handlers must inspect product temperatures and conditions, including pulp temperatures with probing devices, and trip data from logging and tracking devices. Relying on only the ambient air temperature of the shipping container is not an accurate measure, as some carriers may turn off the refrigeration system during shipping to preserve fuel. After inspection, handlers must promptly transfer perishable cargo into a designated cold storage temperature zone. The entire process must adhere to each facility’s established Hazardous Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and/or Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventative Controls (HARPC) plans.

Emerson’s logging and tracking devices give end-users the ability to maintain live, remote visibility for monitoring the temperatures and locations of their in-transit shipping containers. In cold storage facilities, our compression and refrigeration technologies help operators to establish and maintain proper temperatures in various cold storage zones. Robust facility monitoring solutions help operators to remotely oversee conditions, ensure proper temperatures, and automatically record temperatures for use in HACCP reporting.

Grocery stores

From the moments perishable shipments are unloaded in supermarkets, operators take ownership of food quality and safety. This starts with inspection — 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, control platforms help retailers to monitor perishable temperatures and optimize food quality.

Refrigerated storage and staging coolers for click-and-collect fulfillment must have sufficient capacity to handle fluctuations in order volumes and frequent opening/closing of walk-in doors. Order-picking processes and customer pick-ups and deliveries must be optimized to ensure safe handling and proper temperatures. Supermarket food preparation introduces hot-side complexities as consumers look to grocers for home meal replacements. Staff must be trained in safe cooking best practices — such as those provided by the U.S. National Restaurant Association’s (NRA’s) ServSafe® certification course — and cook-and-hold procedures should also follow established HACCP/HARPC plans.

In addition to our proven compression and refrigeration technologies, Emerson solutions address a variety of modern supermarket requirements. These include condensing units with variable-capacity modulation to precisely match refrigeration load requirements and flexible distributed architectures that can augment existing refrigeration systems. We also offer a suite of temperature-probing devices to help grocers automate the recording of prepared food temperatures and assist grocers with food safety and process compliance concerns.

Our powerful facility management, monitoring and control platforms address both existing and emerging food retail complexities. These tools provide near real-time access to critical information to help retailers track, triage and respond to issues pertaining to food quality and safety compliance — in individual stores and across their multi-site networks. In addition, these control platforms utilize alarms, notifications and remote access to provide end-users with continuous building and refrigeration monitoring at any retail location.

Connectivity drives cold chain visibility

Modern food retailers are held to increasingly higher food safety and quality standards. Store operators, consumers and health inspectors all demand greater transparency into the food supply chain and improved visibility of food’s journey from farm to fork. With today’s connected internet of things (IoT) monitoring and tracking infrastructures, operators now have the potential for visibility into each step of food’s journey — and even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. Emerson provides the refrigeration technologies and IoT-enabled infrastructures to help stakeholders at each point monitor, control and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food safety and quality.

 

 

 

 

 

Supermarket Food Safety: Trends and Risk Factors

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Ensuring food safety throughout the food retail supply chain has taken on new importance in 2020. As COVID-19 pushed many grocery shoppers online and reshaped consumer buying habits, grocers had to quickly adapt to new demands without compromising food safety and quality. In a recent article in PerishableNews.com, we explore the impacts of these rapidly changing market dynamics and discuss Emerson’s commitment to helping retailers and supply chain stakeholders preserve food quality and safety. In the first of a two-blog series, we will examine the evolving food retail landscape and explore food safety best practices at various steps along food’s cold chain journey.

With the onset of the global health crisis, retailers were suddenly inundated with click-and-collect orders and home deliveries. This unexpected high order volume not only placed pressures on e-fulfillment infrastructures, but also required renewed adherence to food safety best practices. Grocers not only had to maintain proper temperature ranges during storage, picking, staging and delivery, but also follow proper sanitation and hygiene protocols for in-store customers and employees alike.

At the same time, grocers began playing an even larger foodservice role by providing ready-to-eat, home meal replacements while still supporting deli- and freshly prepared offerings. Combined, these new challenges only highlighted pre-existing supply chain concerns and underscored the importance of maintaining food safety at every point of its journey to consumers. Consider the dynamic mix of food retail market and consumer trends impacting supermarket food safety in 2020:

Understanding food safety risk factors

Food safety is a cumulative process involving multiple stakeholders. From harvest to production, shipping and cold storage, order fulfillment and delivery, food preparation and handling, grocery retailers rely on food safety best practices across a wide range of disciplines.

Food shipments can proceed through up to 30 individual steps and have multiple changes of ownership, custody and control before they reach supermarkets. Once there, this chain of custody now includes the complexities of click-and-collect fulfillment — from picking processes and staging through customer pick-up. Throughout these processes, multiple factors can either decrease perishable food’s shelf life or increase its risk of becoming unsafe and a potential cause of foodborne illness.

