Commercial refrigerated merchandising units – a.k.a. merchandisers – can be found in food-service operations of just about every type. They are designed to openly display prepackaged chilled foods or beverages through a glass door or an open front, so that customers can reach in and take the beverage, cake, sandwich, or snack that they crave without bothering the wait staff or cashier.
Merchandisers Are Everywhere
The ubiquitous merchandiser, sometimes called a refrigerated display case, offers convenience and self-service; in particular, merchandisers are great in casual settings, such as supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, delis and bakeries. They can also be used in higher-end restaurants to display samples of luscious desserts and other cold menu offerings. Merchandisers play into the psychological side of food sales; they increase impulse buying by openly displaying foods with the type of lighting and set-up that makes them hard to resist. Merchandisers come in a wide range of styles and with a large array of features to suit just about every type of food service operation.
Basics of Merchandisers
Every merchandiser comes with its own key features that enhance the presentation of food and drink items. Although most units have glass doors, some styles have open designs that feature an air curtain that blows cold air across the opening, keeping cool air in and warm air out, while offering customers easy access to items without having to open a door. Some refrigerated merchandisers are combined with freezers, so you can display cold and frozen items at the same time.
For the record, it is important to differentiate between glass-door reach-in refrigerators and glass-door merchandisers. The former are meant for food storage – fruits, vegetables, pans of prepared food, etc. – and are usually found in the kitchen, away from the public eye. Because the interiors of commercial reach-ins could come in contact with uncovered food, these units must meet strict “food zone” interior requirements, and they are built with sanitary and hygienic standards in mind.
Merchandisers, on the other hand, have less stringent requirements. They should be used only to keep sealed, packaged food and beverages, and they are usually placed where customers have full access to their contents.
Types of Refrigerated Merchandisers
Refrigerated merchandisers come in many sizes and with a variety of functions, depending on where and how they will be used.
Glass Door Merchandising Refrigerators
Glass-Door Merchandising Refrigerators are great for storing sealed beverage products in convenience stores, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. The type of glass door merchandiser you need will depend on your space and capacity requirements. Although two- and three-door units have much more capacity, they are only a viable option only if you have a big enough space. If space is limited, however, a smaller countertop refrigerated merchandiser might be more appropriate. They are smaller versions of traditional merchandisers but they are built to maximize space.
Refrigerated Display Cases
Refrigerated display cases are usually found in delis and bakeries. They come with rounded sides, for a sleeker, more modern look and greater product visibility; or with straight sides that allow for more capacity. In addition, the straight top of some glass showcases can be used as a service counter.
A sushi merchandiser is made specifically to display the refrigerated ingredients of sushi rolls – fish, vegetables, etc. – along with finished packaged sushi. Sushi chefs stand behind the sushi showcase and use the top of the merchandiser to prepare the sushi. Sushi merchandisers are the ideal way to refrigerate and display your sushi and sushi ingredients at the same time, highlighting the ingredients freshness and color.
Air curtain merchandisers or open-air merchandisers, are a particularly popular style of display case; they allow customers to see and choose products, like beverages, salads, sandwiches, and entrees, without having to open a door. Air-curtain merchandisers are open units that keep their contents cool with a screen of air. To use an air-curtain merchandiser most efficiently, you should ensure that products are already cold when they go into this type of refrigeration unit, as air curtain merchandisers won’t effectively chill room-temperature products.
To suit all types of spaces, open-air merchandisers come in vertical and horizontal constructions. They are typically low in height, making it easy to simply reach in and grab the desired item. Horizontal air-curtain merchandisers are designed for spaces that can hold wide units, while vertical units, which are taller than horizontal models, can be used in narrower spaces and have five or more shelves for extra storage.
Covering an air-curtain merchandiser at night is recommended as it helps to conserve energy and maintain a low temperature when your establishment is closed. Two types of covers are available: a roll-down cover that keeps the cold air in (and the warmer air out); and a lockable cover that does the same thing while also preventing theft.
Refrigerated dual-service merchandisers combine an air-curtain lower section, from which customers can take bottled drinks or prepackaged items, and an enclosed top section that displays fresh bakery items, and which service staff can access via rear sliding doors. The top section may be refrigerated or unrefrigerated, or both, i.e., half refrigerated and the other half unrefrigerated.
Another combination unit is the multi-purpose refrigerator-freezer merchandiser, which holds both chilled and frozen foods. These units are perfect when you are interested in displaying and selling, say, cold beverages and single-serve ice cream products.
Wine merchandisers are similar to standard convenience store merchandisers in terms of functionality and temperature control. However, wine merchandisers use angled racks, instead of straight, parallel shelves, to display wine at an optimal angle, allowing customers to browse and view the wine selection, and ultimately make a purchase. A wine merchandiser is designed to keep wine (generally white wines that are best served chilled) at the ideal temperature in an attractive display case that is aimed at increasing sales.
Advice for Buying a Commercial Refrigerated Merchandiser
The trick to buying a commercial refrigerated merchandiser is ensuring that you’re purchasing one that is right for your business. Even more important than knowing your budget is understanding your space constraints. Refrigerated merchandisers come in three sizes: one-door, two-door, and three-door units. Although knowing the interior capacity – usually measured in cubic feet – is a key element in choosing a merchandiser, even more vital is seeing how many shelves a particular unit has. When determining how many shelves you need, keep in mind that you don’t want to overfill the shelves. Overcrowded shelves can cause a unit’s compressor to work harder than it is meant to, hampering air circulation and keeping merchandise at higher-than-ideal temperatures.
Most merchandisers come with four shelves in each section, and each shelf is usually about 24 inches wide and about 20 inches deep. Many merchandisers can be customized by adding shelves, but again, too much food in too little space does not allow the merchandiser’s compressor to work at full capacity, which means that you will be sacrificing efficiency for space.
Refrigerated merchandisers are available with two types of doors: sliding glass doors and swinging doors. Sliding glass doors are available on two-and three-section units and are useful when space is limited; however, they don’t seal as well as swinging doors, so they are less energy efficient. They also require more maintenance to keep the tracks well lubricated and clean so that they slide smoothly and easily – the way they are supposed to.
Swinging doors on the other hand take up more space – particularly aisle space – but they are easier to maintain. They are constructed to be self-closing, and the mechanism should keep working properly with less attention and maintenance than sliding doors require.
Illuminating Your Merchandise
Interior lighting is an important feature of refrigerated merchandisers, as you want customers to find what they’re looking for and to see well-illuminated and nicely displayed products. In the past conventional fluorescent lighting was used almost exclusively to illuminate products inside refrigerated merchandisers. However, this type of lighting can use as much as 30% of the energy consumed by the unit. Today, LED interior lighting is almost standard equipment on many merchandisers. The advantage of LED lighting over traditional fluorescent lighting is brighter output; more consistent light; less heat output; less energy consumption; and longer life.
A Final Word about Merchandisers
Whether you’re selling packaged ice cream, pre-made sandwiches, cold bottled drinks, or slices of cakes and pies, you and your food service establishment need the right refrigerated merchandiser to keep your goods at the proper temperature and to give customers easy access. Investing in the right merchandiser can help attract customers, increase impulse purchases, and boost your bottom line. Refrigerated merchandisers come in all shapes and sizes, and with an array of features. With a little research, you’ll discover the merchandiser that is right for you.