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Colonie of Concepts

Price Chopper's concept store in Colonie, N.Y., is a treasure trove of eco-friendly innovation and fresh-focused finds.

The original Price Chopper in Colonie, N.Y., was bursting at the seams.

The 46,000-square-foot facility, which opened in the Albany suburb in 1993, was the first Price Chopper to include an expanded kosher offering — primarily deli and meats — but because of limited space, the Schenectady, N.Y.-based regional independent felt it wasn't doing the market justice. It needed a bigger store.

"The store became a regional destination for people who wanted a variety of kosher foods, and we wanted to offer more, so we looked at first the possibility of remodeling, a major renovation or expansion," says Jerel Golub, president and COO of Price Chopper parent The Golub Corp., who toured the store with Progressive Grocer. "Then we realized that due to size and layout constraints, a remodel would be very inefficient."

Indeed, sometimes it's easier to build something from the ground up, according to William Sweet, VP of engineering and construction. "It's also much less disruptive," he says. "As much as the shoppers are interested in seeing what's happening behind the curtain, they're not that happy about it. And for us, especially in today's economic climate, it's cheaper to build a new ground-up than to remodel it. It's cheaper because a lot of times, when you start working on an existing building, there are a lot of what we call ‘unforeseen conditions.' There are things you just can't anticipate until you start taking it apart, and that's where your costs can really ramp up, because then you are subject to the contractor who's on that job, and he's going to want to charge you for that additional work.

"At the same time Price Chopper executives were planning a new store, they were looking into sustainability — to build a store that reflected as much of an environmentally-friendly atmosphere as possible," continues Sweet. "So, it was perfect timing for us. Here's a store that we're going to be building from the ground up, so we wanted to make it as green as possible."

Price Chopper had already been testing a number of sustainable initiatives as one-offs in various stores. With the Colonie store located near the company's headquarters, it was the ideal location to roll all of these concepts together. Having decided that the new facility would be its green-concept store, they found a building that would provide 69,000 square feet of selling space and definitely wouldn't disrupt shoppers, as it was right across the parking lot from the original.

What resulted was a location designed and constructed to meet or exceed U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) standards to minimize impact on the environment and natural resources, which became one of just a handful of stores in the country to earn gold certification under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill program, and which includes all of the expanded offerings the market needed.

"What's really neat about this store is that there is so much that customers don't see, but that impacts them, such as the air quality, the lighting and the environment," says Golub. "It's all back-of-the-house things. At the same time, you'll see a lot of customer-facing things that they will see and enjoy as they come in."

Among these customer-facing features are the store's expanded kosher product selection, which is evident as soon as one enters the store, in the form of a takeout bakery stand. "We start with our kosher offering right from the beginning of the store, with kosher bagels and other bakery items," says Golub. "The production is right here in the store, and it's done under the supervision of the local Vaad."

According to Price Chopper, its full-service kosher bakery is the only one in the area and, together with the kosher meat and deli departments — featuring more than 1,000 caegories — comprises the largest kosher offering in northeast New York between the town of Monsey and Montreal.

Just past the bakery stand, in front of the store's café area is a digital kiosk that provides information about those back-of-the-house green initiatives not readily apparent to shoppers. It was developed in partnership with the New York State Energy Research Development Authority, with which Price Chopper works on every new store construction.

"This is part of the educational process that we are trying to bring to the consumer so that they can better understand what's involved within the store," says Sweet. "We give a lot of tours here as well."

At the kiosk, you just have to look to the right for examples of both the visible and hidden green initiatives among the store's prepared foods and fresh produce items. The store's prepared offerings of Central Market Coffee, Roasters — including various rotisserie items — Bella Roma Italian foods and the deli, are controlled and monitored centrally to ensure an optimal balance of service and energy efficiency.

The prepared foods face the fresh produce department, where some of the green initiatives are more readily apparent, namely, the store's lighting. Six-foot-by-6-foot skylights dot the ceiling throughout the store in an effort to reduce the store's dependence on artificial light.

"We have photo sensors in the skylights that are tied to our lighting control," notes Sweet. "Along with them, we use special light fixtures that have auto-dimming ballasts, so that as the natural light increases through the skylight, the photo sensors direct the lighting control to dim the store's lights to a preset level to as low as 10 percent."

Since the location is open 24 hours, during the evening, when traffic decreases, it has a step-down program in which it purposely dims the lights throughout the store. Every 4-foot section of lighting in the store can be controlled individually.