An unbroken chain of temperature certainty and safe handling practices is essential for maintaining food safety. Common risk factors include:

  • Safe handling practices must guard against the spread of bacterial pathogens that can cause food poisoning, such as E. coli and listeria. Cross-contamination, poor employee hygiene, and unsafe or unsanitary processing or food preparation methods are key contributors.
  • Produce and perishable commodities must be kept within optimal temperatures to prevent the growth of bacteria, maximize freshness and shelf life, and avoid food waste and shrink. Environmental conditions within shipping containers must be monitored and managed throughout food’s journey to optimize humidity, ripening agents, security and real-time location tracking.
  • Online order fulfillment presents new challenges for maintaining temperature control. Chilled perishables and frozen goods must be kept within optimal temperature ranges, which can impact in-store picking processes and order staging prior to customer pick-up. Fluctuations in demand can also affect walk-in cooler performance due to changes in employee foot traffic and increased unit access.
  • Cook-and-hold procedures must maintain food at optimal holding temperatures. Per the U.S. National Restaurant Association’s (NRA’s) ServSafe® guidelines, this requires frequent checking and documentation of internal food temperatures to ensure food quality and safety.

Part two of this blog series will explore Emerson refrigeration and temperature monitoring solutions for helping ensure food safety throughout the cold chain and in supermarkets.

Online Order Volumes Drive Grocers to Re-Evaluate Refrigeration Strategies

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

As I discussed in a previous blog, the coronavirus pandemic forced many food retailers to shore up their click-and-collect fulfillment capabilities to meet consumer demand for an in-store shopping alternative. While many shoppers tried click-and-collect for the first time during the early phases of the pandemic, industry experts expect this change in buying habits to continue well into the future. In a recent ACHR News article, I explored further how grocers are adapting their refrigeration strategies to support an increased volume of click-and-collect orders.

With the onset of the pandemic and the precipitous rise in online fulfillment, many grocers scrambled to add refrigerated areas to stage their customers’ fresh and perishable orders. Months later, the impacts of the lingering pandemic continue to be felt throughout the cold chain — from food retail to distribution and warehousing strategies. For many grocery supply chain stakeholders, this is an opportunity to deploy innovative technologies that they had only thought about implementing previously.

Explore new distribution warehouse strategies

The grocery industry had been experiencing growth in distribution warehouse infrastructures well before the pandemic; with increased e-commerce fulfillment requirements, we expect this trend to accelerate. As part of their efforts to support click-and-collect fulfillment, many retailers are experimenting with various store formats, including dark stores, micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs) and automated warehouses.

In many cases, existing store layouts are not ideally or efficiently designed to handle large amounts of online orders, and having employees on the sales floor picking to fulfill orders can disrupt the in-store shopper experience. To alleviate these emerging pressures, we may see more MFCs and dark stores dedicated exclusively to the fulfillment of online orders.

Implement food safety and environmental controls

As retailers integrate more of these types of fulfillment facilities to improve efficiencies in their picking and order consolidation processes, ensuring food safety will become increasingly important. There’s no question that the pandemic has created renewed focus on grocers’ efforts to protect the health and safety of employees, customers and of course, food. As part of this focus, grocers are evaluating various tools and technologies to help them monitor and control equipment and systems so that their employees can concentrate on providing positive customer experiences.

This will likely translate into a greater demand for critical control systems that help grocers achieve food safety-related objectives, including:

  • Identifying key refrigeration and facility performance issues
  • Implementing periodic air changes (refreshes)
  • Keeping food safe and sanitary

The abilities to perform remote monitoring, troubleshooting and problem resolution — including predictive failure and maintenance analysis — are becoming essential resources for retailers hoping to schedule service intervals and minimize disruption to in-store shoppers. Grocers can also leverage these tools and technologies to implement a variety of other key store activities, such as: enabling connected, hand-washing stations for increased sanitation; installing remote, wireless sensors for food quality monitoring; or providing enhanced HVAC controls to help maintain indoor air quality.

Consider sustainable refrigerant alternatives

As grocers adapt to the consumer preference for click-and-collect fulfillment, many face the prospect of remodeling their stores to supply this additional refrigeration load. This will give them a prime opportunity to transition toward alternative refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP).

Many retailers have considered beginning this transition for quite some time but were uncertain about when to start the process. From a timing perspective, it may make sense to start aligning new store design upgrades with their future refrigerant and sustainability objectives. And in certain areas of the country — where grocery demand may be returning to pre-pandemic levels — many retailers will be well-positioned to invest in new refrigeration equipment or store upgrades.

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