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Refrigerated Merchandisers Buying Guide

Whether you're selling ice cream sandwiches, pre-made sandwiches, ice cold bottled drinks, or slices of your fresh baked cakes and pies, chances are that you'll need some sort of refrigerated merchandiser to keep your goods at the proper temperature!

Refrigerated merchandisers and freezer merchandisers share many similar components with other commercial refrigeration products. This guide will show you some of the similarities and differences between types of merchandisers and commercial refrigerators, and also help you select the right type of merchandiser for whatever it is you're trying to sell!

Merchandising Refrigerators and Freezers

Even though a glass door merchandiser and a glass door reach-in refrigerator might be the same size and look very similar, the biggest difference is in what types of food products they are able to hold.

A commercial reach-in refrigerator is able to hold both closed food products (like bottles of sauces, milk, juices, etc.) and open food products (like food pans full of diced tomatoes, trays of prepared salads, a pan of macaroni salad for the buffet, etc.). Because the interiors of these units have the potential to come in contact with food, certain types of material and design criteria must be met for sanitary reasons.

A merchandiser, on the other hand is only able to be used for packaged products. Because these units don't meet the stricter, "food zone" interior requirements that a storage refrigerator does, your health inspector may write you up if you store open food products in a merchandiser.

Merchandising refrigerators and freezers come in a dizzying range of sizes and shapes, from countertop models to large 3 section floor units. Like air curtains, these pieces of equipment are only designed for packaged products. Eye-catching, lighted top sections, bright interior lighting, and exterior color choices are designed to catch customers' attention and help your products look their best.

Convenience Store Merchandisers

Turbo Air TGM-11RV White Single Glass Door Merchandising Refrigerator

look like miniaturized versions of traditional merchandisers--their lower height and smaller footprint help to increase visibility throughout the store, and maximize space usage in C-stores or other locations where space is an issue.

Glass Sided Merchandisers

Turbo Air CRT-77-1R Diamond Show Case 17 inch Glass Door Countertop Display Refrigerator

are often used for baked goods and show off your freshest products from multiple angles. Some even have revolving shelves.

Wine Merchandisers

Eurodib USF168D Single Section Dual Temperature Full Glass Door Wine Refrigerator - 14 Shelves

substitute standard wire shelves for racks that hold wine bottles at just the right angle for optimum visibility.

Purchasing Considerations

  • Both swinging and sliding doors are usually available with merchandising refrigerators and freezers. Sliding doors might be a good choice if your aisles are narrow, but they do not seal as well as swinging doors so they might be less energy-efficient in the long term.
  • LED interior lighting is becoming popular as an option, or even standard equipment on some models. The advantages of LED lighting over traditional fluorescent bulbs include brighter, more even output, less heat output and energy consumption, and much longer service life before requiring replacement.
  • Many merchandisers offer an array of interior upgrades and options, such as special bottle shelves for bottled beverages, pricing strips, and the ability to specify the combination of interior and exterior colors you desire.

Air Curtain Merchandisers

Turbo Air TOM-50LB 50 inch Black Low Profile Horizontal Air Curtain Display Case

An air curtain merchandiser is one of the most popular styles of food display cases in use. Because they allow customers to easily view and select products like bottled beverages, pre-packaged salads or entrees, without having to open a door, you can achieve great increases in traffic and sales while simultaneously reducing your labor costs. Vertical and horizontal styles are available, both of which are available in various sizes and capacities.

Purchasing Considerations

Because air curtain merchandisers keep their contents cool with a screen of air and are mostly open, where you place the merchandiser is crucial to maximize efficiency, as well as maintain satisfactory and food-safe product temperatures. Most manufacturers make the following recommendations as far as placement:

  • Temperature and humidity of the location should not exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 55% relative humidity.
  • Do not place the unit near HVAC vents, fans or doorways that would disrupt the airflow.
  • Do not place the unit in direct sunlight.
  • Keep the merchandiser fully stocked. Air curtains will operate most efficiently when fully loaded with products.

Air curtains, like most merchandisers, can't display open (unpackaged) foods, or raw items.

You should always make sure that the products you are putting into your merchandiser are already cold. Air curtains (and most merchandisers for that matter) are not designed to chill warm product to cold temperatures, they are simply for holding already cold products cold.

A night cover is a good option to conserve energy during off-hours. Many manufacturers offer two types: a roll-down cover that primarily keeps cold air in, and lockable, secure types that prevent theft as well as conserve energy.

Dual Service Merchandisers (Starbucks)

Structural Concepts Harmony HMBC2-QS Black 27 inch Refrigerated Dual Service Merchandiser Case - 120V
Popular in coffee shops and delis, dual service merchandisers combine an air curtain lower section where customers can grab their own bottled drinks or prepackaged items, with an enclosed top section displaying fresh bakery items your staff can serve via sliding rear doors. The top section can be refrigerated or unrefrigerated; some models are "split" and you can have one half refrigerated and the other half unrefrigerated.

  • Most of the same purchasing considerations apply to these as with Air Curtains.

Ice Merchandisers

Ice merchandisers come in both indoor and outdoor models and a range of sizes, and let you easily sell bagged ice.

Polar Temp 850ADG Two Door Auto Defrost Indoor Ice Merchandiser - 85 cu. ft.
Polar Temp 600AD Auto Defrost Outdoor Ice Merchandiser with Slant Front - 60 cu. ft.

Purchasing Considerations

  • Models that use a cold wall refrigeration system use a series of copper wires running through the walls to keep the ice cold. This can cause condensation to occur on the walls of cold wall merchandisers, meaning they will need to be defrosted and cleaned regularly.
  • Auto defrost models utilize a forced air refrigeration system where cold air is pumped into the cabinet with fans. This cuts down the amount of condensation forming inside the cabinet; any condensation that does form is removed by an automatic condensation evaporator system.

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