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Five Food Retail Trends Shaping the Store of the Future

Katrina Krites | Director of Strategic Marketing, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

From convenience stores (C-stores) to small-format grocers to large supermarkets, the food retail landscape has shifted significantly in recent years. To survive, store owners and their service technicians have been forced to quickly adapt and implement new operational strategies. In a recent article that appeared in Chain Store Age, I explored five of the leading trends that food retailers will need to be aware of when navigating the road ahead and planning the store of the future. You can also view our formatted article here.

The pandemic created a seismic shift in consumer buying habits, driving many customers toward online, click-and-collect and home delivery for the first time. Although this shift was born out of caution, many consumers have grown to appreciate the lasting convenience of these digital business models. To meet the continuous demand, retailers have had to shore up their e-fulfillment capabilities — without compromising food quality and safety.

Implementing more sustainable operations has also become a higher priority, as environmental regulations call for the phasedown of high-global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants and improved energy efficiencies. As a result, retailers are closely weighing the impacts of their refrigerant choices, energy consumption and leak detection capabilities.

To adapt to these new market requirements and prepare for a future that will present unexpected challenges, retailers are seeking tools that help them to monitor and manage their operations — in individual stores and across their fleet networks. Modern building management systems (BMS) and supervisory control software are providing the technological foundation on which retailers can meet their myriad operational objectives and scale with future business changes.

With these key factors in mind, let’s look at the five trends shaping the food retail store of the future.

1. Focus on in-store customer experiences.
Creating comfortable, inviting and safe shopping experiences for customers will continue to be a differentiator for food retailers. A BMS is ideal for its ability to continually optimize in-store shopping environments for maximum consumer engagement and occupant well-being, such as preventing excessively cold temperatures in frozen food aisles or poor ventilation in food preparation areas.

A BMS can help store owners/operators to control store ambiance and energy consumption by automatically brightening or dimming shopping aisles, workspaces, shopping zones or curbside pickup stations. Make sure your BMS has advanced and easy-to-use scheduling features to help you optimize lighting.

2. Meet sustainability initiatives.
Meeting a wide range of rigorous sustainability targets requires an understanding of the total equivalent warming impact (TEWI) of HVACR and lighting systems. In refrigeration systems, TEWI accounts for the direct impacts of refrigerant leaks as well as the indirect impacts of a system’s energy consumption. Look for a BMS that will help you to achieve those goals by supporting advanced energy optimization and sustainability best practices, including variable frequency drive (VFD) management, suction group algorithms and effective leak detection programs.

3. Connect to data-driven insights.
Modern food retailers have an opportunity to leverage operational data gathered from connected devices, systems and technologies — also known as the internet of things (IoT) — for an abundance of real-time and historic insights into optimal store performance. A BMS can consolidate all systems, equipment and connected devices while enabling remote, web-based access to allow off-site technicians and staff to remotely monitor systems, troubleshoot and resolve issues. Look for a BMS that supports seamless connectivity with enterprise management software to extend your visibility and insights across a network of stores.

4. Preserve food safety and reduce waste.
The ability to maintain precise temperatures in refrigerated or frozen cases is imperative for maximizing freshness while minimizing food waste (shrink). A BMS controller should allow store operators to view their refrigeration assets from one place and continually monitor performance, temperatures and defrost schedules. By triggering alarms at the first detection of “out-of-tolerance” conditions, a BMS can enable operators and technicians to take the necessary actions to preserve food quality and prevent waste. Combined with enterprise management software, case-level data can be leveraged to generate a variety of food-related reports to validate temperature precision and support hazard and critical control points (HACCP) compliance standards.

5. Streamline energy management and optimization.
To meet sustainability objectives and address rising electricity costs, retailers will need new energy management and optimization tools. Traditional grocery store building envelopes will continue to evolve toward smaller store formats, and the introduction of e-fulfillment business models will also impact store energy profiles. For many operators, lowering energy consumption and/or qualifying for rebates and incentives will require energy retrofits, demand management and load-shedding arrangements with participating utilities. Because participation in these programs requires coordination and clear communications between facilities and utilities, operators will need connected infrastructures and BMS controllers to take advantage of these opportunities and fine-tune energy consumption within their building envelopes.

At Emerson, we are designing powerful BMS solutions that are built to scale with the lifecycles of modern food retail operations. The Lumity™ E3 supervisory control and its robust software provide the tools retailers need to optimize their critical systems today and adapt to meet their changing business models in the future.

