It all begins at the farm. Quality dairy products come from happy, healthy animals and plant-based products whose milk has been safely processed to ensure a flavorful, fresh consumer experience. However, we can’t put all the responsibility on the farm or the processor. To keep shoppers coming back week after week for fresh, flavorful dairy products, follow these display case best practices.
Temperature – From the moment a dairy product hits the grocery store dock, it is critical to keep the product cold. As soon as dairy products are removed from the walk-in cooler they should be put into a refrigerated display case that is 40 degrees or lower. Monitoring display case temperatures is vital for maintaining product quality and safety.
Load Lines – Don’t exceed load lines! Imagine an employee just placed the last quart of milk that will fit on a shelf, but there are three more in the box and they don’t want to walk all the way back to the walk-in cooler. Maybe they decide to place those three quarts on the return air grill; someone should come by shortly and buy it, right?
This line of thinking is detrimental to maintaining quality and freshness of refrigerated foods. The load line indicates the area within the display case where it is safe to merchandise. Placing merchandise outside the load line can disrupt the air curtain that keeps products at the desired temperature. By placing items on the return air grill, cold air is now being dumped outside the case. The case consumes more energy to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees or lower. Furthermore, this compromises the quality of the products in the case. Small merchandising issues can make the difference between a loyal shopper and one who thinks twice about buying from your store.
Cold air must also be allowed to spread evenly throughout a display case. To assist with this, a 1-inch gap should remain between the top of a product to the bottom of the shelf above it. This allows for products to be both easily removed from the display and for proper airflow to cascade over the top of the products. In a typical dairy case, cold air is blown from the rear wall and top front of the display case. What happens to the cold air blown into the case? It falls. For the cold air in a display case to adequately reach the products in the front, it needs to flow across the top of the products and down. The space between shelves allows for proper air circulation. Keep in mind that product pushers and inserts may be great for maintaining organization, but if there isn’t a solid surface under each row of pushers, cold air will still fall to the back of the display case.
First in, first out – FIFO isn’t just for accountants. As for merchandising, always obey the first-in, first-out rule. Expiration dates mean something, and shoppers should be getting the freshest products in their shopping carts. Always merchandise so that the product being added to a display case is added to the back.
Lighting – Flavor is one of the most important characteristics that influences repeated dairy purchase behavior. Everyone has tasted milk with an inexplicable “off” flavor, but an expiration date that was still good. According to a recent study sponsored by Virginia Tech’s Dairy Research Institute, Chemours Packaging and Hillphoenix, milk flavor – and thus consumer perception of quality — can diminish with as little as four hours of light exposure. Different types of light affect the oxidation reaction and nutrient deterioration in milk in different ways. The study sought to identify the best types of light and protective packaging to preserve milk flavor. The results tell us it pays to choose the proper color temperature for LED shelf lights. The right LED color temperature can initiate less oxidation than common fluorescent lights. Another option is to illuminate the dairy case solely with external lighting. The right levels of LED light intensity together with light-blocking packaging can keep milk on the shelf at its highest quality for longer.