Seeing the Big Picture in Supermarkets

Engineers and service technicians often find themselves tightly focused on the mechanical refrigeration and air conditioning equipment they are responsible for. They want to make sure it's well designed and operating as efficiently as possible.

Why is such attention to detail so important?

In the case of supermarket refrigeration, it is to keep consumable products fresh and safe for customers. In the case of store air conditioning, it is to create a comfortable environment for customers to shop and employees to work. But these are just a couple of the issues supermarkets face in attracting and retaining customers who, in the end, pay the salaries of engineers, the wages of service techs, and cover the costs to keep the equipment running.

There is a need to step back and look at the big picture when it comes to the dynamics of the supermarket industry. And that is one reason Michael Sansolo, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), will give the opening address at the 27th Annual FMI Energy and Technical Services Conference, to be held Sept. 10-13 at the Wigwam Resort & Golf Club, Phoenix.

In an interview with The NEWS, Sansolo said his talk will focus on "trends that are impacting the industry and how companies are reacting." He said the message will include surveys FMI has performed to better understand shoppers. This, he said, is especially important in the highly competitive supermarket sector. "How can a store stand out? Dealing with that is a day-to-day struggle," he said.

One way to look at the big picture, he said, is in terms of rising fuel prices. Service technicians may sense the impact at the gas pump. But it is also impacting how far a shopper is willing to drive to purchase groceries.

He said he will also emphasize how every effort in terms of equipment efficiency impacts the bottom lines of supermarkets. He noted three rising costs to supermarkets are fees on credit cards, health care costs, and energy, with the latter the one supermarkets have the most control over, especially when using well-designed and -maintained mechanical equipment.


Beyond responding to what shoppers want, Sansolo said, FMI also works to educate customers in, for example, the balance between the aesthetics of a store and energy efficiency. "The idea," he said, "is to create the best solution possible."

Within a supermarket, he said, it's important that all those involved in a store's operation "work for a common goal. Know what you are going to do, and know how to use the technology available."

One way FMI finds out what works is by learning about and reporting on best practices that have proven successful for one chain of supermarkets that could be adopted by another chain. This is a common approach at FMI Energy & Technical Services conferences, where engineers from different chains talk about modifications or changes they tried in one store and, if successful, adopted for other stores. In turn, those listening to the presentation can take some of those ideas back to their chain's decision makers.

It's an ongoing process, Sansolo said. "Changes in stores are evolutionary."

The upcoming FMI Energy & Technical Services Conference is open to all contractors and service technicians. For more information, contact Aileen Dullaghan Munster at 202-220-0704,, or visit

Publication date: 08/07/2006

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