But since every day isn't bright and sunny, artificial light can never be eliminated. The Colonie store uses extremely efficient lighting systems, however, and uses them smartly. "In the past,we thought we always needed 95 foot-candles everywhere," recounts Sweet. "That's not really the case anymore. What we look at now is how to get focus lighting on the product. We don't worry so much about the ambient light."

The store employs thin-profile light fixtures that use a high-output T5 fluorescent bulb mounted 12 feet above the floor, requiring less wattage to direct light exactly where it's needed — on the product.

"This represents our most recent decor concept," observes Golub. "We want to represent the categories in real terms, both where it comes from and where it's finally consumed. This isn't just about what happens in the store. A lot of it is about what happens outside the store, either before the product gets here or after it gets to your home, and the feeling that you have about the products and how you use the products. So what you'll see is a different collage and a little bit of a different look in each department, but there is some consistency from department to department in terms of how things show up."

Adds Golub: "Most of Price Chopper's fresh produce is sourced from local farmers. While this greatly reduces the grocer's carbon footprint due to less fuel being used in the transport of these items, the primary reason they are sourced is to follow the grocer's mission to support the communities that are served by Price Chopper stores."

"We really want to take care of the communities we serve," says Sweet. "Do you have kids who need jobs? We love to hire locally. Do you have farmers who produce product? We love to buy locally. You have community events that you need us to support? We want to be there for you."

Produce waste is run through a bio-hydrator that reduces it mostly to gray water — which isn't drinkable but is useable for other areas of the store, such as the janitor's closet or on-site irrigation.

"This reduces our need to use municipally provided potable water," says Sweet. "Plus, without the water, the volume of organic waste is reduced, and as a result, so is the use of landfills and the fuel for transporting that waste."

Behind the produce department, at the back of the store, are the meat and seafood sections, which occupy most of the rear wall, since the kosher offerings must be displayed in separate cases.

"We added a kosher seafood section, an expanded kosher deli and kosher meats," says Golub. "Fish was never in the old store, and meat was not as extensive. It has a special process, the way it's handled and prepared. The kosher bakery is also the bakery for the store; all of the processes and equipment for kosher and non-kosher items are separated, and we have a special arrangement that allows us to operate the department on days prohibited for Jews to work."

Warming up to Frozen

The Colonie store is Price Chopper's first to eliminate open dairy and frozen cases, instead using reach-in door cases with LED lighting, which not only save on energy and costs, but also better highlight the products. "One thing we've noticed with the advent of LED is that suppliers have adapted the colors of their product packaging to take advantage of this light, and so the products pop more as you walk down the aisle," says Sweet.

And while the bulb life of LEDs can be up to five times that of traditional fluorescent bulbs, the store extends this by keeping them lit only when a shopper is nearby, via motion sensors placed along the cases.

In addition to the motion sensor-driven LEDs, the frozen and refrigerated cases feature other green systems as well. "We're using a glycol system on the secondary side, moving away from the old style of refrigerant," points out Sweet. "Refrigerant loss is a given in the grocery industry. A typical grocery store will lose 1,000 pounds of refrigerant a year. That's comparable to 27 Chevy Suburbans driving 40,000 miles a year. By virtue of going to glycol, there is no greenhouse gas impact."

Health: Front and Center

Standing as a store-within-a-store toward the front of the grocery department, the pharmacy represents a healthy planet as well as healthy shoppers: its thick and spongy carpet is made from recycled tires and designed to prevent fatigue. Three separate windows service shoppers dropping off prescriptions, picking them up and consulting with a pharmacist.

"We just wanted it to be accessible, convenient, and, of course, you have HIPPA standards to maintain," says Golub. "We think of it in terms of a sick child and mom. How easy can we make it for them to get in and out?"

Shoppers picking up a prescription for a sick relative can stop by the store's floral department and pick up flowers to help cheer them up. Much larger than in Price Chopper's previous store designs, the new floral department has enjoyed the kind of success that has set the standard future stores' sections.

Nadine Walsh, the store's manager, attributes this success to the department's two floral designers. "I have a nice balance with the two associates," she says. "One is as creative as the other is meticulous, and it's just such a nice balance. Designers are key to a successful department."

Despite all of the Earth-friendly features of the Colonie store, however, it's by no means the final stop in Price Chopper's sustainability efforts, which will continue to evolve as new solutions develop.

"We always try to be on the leading edge of sustainability, making sure that we're using the latest and greatest," says Sweet. "If there's a return on that investment that helps us justify it, we'll certainly consider it. It's all part of an evaluation process."


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