The year 2005 marks the 75th anniversary of the supermarket. It is being noted with some fanfare from notables such as the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which is made up of supermarket members.

Michael Cullen opened the first supermarket in Long Island, N.Y., and called it King Cullen. FMI noted the role of refrigeration in tracing the supermarket industry's various achievements and advances since then.

Supermarkets were designed to lower food costs through volume sales, provide more variety, and allow for one-stop shopping. All that required technologies in refrigeration.

Changing technologies always had a cost consideration. According to statistics published by FMI, refrigeration cases in 1930 cost as much as $1,200 for an 8-foot case and $700 for a 4-foot case. Remember, that's 1930 dollars.

In 1934, American Radiator Corp. started to make a less-costly, low-temperature case that it then leased out for $7.50 a month. Frozen food became more viable for retailers.

The case concept got more sophisticated with the first commercially successful multideck refrigerated case, which was introduced by Hussmann in 1960.

In 1955, industry observers noted that domestic refrigerator sales had increased by 82 percent since 1946. Also in 1955, Schewgemann Brothers opened the world's largest supermarket: a 224,000-square-foot store with 40 checkout lanes and parking for 1,600 cars. (And you thought those mega-stores were a recent development.)

The Refrigerant Issue

Now we get to the most momentous year in the lives of every service technician, especially those who work on supermarket refrigeration. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed, its goal being to reduce CFC emissions and thus protect the ozone layer. Of course, some of the industry's refrigerants would be affected and eventually phased out.

Five years later, the Hannaford Supermarket chain in the Northeast United States made major news by installing mechanical refrigeration equipment that runs on refrigerants other than CFCs.

The supermarket industry actually went in several directions while moving away from CFCs. There were experiments with HCFCs for refrigeration, as well as the first use of HFCs, with R-134a being the first to be tried. There were also a variety of methods of compressor cooling (such as compound and demand cooling), and changes in valves, filter-driers, oils, etc. The Hannaford store alone had a variety of alternative cooling methods; in some cases, engineers could switch back and forth as they tried to gauge what worked best.

In the 13 years since Hannaford came online, the supermarket sector has continued to try new refrigerants (R-404A, -507, and -422A, to name a few) and technologies, such as secondary loop and distributed.

We in the refrigeration sector join in acknowledging the 75th anniversary of the first supermarket - and thank that sector for being willing to try a lot of different ways to create cooling and freezing.

Sidebar: Did You Know

Precooked frozen meals were introduced by Birds Eye Foods in 1939. Frozen "TV" dinners were debuted in 1954 by Swanson and Sons, the same year RCA marketed the first color television.

The first Wal-Mart opened in Fayetteville, Ark., in 1962. Today that major chain has an extremely high profile in supermarkets. (See the story "Efficiency Innovations Define Super Green Supermarket" in this issue.)

Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or peterpowell@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 09/05/2005