Grocery retailers are under pressure to re-evaluate their refrigeration equipment and systems, due to environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives and government regulations, either in place now or going into effect soon. Progressive Grocer talked to Lianne Tombol, VP, portfolio solutions at Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussmann, about what the food retailing leader is doing to help retailers overcome these challenges.
Progressive Grocer: Lianne, let’s talk about your background. Tell me about how you came to your role at Hussmann and how you became an expert in commercial refrigeration, among other areas.
Lianne Tombol: I started with Hussmann in 1997, so I’ve been with the company for over 26 years in a variety of capacities. I started out in product management and marketing; then I moved into a sales role in the Canadian region. I was promoted to general sales manager for Hussmann Canada in 2010. In 2018, I was asked by Hussmann to take on a new role and relocate to Georgia to lead our refrigeration systems and Krack product portfolios. I work with the product management and design engineering teams in Suwanee, Ga., as well as in our offices in India and Monterrey, Mexico. It has been an incredible journey, with great talent and customers.
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PG: It has been an incredible journey, especially because you are one of few women leading in this area of the industry.
LT: Yes, there are a few reasons why I’ve taken on some of those leaps. I want to help attract more women to the refrigeration industry — into roles that traditionally they might not be aware of. I took on the role to move to the United States for additional growth and development opportunities. I like to show there are limitless career possibilities in refrigeration – if I can do it, I recommend others to stretch their abilities as well and take the initiative.
PG: How has commercial refrigeration changed over the years, specifically at retail?
LT: From an energy efficiency and sustainability perspective, there are some dramatic changes, not only from a compliance perspective, with new legislation, but also in terms of smarter refrigeration systems and alternative cooling technologies. There’s an emerging need for connected technologies enabling the grocery merchandisers in a retail environment to be able to integrate and communicate with HVAC and refrigeration systems, driving even greater energy efficiency and optimization.
There’s also been a move toward natural refrigerant solutions with a lower global-warming potential (GWP). This has affected the way we design our equipment for our retailers. Many retailers have publicized ESG goals, and with that we are continuously innovating to develop products and solutions to enable them to achieve their goals.
Over the past few years, we have seen a change in the size of grocery formats. Grocery retailers have multiple formats now, without the larger mechanical rooms. We have re-engineered our Protocol solution, which is ideal for smaller formats, and adapted it for new refrigerants. It is ideally suited for those small-format locations that are going to need natural refrigerant technologies. This is just one example of a Hussmann product line undergoing a transformation.
PG: What does Hussmann have new this year to help grocery retailers meet or exceed regulatory requirements?
LT: We continue to partner with our customers to work toward creating a better world. We have been investing significantly in terms of our low-GWP refrigerant portfolio, recently launching our Evolve Technologies, a comprehensive portfolio of sustainable refrigeration solutions. Retailers are looking for Hussmann to have the capacity and solutions available for them to be able to meet their goals and comply with the emerging regulations. We are investing and have expanded production capacity for transcritical carbon dioxide (CO2) rack systems. We are continuing to evolve our propane solutions. We just launched a propane option for the walk-in cooler and freezer boxes. Now retailers can use propane, and their entire store can utilize a natural refrigerant refrigeration solution.
LT: We’ve also done a significant amount of innovating with our propane Monoblock. We are continuing to evolve our models. So far, we have launched seven models. Today, we have a really nice portfolio of propane and CO2 solutions and offer many of our merchandisers with low-GWP refrigerants.
PG: Are U.S. retailers demanding one more than the other, transcritical CO2 versus propane?
LT: That’s an interesting question because as an industry leader, we work together with many retailers, and each one has diverse needs. Some are firmly in the propane arena, and others have adopted transcritical CO2. Hussmann plans to provide the broadest, most comprehensive portfolio of refrigeration solutions to continuously deliver those options to our retailers. It’s not one size fits all, and it really depends on various criteria.
PG: What are you hearing from your retail customers when it comes to the kind of innovation they want from Hussmann?
LT: Creating the ideal shopping experience for the customer is at the core of what we do. We collaborate with our customers and provide transparency in how the system should be designed — ensuring on-site support with startup commissioning. And when it comes to innovation, we make sure our solutions are energy efficient and delivering not only on the compliance and sustainable results needed, but also ensuring that our merchandisers and systems are user-friendly.
Our customers greatly value Hussmann’s partnership in the aftermarket service and support. Serviceability is critical. It’s why we’ve developed integrated solutions like StoreConnect. To help our customers and their technicians better manage their refrigerated equipment so they can avoid costly break-fix emergencies, maximize their energy-efficiency, and reduce harmful refrigerant leaks.
Customers also want parts to be readily available and to have the training and support they need from Hussmann. They want the equipment to be less complex, and we are here to try to simplify it. We are moving to a world of readily available information, with QR codes on our products, so it’s easy for a technician to be able to quickly access the details that they need.
PG: Looking long-term into the future, how do you see Hussmann helping retailers stay competitive?
LT: My team is leading a significant, accelerated journey of innovation right now surrounding our low-GWP refrigeration solutions, especially focusing on our CO2 portfolio. We are making sure that we are ready with a comprehensive offering before our retailers need us.
In the future, grocery retailers are going to need more solutions related to e-commerce, solutions that support dynamic shopping behavior. They will also need connected solutions that allow retailers the ability to see how the system is performing to be more proactive in optimizing the performance of their equipment. In addition, they are going to need our help with leak detection solutions and technician training.
These are just a few things we see in the future of food retailing. As our retailers evaluate the best path forward, we will be in lockstep with them, helping them meet their goals.