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Home » Revolutionising retail: technological advances in refrigeration display cabinets

Revolutionising retail: technological advances in refrigeration display cabinets

By Eamonn Ryan

Energy-saving and supermarket refrigeration cabinets go together like hand and glove for reasons of their cost and environment impact.

The refrigeration landscape is changing rapidly, and supermarkets are gradually phasing in CO2 systems while also managing their costs, from installation through to long-term rising energy costs – a stark reality in South Africa.

Open fridges are still ubiquitous among supermarkets, using far more energy to stay cool than alternatives with doors or sliding tops. Momentum is building for supermarkets to either buy closed cabinets when opening new stores and to retrofit existing units to close them – as the savings on energy consumption just by closing doors alone can be up to 55%.

Closed doors on supermarket display cabinets alone can lead to energy savings of up to 55%. Image credit: © Benjamin Brits | Cold Link Africa.
Closed doors on supermarket display cabinets alone can lead to energy savings of up to 55%. Image credit: © Benjamin Brits | Cold Link Africa.
Closed doors on supermarket display cabinets alone can lead to energy savings of up to 55%. Image credit: © Benjamin Brits | Cold Link Africa.
Closed doors on supermarket display cabinets alone can lead to energy savings of up to 55%. Image credit: © Benjamin Brits | Cold Link Africa.

The move towards CO2 and hydrocarbons is based largely on environmental responsibility as required by the Kigali Amendment that requires Montreal Protocol parties to phase down HFC use.

According to Unido, refrigeration will account for up to 60% of total energy costs, while technological advancements and changing consumer behaviour are contributing to lowering the total refrigeration energy costs.

Refrigeration energy consumption is affected by a number of factors:

  • Display cabinet efficiency – there have been considerable advances in the efficiency of the design of display cabinets.
  • Matching cabinet choice to store size – cabinets designed for smaller convenience stores typically require less energy.
  • Poor maintenance – if not appropriately looked after, things will deteriorate and become less efficient.

Improving cabinet efficiency

Water usage in refrigeration is another concern as refrigeration systems are often the biggest users of water in industrial and commercial applications. Many companies in the food and beverage industry make use of evaporative condensing in their refrigeration systems, since they are still the most energy efficient. However, these systems consume massive amounts of water, and in some cases this can be reduced by up to 75%.

Ways to improve cabinet efficiency include:

  • Fit glass doors on vertical upright cabinets or install night blinds
  • Install LED lights
  • Install high performance coils and EC fans
  • Install electronic expansion valves

With all the above installed, cabinets are about 50% more energy efficient than without. There is approximately a 20% greater cabinet capital cost involved. When installed in a new store, the lower energy requirement leads to a smaller refrigeration plant size requirement which will cost less. All in all, retrofitting the above will produce a payback for the extra investment in about two years.

Insulation is a key factor in cold and freezer room efficiency. The introduction of polyurethane

insulation panels has improved thermal efficiency, compared to polystyrene panels that absorb water which reduces their efficiency.

Advanced refrigeration display cabinets are now equipped with cutting-edge technologies that optimise energy consumption without compromising performance. Intelligent control systems, such as Danfoss’ Adaptive Demand Defrost, monitor and adjust cooling needs in real-time, resulting in significant energy savings. These innovations not only benefit retailers’ bottom line but also contribute to a greener and more sustainable future.

Maintaining precise temperature control is crucial for preserving the quality and safety of perishable products. Traditional refrigeration systems often struggle with temperature fluctuations, leading to food spoilage and decreased shelf life. However, modern display cabinets employ advanced electronic controls and variable-speed compressors to deliver precise and stable temperatures throughout the cabinet. By ensuring consistent cooling, these technologies extend the freshness of products and reduce waste, enhancing both customer satisfaction and profitability.

The integration of monitoring and analytics capabilities has revolutionised the way retailers manage their refrigeration systems. Remote monitoring systems, like Danfoss’ Smart Refrigeration Solution, enable real-time tracking of cabinet performance, temperature, and energy consumption. This data is then analysed to identify potential issues, optimise system performance, and proactively address maintenance requirements. By harnessing the power of data analytics, retailers can make informed decisions, improve operational efficiency, and reduce downtime.

