Dear Umbra,

Every time I go to the grocery store and see meats, dairy products, and other products displayed in open-air refrigerators, I get a little miffed and wonder if this isn’t a huge waste of energy and a tremendous cost to the supermarket as well. Do supermarkets make more money having their products in open-air rather than closed-door displays?

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Dearest Delos,

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If you’ve ever made an impulse purchase, you can answer that question for yourself with a resounding “yes.” And the friendly co-operative grocery store designer with whom I spoke will confirm it. Anything that stands between customers and products also stands between stores and profits. Grocery stores operate on small profit margins — around 4 percent — so sales volume is the key to making money. That means they need you to look, grab, and go. No thinking, please.

The milky way.
Photo: USDA.

Hunting about on your behalf, I did learn about energy-conserving refrigeration equipment as well as some efficiency tips for grocers looking to keep energy costs down. Some of these are common sense, such as covering the open cases when the store is closed, loading cold goods into cold shelves ASAP, so as not to expend energy re-cooling them, and organizing the cold goods per manufacturers’ specifications, to maximize efficiency and minimize cooling needs. Controlling humidity within the store makes a difference as well. If the store air is less humid, the refrigerator compressors won’t need to dehumidify the air as well as cool it.

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Given the low profit margins, cost reductions are vital — so if you’re miffed about wasted energy, approach your favorite grocer and offer to help look into money-saving conservation options. They may think you’re a meddling fool, or they may recognize a great opportunity to save money.