Can going green hurt food sales at your local grocery store? University of Missouri professors Brian Fricke and Bryan Becker are trying to find out by conducting a new research study for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

The study, which will be conducted under the direction of ASHRAE’s Technical Committee TC 10.7, Commercial Food and Beverage Cooling Display and Storage, will involve studying the energy use of two different types of supermarket display cases – glass-door vertical display cases and open vertical display cases. The research is aimed at promoting sustainable, energy-efficient practices in grocery stores, which typically spend up to 50% of total energy costs on refrigeration.

“Walmart has taken real sustainable initiative with having doors on refrigerators, solar panels on the roof, and other forward-thinking programs,” said Fricke. “Because of that, other chains are interested in following along in that direction.”

Two Michigan-based grocery stores, which are part of the same national chain, will be participating in the study. According to the researchers, many supermarkets are reluctant to use glass-door cases since a common perception is that doors reduce shopper impulse buying. As a result, these cases have only had limited success in penetrating the market dominated by open vertical cases. “It’s important that store owners realize that being sustainable doesn’t necessarily have to hurt profitability,” said Becker. “Thus, the goal of our study will be to prove whether or not door cases in fact have a negative impact on product sales vs. open cases.”

Both stores will be installing brand-new refrigerated cases (one of each kind) for the study, which will run for approximately two months. The energy use of each display case will be monitored with HOBO® Energy Logger systems from Onset, a Massachusetts-based supplier of energy monitoring equipment. “We’ll be using the Onset monitoring gear to measure air temperatures, discharge temperatures, air return temperatures, as well as electrical consumption of the lights, fans, and anti-sweat heaters on the cases,” explains Fricke. “Measurements will be taken every minute or so, and we’ll offload the data from both systems on a weekly basis to analyze the energy consumption of both cases.”

Product sales for each display case, as well as total store product sales, will also be tracked with the aid of Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) during the course of the study. For each day, a variety of data will be obtained from the electronic point-of-sales system at each store including the Universal Product Code (UPC) of the product, a description of the product, and the quantity and prices of products sold. The research project is being co-funded by the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Technology Institute (ARTI). The results will allow supermarket designers to make informed decisions as to which type of display cases to use. Electric utilities, in turn, can leverage this information as a basis for developing new incentive programs to accelerate adoption of more sustainable supermarket designs.


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