As environmental concerns rise, the use of sustainable refrigerants has become paramount in refrigeration technology. Transitioning away from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have high global warming potential, manufacturers are embracing alternatives like hydrocarbons and low-GWP refrigerants. These eco-friendly refrigerants, coupled with innovative components and system designs, significantly reduce the environmental footprint of refrigeration display cabinets. By adopting these solutions, retailers demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and align with global environmental goals.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has unlocked new possibilities for refrigeration display cabinets. IoT-enabled systems connect various components and allow for remote monitoring, control, and diagnostics. Smart connectivity facilitates predictive maintenance, enabling retailers to identify potential issues before they escalate, reducing downtime and optimizing operational efficiency. Additionally, IoT integration enhances inventory management, as real-time data on stock levels and expiration dates can be accessed effortlessly.

The slow evolution of customers in the retail softdrink cabinet market

Lena le Roux, managing director of Staycold International.
Lena le Roux, managing director of Staycold International. Image credit: Staycold

Lena le Roux, managing director of Staycold International feels strongly on the subject of maintenance of beverage coolers, as do most cabinet manufacturers because every time a consumer takes a lukewarm beverage out of a malfunctioning cooling cabinet, it reflects on the manufacturer. “Consumers expect their beverages to be chilled, and a malfunctioning cooler can lead to a disappointing experience. Store owners should strive for continuous maintenance to uphold brand reputation and deliver quality products to their customers consistently,” she says.

Le Roux wishes the term ‘preventative maintenance’ be removed from the technician’s lexicon. She suggests a transition from the traditional concept of preventative maintenance to ‘continuous maintenance’. “Retailers need to understand that maintaining a cooler is not a one-time task but rather a continuous process. By simply cleaning the condenser and ensuring suitable ventilation, retailers can avoid unnecessary malfunctions and extend the lifespan of the asset. User-friendly resources like instructional videos and manuals further facilitate the process.”

Manufacturers in the beverage cooler cabinet market often rely on European and American suppliers for components and technological advancements. She notes that while these suppliers prioritise innovation and technology, the costs associated with new technologies can make them less accessible to average customers, such as small retailers, cafes, or home industry businesses. Although large bottlers and corporate retailers may have access to international funding and can afford advanced technology, the affordability and relevance of such innovations vary among different customer segments.

“Innovation in the cooldrink cabinet market depends on the customer base and the specific sector being served. Manufacturers must accommodate the needs and affordability of their entire customer base instead of focusing solely on a single segment. However, customers also bear a responsibility to ask questions and gain a thorough understanding of these expensive assets along with their maintenance requirements. Education plays a crucial role in ensuring customers realise the value and longevity of their investments.”

Le Roux notes that manufacturers are generally diligent in emphasising the importance of educating customers about the proper installation, servicing, and maintenance of beverage coolers. “By training sales staff and technicians, manufacturers aim to equip them with the necessary knowledge to assist customers effectively. Additionally, manufacturers provide information through their websites and YouTube channels, explaining the installation process, maintenance guidelines, and the advantages of digital controllers. Nonetheless, it is equally important for customers to proactively seek information, ask questions and, most importantly, to actually implement the recommended practices to derive maximum value from their cooldrink cabinets.

Just Refrigeration at Frigair. Image credit: © Benjamin Brits | Cold Link Africa.

Just Refrigeration at Frigair. Image credit: © Benjamin Brits | Cold Link Africa.

 The focus on energy efficiency

One area of innovation in the beverage cooler market is energy efficiency. Advanced controllers such as those offered by Staycold feature a ‘sleep’ or Eco mode, where the unit goes into a low-energy consumption state when the doors remain closed for an extended period. Le Roux notes that retailers often misinterpret this mode as a dysfunction and attempt to reset the unit, causing further issues. Effective communication and education can help customers understand the functionality of these features, enabling them to use their cooldrink cabinets optimally.

