Equipment flexibility is needed so that grocers can adapt quickly to customer demands
It is hard to believe that just a few months ago, relatively few people wore masks in public and virtually no one knew what social distancing meant. Almost immediately, both became a way of life, and as an essential business that never closed, food retailers had to rapidly adapt. This often included one-way aisles, plexiglass shields at registers, and enhanced cleaning procedures.
Just as many of these changes will likely be with us for some time, the pandemic may also bring about other modifications at grocery stores and other food retailers, which could affect where and how refrigeration systems are applied.
Change Is Imminent
The pandemic will likely have some impact on grocery store designs, noted Katrina Krites, marketing and business development manager, food retail, cold chain at Emerson. For example, there has been a rise in “contactless” shopping experiences that limit patrons’ need to touch physical items and surfaces within the store.
“As the pandemic drives changes in consumer preferences, we could see that some of these short-term measures may have a permanent effect and inform a shift in in-store design strategy,” she said. “New store builds and remodels will likely feature layouts and case placement ... adhering to as many safeguards as possible. This may also affect the type of refrigeration architectures initially selected to give retailers the utmost in merchandizing flexibility.”
While long-term impacts of this pandemic on the customer are yet to be determined, the movement to online, pickup, and delivery sales that was already in the works has been accelerated, said Tony Welter, grocery practice director and vice president at Henderson Engineers in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Alterations to accommodate social distancing were made quickly in all stores, and employee spaces such as breakrooms, restrooms, and offices may be affected,” he said. “Flexibility may be a key to plan for a certain amount of capacity, but then to be able to scale up or down as necessary. This may include having the ability to add self-contained cases or walk-in variable capacity through busy and slower seasons.”
It certainly feels like the pandemic will change the way people shop and how they procure their food in general, said Glenn Barrett, engineering manager at DC Engineering in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“I expect the trend toward customer use of online shopping, store-to-home delivery, and store pickup to increase as customers learn to use those service in a way that simplifies their life,” he said. “During the pandemic, those services were essential for certain subsets of the general population, and once firmly established as their normal course of buying food, I would expect those patterns to continue and even grow as operators learn to be more effective in providing those services.”
To accommodate these new paradigms, refrigeration systems for new builds and expansions will need to be more flexible, said Barrett. New designs will be needed to support both customers and the in-store personnel preparing orders for delivery or pickup.
“Currently in a standard grocery store, customer-facing display cases are used to sell product almost exclusively,” he said. “These systems must provide refrigeration 24/7, 365 days per year. Operational changes toward delivery and pickup could change some refrigerated walk-ins, in that they would no longer house product 24/7, allowing for some loads to be shut off at night. This would necessitate more focus on designing flexible refrigeration systems that can properly handle fluctuations in refrigeration load and low-load conditions in an energy-efficient manner.”
(Source: achrnews - READ MORE)