 

Long-awaited R-290 Charge Increase Opens New Refrigeration Opportunities

Katrina Krites | Director of Strategic Marketing, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

For many years, the use of flammable refrigerants — such as A3 hydrocarbon R-290 (or propane) — has been a keen area of collective focus among the regulatory bodies governing refrigerant safety standards in commercial refrigeration. Offering excellent energy efficiencies and very low global warming potential (GWP), this natural refrigerant has long been approved for use in applications with a maximum charge limit of 150 grams. Recently, the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) has approved the second edition of its UL 60335-2-89 standard, which includes higher R-290 charge limits that would expand its potential uses in commercial refrigeration.

To date, R-290’s 150-gram charge limit has hindered its wider adoption, narrowing its use to self-contained refrigeration cases or requiring the use of multiple condensing units to achieve higher capacities. The updated UL standard raises the charge limits on these commercial stand-alone displays based on whether they have an open or closed design:

  • 500-gram maximum charge limit in open appliances (without doors)
  • 300-gram maximum charge limit in closed appliances (with doors or drawers)

The 500-gram charge in open appliances raises the limit to 13 times the lower flammability limit (LFL) of R-290, while the 300-gram charge limit in closed appliances is eight times that of R-290’s LFL.

From an application design perspective, these higher charge limits will help original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to increase system capacities while capitalizing on R-290’s high efficiency and low-GWP rating (GWP=3). For contractors, consultants and end-users seeking to meet sustainability objectives or comply with refrigerant regulations, self-contained R-290 cases have become integral to their overall refrigeration strategies.

The first step toward wider adoption

The approved update to the UL 60335-2-89 standard is a key first step in the path toward wider R-290 adoption in commercial refrigeration. Although OEMs should begin planning their design cycles to enable these charge increases, other regulatory approvals will need to take place before higher-charge R-290 systems can be implemented throughout the U.S. and Canada. Pending approvals by other governing bodies include:

  • Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 15 safety standards for refrigeration systems
  • Model Code updates in the upcoming code revision cycle
  • State and local building code updates

 

For many U.S. industry insiders, the R-290 charge limit increase represents a logical next step in the progression of this natural refrigerant. Even prior to the UL approval, some sustainably-minded operators have worked with their local building code administrators to implement systems with higher charges of R-290. In addition, a 500-gram R-290 charge limit has been in place in Europe since 2019, when the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved the increase under its IEC 60335-2-89 standard for self-contained commercial display cases.

R-290 ready compressors and condensing units

For years, Emerson has been producing compressors and condensing units, designed to deliver additional merchandising space for OEMs that develop self-contained R-290 refrigeration equipment. Our current R-290 compression portfolio includes:

  • Copeland™ fixed speed hermetic reciprocating compressors
  • Copeland variable speed hermetic reciprocating compressors and variable frequency drives (VFDs)
  • Copeland fixed speed scroll compressors
  • Copeland variable speed scroll compressors and variable frequency drives (VFDs)
  • Copeland M-Line condensing units
  • Controllers and system components approved for use with R-290

In addition, we’re currently expanding upon our R-290 qualified products to include the following compressors and condensing units, which will be available in 2022:

  • Copeland horizontal fixed speed scroll compressors
  • Copeland horizontal variable speed scroll compressor
  • Corresponding condensing units utilizing new horizontal scrolls

Our R-290 product portfolio will be updated to accommodate the larger R-290 charges that will be adopted in the future.

Preparing for the future of R-290

After years of speculation, the commercial refrigeration industry in the U.S. can begin planning for the use of systems with larger charges of R-290 — enabling higher-capacity refrigeration while benefiting from R-290’s proven efficiencies and lower-GWP rating. Emerson is prepared to support this transition by developing partnering with OEMs and stakeholders to design in higher R-290 charge limit solutions to achieve regulatory compliance, fulfill their sustainability objectives, and reduce energy consumption.

While there are challenges to the implementation of propane, for environmentally forward-leaning companies, it is an increasingly attractive option. While new clarity in the regulatory environment should help to clear the way for wider R-290 adoption, the implementation of industry-wide safety practices will be necessary for propane to gain full adoption.

