Wild Fork Foods, a new retail outlet that offers only frozen foods, opened three roughly 5,000-sq-ft stores in South Florida in December, and equipped them each with 40-50 air-cooled propane (R290) frozen-food cases.

The cases – from AHT Cooling Systems USA – include both horizontal chest units throughout the store and vertical reach-ins that are built into the perimeter wall, overhanging the retail space.

Wild Fork thus became one of a small number of food retailers operating its entire sales floor with self-contained R290 cases.

The single-circuit Wild Fork cases all have doors or lids, and defrost themselves (so no drains are needed), noted Drew Tombs, president of AHT Cooling Systems USA. The stores use an R448A split system in the cold room. (AHT will introduce a propane model this year.)

Wild Fork installed the R290 cases to be “more environmental” and because “it was conducive to what we wanted to do,” said Layli Sobhani, head of brand and marketing for the retailer. In particular, the cases “give us the flexibility to build out the stores consistently to fit all of our products.” In addition, she expects the cases to save the stores energy because they all use doors.

Globally, AHT supplies self-contained propane cases in full-store layouts to more than 7,000 stores (many in Europe). In the U.S., AHT has supplied more than 70 stores where more than half of refrigerated load uses propane cases, with the number of stores growing to 100 this year, said Tombs. “We see more [U.S.] retailers accepting of full-store propane.”

“R290 self-contained cases “give us the flexibility to build out the stores consistently to fit all of our products.”

Layli Sobhani, Wild Fork Foods 

Whether a store would use air-cooled or glycol-loop cases depends on a store’s products and layout, said Tombs. “For Wild Fork, it was easier to do a true [air-cooled] self-contained [lineup] with plus and no drains,” said Tombs.

In general, stores with only propane cases tend to be water-cooled on the perimeter, with air-cooled cases in the center store, where they can be flexibly merchandised, Tombs said. Air-cooled units can also be used to add refrigeration capacity to an existing store without expanding the rack.

For glycol-loop units, AHT leverages a dry fluid cooler to move glycol through the system and remove heat from the cases; the system maintains an average glycol temperature of 86°F, with a range of 62°F-113°F based on ambient temp. 

Globally, there are an estimated 1,900+ stores using hydrocarbon glycol-loop systems, including about 1,700+ in Europe and 100 in the U.S., according to sheccoBase.

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