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Store Front: The Chill Factor

Posted: October 22, 2013, 10:00 a.m. EDT

Refrigeration and freezer units increase brand offerings, leave "uncool” stores in the cold and introduce customers to the growing trend toward refrigerated, frozen and raw pet diets.

By Keith Loria

As the retail grocery sector continues to grow, especially in emerging markets, the demand for refrigerated display cases is on the rise, said Ron Castonguay, marketing rep for Dayton, Ohio-based Stewart Pet, a division of MiracleCorp.

"Manufacturers of display cases are responding to this rising arc of opportunity with a variety of innovative and technologically advanced solutions and products,” he said.

Advancements he has seen in recent years include increased energy efficiency units, automatic closing glass doors that provide for easy product display and access, noise control systems, LED lighting, a no-frost feature and units that offer unique merchandising opportunities, such as video.

"Consider size, capacity, configuration, store architecture, color and overall annual costs when adding new refrigerator/freezer units to stores,” Castonguay said. "Additionally, consider the items that will be on display as well as the investment purchase and the overall return on the investment.”

Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Pet Supply

AdreAnne Tesene, owner of Two Bostons, which has three locations in Illinois, believes that units with a glass-front door are better than those with a solid door.

"Many customers won’t open a door they can’t see through, even if there are great graphics on the front,” she said. "Yes, it is a higher investment up front, but the return is definitely worth it.”

Patti Salladay, sales manager for Northwest Naturals in Portland, Ore., agreed that the glass-front freezer unit has become the most marketable due to the visual merchandising benefits.

"The quality and dependability of these units have improved over the years with LED lighting, more efficient compressors and quieter motors,” she said. "The price is a bit higher—$2,500 to $5,000, depending on either a single-door freezer or a double-door freezer—but most raw food manufacturers offer freezer programs to help subsidize the cost.”

Small chest freezers, solid or glass top, range from $150 to $850; the lesser of that price range works well for retailers wanting to start their customers on raw bones and begin to generate an interest in raw diets.

Beth Ann Gallison, sales manager for Manchester, Conn.-based Bravo! Pet Foods, a manufacturer of raw pet food, said more retailers are turning to the manufacturer Minus Forty Technologies in Georgetown, Ontario, Canada, because its graphics are eye catching and its lighting is high quality. 

"Minus Forty, partnering with distributors, has created a big buzz about glass fronts as well, giving retailers a chance to show off the product in the freezer rather than having it hide in a white-front or chest freezer,” she said.

Clean and Fresh
A freezer or refrigeration unit is an appliance—you need to defrost and/or clean it just like an at-home unit.
"I think maintenance tends to get overlooked by the retailers,” said Patti Salladay, sales manager for Northwest Naturals in Portland, Ore. "Vacuum the compressor and behind the freezer monthly. Keep a temperature gage inside the unit to be able to monitor the temperature.”
The last thing you want in your store are odor problems coming from your refrigerator and freezer units, so it’s important to keep them clean and as attractive to customers as possible, she added.
The easiest way to do this is by instituting a regular cleaning schedule, and having all of the store staff participate so no one is stuck with this unpleasant task every time, said Melissa Van Vactor, a regional sales manager for Bravo! Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
Some units now feature built-in deodorizer compartments and odor absorbers and antibacterial coatings that help control food safety. Ron Castonguay, marketing rep for Dayton, Ohio-based Stewart Pet, a division of MiracleCorp, recommends removing any opened or damaged packages, as these can often spoil and cause unwanted smells.
"Do not overstuff the refrigerator or freezer, as this will affect airflow and temperature control,” he said. "Purchasing units with built-in deodorizer compartments (for baking soda), odor absorbers and antibacterial coatings that help control food safety also will help to keep freezers clean and odor free.”
Another recommendation is not to use the front of the freezer like a magnet board, with photos of pets in the area or reminders to do things, Van Vactor said, adding that you want a clean freezer that doesn’t distract or keep customers away from finding the products inside.
"Check the temperatures daily, and check the doors to make sure they are closed every night,” Salladay said. "Alarm systems are available and a very smart investment.”—KL

Location, Location, Location
Any refrigeration or freezer unit in a retail store is a merchandising tool and just as important as the toy or treat wall, or dog food aisle, said Salladay. Product should be displayed well, organized, faced and fronted, giving the customer a clean visual of what is available, she added.

Positioning of units can vary according to store size and layout. Increased equipment capacity, consumer traffic and storage space should be considered for establishments with extended hours of operation.

"Many retailers believe the ideal placement for frozen items is nearest the checkout area, while others prefer placement as a destination at the back of the store, prompting consumers to view additional items on their way through,” Castonguay said. "Highly durable floor, wall and ceiling finishes should be considered.”

Gallison said the closer to the door and register, the better; just make sure you have the proper outlet and wiring available, she added.

"It draws the attention and gets the customer asking questions,” she said. "Any retailers who have added one or moved an existing [freezer] report an increase in sales.”


Small chest freezers should be located near the cash wrap, complete with graphics to generate interest and add-on sales, Salladay said. Meanwhile, she added, larger units should be placed along the perimeter wall but kept visible.

Melissa Van Vactor, a regional sales manager for Bravo!, agreed freezers work best at the front of the store, but advised that they have plenty of signage and lighting. Another option, she said, if a store has multiple units, is creating a natural healthy pet section of multiple freezers together. 

"Filling a wall or dedicating half of a wall in their store to multiple freezers seems to be big here in the Midwest,” Van Vactor said. "Rotating between brands also has become a hot topic of discussion, and it allows retailers the confidence to stock more and more brands of raw and add freezers, which creates a buzz in the store about raw in general. Many of my most successful retailers have created a freezer section with signage that talks about allergies, weight maintenance, etc.”

Education Matters
If a retailer is going to spend the money on freezer units, retailers said it is best to spend the time and energy to make sure each and every one of a store’s team members is trained to educate customers about the benefits of raw and/or frozen foods and to be able to answer all questions customers might throw their way.

"Locating a smaller glass-top or glass-front freezer by the register with raw bones and ice cream in it is a great way to sell or start conversations,” Tesene said. "Many customers are not familiar with raw bones, so it’s a phenomenal opportunity to discuss the huge benefits an appropriate chew can provide. I suggest making sure all team members have fed the product themselves so they can genuinely discuss the ease of serving and how much their pets loved it.”

Informational material should be conveniently placed for consumer education and associates should be trained to answer questions. Retailers also could take advantage of electronic merchandising, such as video, if the freezer is equipped, Tesene added.

Maintenance Issues
Ideally, industry experts said retailers will want regular freezers, which keep raw food at an even temperature to keep ice crystals from forming. However, they need to be defrosted every four to six months. Self-defrosting freezers cycle to keep the freezer defrosted and make products easier to maintain, but they cost a lot more.

Also, make sure there is a quarterly maintenance contract in place for all refrigerated units, Tesene said.

"It’s easy to add this to your HVAC contract, and the [service personnel] can blow it out with a compression unit,” she said. "This will help ensure the freezer will run more efficiently for longer. One of the worst calls to get is when a freezer is down and there is no room in another to absorb the overflow.”

According to the Department of Public Health, without power, a full upright or chest freezer will keep the unit’s contents frozen for about two days, while a half-full freezer will keep food frozen for one day. Food will last longer if you keep the doors shut.



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