The last swallow of a tasty drink is usually followed a few moments later with one last attempt to get the last few drops out of the glass or cup and into the drinker’s mouth.

In some respects, that seems to be what is happening in the supermarket industry when it comes to energy efficiency. The most recent Food Marketing Institute Energy & Technical Services Conference was a good example of that trend.

The supermarket sector has been a forerunner in keeping up with and even keeping ahead of industrywide changes.

The best example of this started about 17 years ago when talk of phasing out CFCs started. Supermarkets were the first buildings to go to HCFCs, even if it meant some fancy compressor reworking that involved such technology as “demand cooling” and “compound cooling.” When the world first talked about moving from HCFCs to HFCs, supermarkets made the first moves to use HFCs 404A and 507.

Refrigerants, however, are a small part of the supermarket mechanical system picture. The store engineers and tech people who sat in on the most recent FMI Energy conference found a wide range of topics.


Many presentations concerned the mechanical equipment itself, including ways of working with airflow and what type of lighting to use in cases that conserve power while still making the products attractive. Shoppers in recent years have certainly noticed one of the most obvious energy-related changes. And that involves having frozen food and refrigerated cases with glass doors that either slide or pull open, rather than the open cases that were common for years.

At this conference, attention to energy reached the point of having an expert talk about the types of roofs that work best in certain areas of the country to keep unwanted heat and cold from coming in — and keeping necessary heating and cooling from going out. Then there was the ever-present talk about how to deal with your public utility to find ways to lower the cost of the power coming into the store. Reduce the cost of power coming in and use less of it, and you have the potential for some significant savings.

And there was some discussion of lithium bromide absorption chillers, ammonia and water heat pumps, micro turbines, and even fuel cells. Any of those products used today would probably have extremely high installation and operation costs, but research continues to try to find ways to lower those costs.

Supermarkets have a bottom-line reason for being on the leading edge of energy-related research. First, they operate on the thinnest of profit margins, in a highly competitive industry. One way to generate more dollars of profit is to increase store sizes, so as to sell more products.

The other way to do it is to reduce operating costs. That, really, is the prime reason store engineers come out each year to the Food Marketing Energy & Technical Services Conference.

Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260; 847-622-7266 (fax); or (e-mail).

Publication date: 11/04/2002