Manufacturers therefore need to adopt different approaches when marketing to formal and informal markets. “For the formal market, the focus lies in providing solutions that offer access to real-time data on cooldrink cabinet behaviour and performance in their specific shops. However, challenges still arise in effectively utilising the gathered data and incorporating it into internal processes.

Danfoss at Frigair.
Danfoss at Frigair.

 Neglecting retailer cooldrink displays: A costly oversight

“All too often, there is a blatant disregard for proper maintenance of retail cooldrink displays. These vital assets, often overlooked and underestimated, suffer from a lack of attention simply because users fail to grasp their inner workings. The consequences of this negligence extend far beyond inconvenience; they hit businesses where it hurts the most,” cautions le Roux.

Manufacturers’ frustration stems from the knowledge that they possess the technology and innovation required to optimise these displays. “Yet, despite having access to cutting-edge tools and resources, they remain largely unused on the shop floor. The clash between our potential and the reality of underutilisation creates a significant conflict. On one hand, corporate buyers recognise the value of our solutions and seek them out. On the other hand, those on the shop floor fail to perform the necessary maintenance.

“Smaller businesses, like the corner cafe, would typically opt for basic, entry-level offerings. However, even these simplified cooldrink displays are equipped with essential functionalities. With proper installation, adequate ventilation, and periodic cleaning of the condenser, these units can effortlessly last for two decades without causing a minute of trouble. The question then arises: Can store owners handle these simple maintenance tasks themselves? The answer is yes – for our coolers we provide instructional videos on YouTube and comprehensive manuals that guide them through the process.”

 Big energy cuts at Danish supermarket

A busy Danish supermarket reduced its annual heating bill by 89.7% and its CO₂ footprint by 6.7 tons a year by making use of the waste heat from its refrigeration system. Instead of letting the heat simply dissipate, as most supermarkets still do, a Danfoss Heat Recovery Unit (HRU) now recycles it to heat the store’s 1 900 m2 and provide plenty of hot tap water year-round.

In a modern supermarket with aisles full of refrigerators and freezers, the amount of heat is significant—and enough to heat the entire supermarket and its hot water if it can be properly recycled.

According to Morten Birkebæk, store manager at MENY’s Fredericia supermarket in Denmark, making better use of waste heat was a ‘win-win’. “As a merchant with responsibility for the store’s bottom line, I’m of course interested in cutting unnecessary costs wherever possible,” he explains. “But if we can reduce our carbon footprint at the same time and do it all in a way that is hassle-free for our customers and employees, then count me in.”

Image by aleksandarlittlewolf | on Freepik
Image by aleksandarlittlewolf | on Freepik

The business case for recycling heat from the store’s CO₂ refrigeration system was clear. “The calculations were straightforward,” Birkebæk recalls. “We knew how many kWh we needed to heat the store and provide it with hot water, and we knew what we were paying the district heating company for that energy. Danfoss and the installer, Dansk Varmegenvinding, proposed a turnkey solution that included everything: the hardware, connections, installation, and a service agreement. With their help, we calculated the payback period for the investment, and it was good. My only concern was making sure that the installation and operation of the heat recovery unit would not complicate the lives of my staff.”

After a full year of operations, Birkebæk can now see precisely how much energy, money, and CO₂ the store has saved. During the first year, MENY in Fredericia reduced its energy consumption by 135 MWh in total, with 56 MWh coming directly from the Danfoss Heat Recovery Unit (HRU) and 79 mWh through a year-ong Danfoss EnergyTrimTM contract. What’s more, the store reduced its carbon footprint by 6.7 tons of CO₂, close to that of a car driving around the equator.

The best part, according to store manager Morten Birkebæk, not one of his 55 employees noticed a thing during installation or the first year of operation.

MENY Fredericia

  • Cooling pack: CO₂ system with 165 MT and 25 LT kWh
  • from Knudsen Køling /EPTA
  • HRU installed : DSA HRU 2 HE 85D CO₂ 100 S
  • Store size: 1 900 m2


Various articles on Danfoss website


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