Propane is more combustible than some HFCs and there are a number of special-use considerations for using it in refrigeration applications. Some examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Sealed/gas-tight or fire-/explosion-proof electrical components (UL471/EN 60079-15)
  • Spark-free fan motors (brushless)
  • Ventilation and leak sensor safety measures
  • Special charge and leak detection processes during manufacturing

It’s also important to note that while propane has tremendous potential in commercial refrigeration, it is not a “drop-in” refrigerant. Equipment and components must be specifically designed for use with propane, as it requires a different compressor that will not always directly match the capacity or cost of existing HFC models.

Please reference any applicable product and application safety standards for the detailed list of considerations.

Ten Tips for Preventing Refrigerant Leaks in Supermarket Systems

Katrina Krites | Director of Strategic Marketing, Cold Chain

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Refrigerant leaks are a universal challenge for U.S. supermarket operators. These leaks are not only costly from an operational perspective, but emissions of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants also contribute to global warming. Today, commercial refrigeration contractors play a significant role in helping operators to implement best practices to reduce and even prevent refrigerant leaks. I recently contributed to an ACHR The NEWS article where I discussed strategies for leak detection and mitigation best practices for supermarket refrigeration systems.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently reported that numerous U.S. supermarket chains were leaking significant amounts of HFC refrigerants. These findings were consistent with a report by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GreenChill program, which stated that the typical supermarket has an annual leak rate of about 25%, which equates to about 1,000 pounds of leaked refrigerant every year.

Understand root causes

Although refrigerant leaks are much more common in large, centralized systems, it’s not as if contractors or operators simply accept leaks as a design limitation. On the contrary, when a refrigeration system is first installed and commissioned, it operates at peak performance. But over time, systems inevitably drift from their commissioned performance baseline, contractors perform repairs to keep systems running, and the potential for leaks can start to rise if a system is not properly maintained and managed.

For a contractor’s perspective on refrigerant leaks, the NEWS also interviewed Todd Ernest, CEO and founder of Climate Pros, a comprehensive commercial refrigeration and HVAC firm with offices in more than 40 states. Ernest agreed that while leaks are a common problem, nearly half of the stores serviced by Climate Pros do not have refrigerant leaks. One common problem that they discovered is that many stores still use the same copper lines and systems that were installed decades ago. Though durable, copper isn’t intended to last forever — and original insulation and mounting hardware will often eventually wear down.

Similarly, mechanical room cleanliness is also essential for helping contractors to identify leaks. Compressor racks, air-cooled condensers, remote headers, walk-in evaporator coils and other components should be kept free of oil and dirt. Corroded steel components should be removed and/or painted with a rust-inhibiting paint to help prevent future corrosion.

Check for leaks

As I explained in the article, service technicians should conduct refrigerant leak checks at regular intervals, depending on the system size or type. For large, centralized systems, this should usually be approximately every 30–60 days. An effective leak detection program should include three key elements:

  1. Accurate detection methods
  2. Reliable notifications
  3. Continuous monitoring for system leaks

Contractors should recommend the installation of a refrigerant leak monitoring, notification and alarm system to ensure the detection of any leaks between regular leak inspections. Detection devices should also be installed in leak-prone locations, such as refrigeration racks and display cases, to monitor the concentration of refrigerants in the air.

By integrating these devices into Emerson’s Lumity™ supervisory control platform, designated store staff and/or service technicians can be alerted when a leak occurs. This powerful facility management system enables continuous monitoring of refrigeration data to help retailers correlate the leaks with respect to different sections of the system or specific maintenance events.

Ernest added that it’s standard protocol for his technicians to perform a leak check every time they go into a store — regardless of the purpose of the actual service call.

Promptly repair leaks

Today’s leak detection devices make it easier to pinpoint leak sources, but it’s important to remember that in many cases, the first refrigerant leak found in a system may not be the only one — or even the largest.

A quick response is most important after detecting a leak to mitigate its impact upon system performance and minimize the associated economic costs. Supermarkets should establish proper leak detection response protocols and institute proactive measures.

If persistent leaks continue, even at lower leak rates of 20%, supermarkets could lose approximately 700 pounds of R-404A annually. At $7 per pound, that equates to a yearly expense of nearly $5,000 — in addition to any potential costs associated with compliance, environmental consequences and overall deterioration of system performance.

