Foodservice Equipment Reports

Grabbing Sales & Opportunity

A busy surgeon has little time between procedures to eat lunch. She comes down to the cafeteria, but rather than having to stand in a long line, she can grab a sandwich, some cut-up fruit and a cold bottled water all from the merchandiser located right by the cashier. At the same time, a patient’s brother has come down looking for a snack. Unable to decide what to eat, he stands at the case looking at all of the choices before finally choosing a Greek yogurt. In both of these situations, and many others, open-air, refrigerated cases fulfill the exact foodservice need that time-rushed patrons are looking for and simultaneously help ease traffic and decrease overall service times for the café.

Without having to open a door, customers are able to spend as much or as little time as they need deciding what to purchase. And with the wide array of sizes, styles and shelving options available, these merchandisers can be placed in all sorts of different locations and hold a variety of products, making it easy for people to purchase beverages, snacks or entire meals all in one spot. The openness of the case ensures there’s no physical barrier to last-minute impulse buys, as well.

Products you’ll find in grab-and-go merchandisers include fresh-made sandwiches and salads, cut-up fruits and vegetables, pastas and combi trays with proteins, olives, hummus, fruits, vegetables, nuts and cheese, providing new opportunities for you to generate more revenue. Sales rates for products from open-air grab-and-go merchandisers tend to be higher than those of their closed-door counterparts; there’s no barrier between the customer’s view of or reach to the items.

Location, Location, Location
Having a good-looking merchandiser is key, but putting it in the right location is just as important. First, you’ll want to think about convenience for the customer and the potential for increased sales. The standard site near the cash register is still a good spot for impulse sales. But thanks to some new designs, the options for refrigerated- case locations have expanded. Some companies offer models that inset into a wall, catching customers as they walk into the cafeteria and letting them opt out of going through the hot lines right away. These built-in options look elegant and add a lot to your operation’s design. If you’re going the built-in route, remember that these units exhaust hot air, which needs plenty of space to vent and dissipate or the merchandiser can overheat. Make sure they’re serviceable from the front as well.

Other new options are open-air merchandisers that integrate with food stations. These merchandisers slide into the front and under service counters and let customers who are ordering a hot entrée pick up a side salad, dessert or beverage at the same counter.

In addition to thinking about the right place for optimal sales, location also is important in keeping open-air merchandisers running efficiently. Most open-air cases maintain a steady temperature between 38°F and 41°F by circulating a continuous wall of cold air from the front edges of the unit, which forms a temperature barrier between the products inside and the outside atmosphere. However, if you locate these merchandisers near an outside door, moving air from the doorway can disrupt the air curtain and jeopardize the case’s ability to hold its temperature. Also, it’s important to keep the merchandisers about 10 ft. away from any HVAC vents in the ceiling, out of direct sunlight and away from any heated equipment such as panini presses, soup wells and heated cabinets.

Environmental Control
Overall efficiency can be improved not only by being mindful of the location, but also by controlling the environment of the building. Most open-air merchandisers are designed to operate optimally in a setting that’s controlled at 75°F with 55% relative humidity, although some models are even more efficient, keeping a stable temperature when the outside environment is up to an 80°F/60% humidity ratio. This is an area where hospital foodservice operations have an advantage because the environment already is designed to be relatively cool and dry.

Hospitals also are typically very clean environments, which helps keep dust and debris out of the working parts of merchandisers. But it’s important to regularly clean and maintain open-air merchandisers to ensure they run at optimal efficiency. Compressors and condensers need to be wiped down with a brush or cloth about once a month. It’s also recommended to vacuum out the inside, fans, copper tubing and compressor about twice a year.

Designed With Efficiency In Mind  
There’s no denying that open-air cases tend to move more product than merchandisers with doors, but the question is, do those added sales get eaten up in energy costs? Refrigerated merchandisers with doors are still about twice as efficient as open-air cases, but many improvements have made open-air cases more energy efficient than ever before, such as:

Better components. From compressors to fan motors, there are a lot of parts within an open-air merchandiser that each use energy to operate. Some manufacturers have been working with suppliers to get components that use less energy to operate and produce less heat while running, which contributes to improved overall efficiency of the merchandisers.

Standard night curtain. What used to be an extra option is now coming standard on many open-air cases as part of the industry’s dedication to improved energy efficiency. Many of them come with locks now, too, for added security.

Innovative designs. Depending on the manufacturer, you’ll see models with etched or staggered copper tubing replacing the traditional smooth tubes in evaporator and condenser coils. Etched or staggered tubing creates more surface area and allows heat to be transferred more efficiently. You also will see innovations in design, such as replacing a single large fan with several smaller fans along the length of the condenser coil; they use less energy than the single fan and cool a wider expanse. Another innovation applies to condensate. Open-air refrigerated merchandisers tend to generate a lot of ice on the evaporator coil as it cools the refrigerant and, therefore, dump a significant amount of water into the condensate pan during defrost cycles. Most units on the market use an electrically heated pan to evaporate this runoff water. One manufacturer has improved energy efficiency by switching the electric condensate pan with a hot gas pan, which uses the hot gas coming off of the compressor to burn off water from the defrost cycle.

All of this work to make open-air merchandisers more energy efficient not only helps improve operating costs but also promotes requirements set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). While there is no Energy Star program for these types of merchandisers yet, the DOE did put out daily energy-consumption limits for foodservice operators in 2012. The acceptable amount of energy use is 35kW per day, with a little wiggle room. Many manufacturers already were making improvements that met those requirements in 2012, but the DOE plans to lower the acceptable amount of energy you can use every five years, which means there will be new numbers to meet in 2017 and equipment manufacturers continually will need to make energy- efficiency improvements.

While there already have been great strides made in energy efficiency, there is still more to be done. One change that’s coming is the adoption of new types of refrigerants. The use of CO2 and hydrocarbons such as propane, already in use in Europe as a way to improve efficiency, is something we’ll see applied stateside as well.

Light It Up
Another change in openair merchandisers over the past few years has been the switch from traditional fluorescent bulbs to LEDs. LEDs are about 30% more efficient than fluorescent bulbs and produce less heat, helping lighten the work load for the refrigeration system. But keep in mind that the switch to LEDs won’t improve a merchandiser’s energy efficiency by 30%, as the lighting makes up only a small part of overall energy use.

Still, even saving a little on the electrical load is helpful, and there are other benefits to LEDs as well. For one thing, LEDs last longer—up to 10 years—instead of burning out every six months to a year. You will save on replacement costs and maintenance when using equipment with LEDs.

LEDs also are aesthetically more pleasing in a number of ways. LEDs provide more consistent light. A freezer atmosphere is too cold for fluorescent lights to heat up fully and provide the same light output as they would in a warmer case, but LEDs aren’t affected by case temperature and supply a more consistent look. LEDs also can be used directionally to illuminate specific products rather than just flood a cabinet with light.

From new designs to improved energy efficiencies, it’s no surprise that manufacturers are seeing growth in the open-air merchandiser category. As customers ask for more choices, fresh foods and improved convenience, equipment manufacturers are stepping up to create perfect displays in ways that are both economical and appealing.

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