A methodical approach can help to achieve all-important early detection and an overall reduction in refrigerant leaks. The NEWS article concluded with these 10 tips:

  1. Perform a leak check on every service call. Conduct refrigerant leak checks at regular intervals, ideally every 30–60 days for large centralized systems.
  2. Periodically replace copper lines as well as insulation and mounting hardware.
  3. Keep refrigeration racks and mechanical rooms as clean as possible in order to spot leaks more easily.
  4. If one leak is found, it may not be the only one, so check the entire system thoroughly.
  5. Once all leaks have been repaired, confirm that refrigerant levels have stabilized, indicating there are no additional leaks elsewhere in the system.
  6. Install a refrigerant leak monitoring, notification and alarm system to detect leaks between regular leak inspections.
  7. During refrigeration system installation, use proper securing mechanisms for piping and the correct piping techniques.
  8. Perform a nitrogen purge and pressure test with every new installation to ensure no leaks are present.
  9. Establish leak detection response protocols and proactive measures to minimize or eliminate leaks altogether.
  10. Implement a refrigerant tracking system to identify significant leaks.

 

[Webinar Recap] Explore the Next Generation in Supervisory Controls

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail

Emerson’s Commercial and Residential Solutions Business

Building management and refrigeration control platforms have become essential tools of the trade in food retail operations. From providing visibility to key systems, faults, statuses, and alarms to fine-tuning performance with advanced algorithms, building control strategies and network connectivity, these platforms give operators and technicians the information they need to maintain efficient store operation. In a recent webinar, co-hosted with Sam Smith, Emerson’s director of product management for digital solutions, we explored the next-generation capabilities of Emerson’s new Lumity™ E3 supervisory control.

Unified control platform for E3 and site supervisor

Earlier this year, Emerson launched the Lumity brand with the goals of providing our customers with data-driven insights to inform operational decision making while helping them ensure food safety and quality. The E3 is among the first products to be launched under the Lumity umbrella. Built upon the foundation of the Lumity supervisory control software platform, the E3 shares the same software with site supervisor. Thus, end-users only need to learn one software platform. Any enhancements made to the software will be available in all available control devices and accessories.

Familiar form and fit with enhanced functionalities

The E3 was designed to provide a true drop-in hardware replacement of the E2, offering the same familiar form and fit, but with greatly enhanced functionalities. The back of the E3 enclosure is designed to fit into existing panels to eliminate the need for new wiring while reducing installation costs and headaches via:

  • Identical wiring holes, mounting points and vents
  • Fits into existing panel cut-out
  • Total of four COM ports for connected devices with two isolated COM ports
  • Fully backward compatible with MultiFlex and IONet boards

The front of the device features an integrated 10-inch, touch-screen display that provides on-site access to the software interface. Web-enabled capability supports online remote visibility from a web browser or mobile device, delivering the same user-friendly experience, regardless of how it is accessed. Compared to the E2, the E3 processing power is 12 times faster and includes 16 times the built-in memory for faster response time and increased storage capabilities. Several models are available, depending on the type of control needed:

  • Building control (BX)
  • Refrigeration control (RX)
  • Combined building and refrigeration controller (CX)

Whether operators prefer a distributed or centralized control architecture — or some combination of the two — the E3 has the built-in flexibility to communicate to upstream and downstream devices. Data integration protocols include: Rest MQTT and SOAP, which allows the E3 to serve as a gateway of communication throughout the network to deliver insights into every aspect of store operation.

Empowering decisions with insights

The E3 is designed to empower stakeholders of all disciplines and skill levels to take decisive actions through a variety of intuitive features. Store operators can manage day-to-day performance while technicians can take a much deeper dive to optimize system performance, perform detailed analyses, and fine-tune facility controls.

  • Floor Plans: Access 2D/3D views of store floor plans to monitor each device, locate active alarms, and streamline your team’s prioritization and response.
  • Graphical Scheduling: Easily update, set, and duplicate schedules via simple click-and-drag functionality and a graphical interface.
  • Smart Alarms: Review straightforward alarm notifications — not cryptic or confusing codes — to detect, prioritize, troubleshoot, and resolve issues.
  • Performance Meter: Monitor refrigeration asset performance from one dashboard to verify refrigeration fixtures and equipment are performing as expected.
  • Site Aggregator: Bring the entire control network into a consolidated view — includes connectivity to legacy Emerson devices (such as E2 controllers) as well as third-party devices.

To learn how you can leverage the power of the new Lumity E3 supervisory control and software platform in your facility, view this free webinar.

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.

 

 

 

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