Grocery Store Go Green, Save Green

By Jason Sethre

Posted in All Features; Fillmore County Journal Volume 28, Issue 18

On January 15, 2013, a crowd gathered back by the frozen foods section of the Rushford Foods grocery store. Representatives from Congressman Tim Walz’ office, Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office, and Senator Al Franken’s office, mingled with Mayor Chris Hallum, City Administrator Steve Sarvi, and Tri-County Electric Cooperative management. In addition, representatives, Adam Czech and Colleen Landkamer, from the USDA Rural Development office were in attendance to make an award presentation. This wasn’t a typical day in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Hosting the crowd were grocery store owners Jim Hoiness and Brad Hoiness, along with Rushford Foods Frozen/Dairy Department Manager Sonia McNally.

Since the 2007 flood that devastated the Rushford community, every business has gone through a process of recovery and rebuilding.

One of the staples of any community is a grocery store. If you have one in your town, you’re lucky. Thus, when Rushford Foods was closed in 2007 as a result of floodwaters rising as high as four feet wall-to-wall in the store, the community was left with a void. Fortunately, Rushford’s hometown grocery store was eventually able to re-open their doors 74 days later.

Small town grocery stores seem to be a rarity these days. Since 2008, in Fillmore County grocery stores have closed in Lanesboro, Mabel and Wykoff. That’s why reinvestment in any small town grocery stores should be recognized as a big deal. It’s not just an investment in a store, but a community.

Since the days of the 2007 flood, Rushford Foods, Harmony Foods and Preston Foods have all seen investments inside and out.

Most notably in the past six months, all three stores owned by Jim Hoiness and his son Brad Hoiness, have gone through an upgrade process that will save money and be kinder to the environment.

For small town grocery stores to survive and thrive, they need to look at all expenses involved in streamlining the operations. While the payroll of 106 employees working at Harmony Foods, Preston Foods and Rushford Foods is the number one expense of the three grocery stores, electricity is second right behind payroll.

So, any energy expenses that can be minimized will help keep the stores operating more efficiently, short and long-term.

Searching for ways to save on energy costs, the Hoiness’ called upon Brad Pecinovsky, Director or Member Services for Tri-County Electric Cooperative, to assess possible Kilowatt hour saving at each store with an upgrade in refrigeration doors. Pecinovsky’s assessment showed estimate of annual savings at each story, respectively. Rushford 39,558 kWh, Harmony 5,367 kWh, and Preston 40,757 kWh.

As Brad Hoiness was evaluating products that could help the stores save on energy costs, a fellow IGA retailer who had installed doors to save on his electric bill lead Brad to REMIS America. Paul Kelly, a representative from REMIS America, was also present at  January 15, 2013, recognition ceremony in the frozen foods section of the Rushford Foods grocery store, and he was happy to share that many grocery store owners have indicated that the REMIS America retro-fit refrigeration doors “keep the store warmer and the food colder.” Complimenting REMIS America for their help with installation of the retro-fit doors in their stores, Brad Hoiness indicated that the same refrigeration doors installed in Harmony Foods, Preston Foods and Rushford Foods, Preston Foods and Rushford Foods are widely used all throughout Europe.

Directing his comments to Jim Hoiness and Brad Hoiness, Rushford City Administrator Steve Sarvi said, “We applaud your efforts.” While increase electricity usage is good for revenues for TEC and the City of Rushford, Sarvi indicated that savings like this are a good thing.

Jim Hoiness shared with the attending group that “We’re losing stores in the area pretty fast and creating efficiencies like this help to reduce the utility expenses of grocery stores.” Hoiness’ have already estimated they will see a 9.5 percent monthly reduction in electric usage.

In a speech to the group, Jim Hoiness summarized all the positives relating to this transition: 1) fresher products, 2) reduced energy costs, 3) compressors are running less, which extends their life, and 4) the food stays colder while the customers stay warmer.

Along with installing the REMIS America door system, all cases were upgraded with Zero Zone Crystal Doors and T-8 lights were converted to LED lighting. Lastly, the existing open dairy cases were replaced with the produce cases.

Brad Hoiness added that the energy savings are significant with the cost of operating an open case running around $4,000 per year, and the cost of operating a closed case at around $900 per year. In an illustration handed out to the crowd by Brad, based on 2010 U.S. Energy Administration information the average home uses 958 Kilowatt hours of energy per month. So, with Rushford Foods seeing a three month reduction of 17,280 Kilowatts hours, the three month reduction would power 18 average sized homes for one month.

As the presentation was coming to a close, Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development State Director, complimented the Hoiness’ for making this investment, saying “These are great things that are happening, but it takes leadership. “Rush Foods, Inc., owned by the Hoiness family, used an $8,827 Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant to help purchase and install doors on its freezers and coolers at its Harmony, Preston and Rushford locations. The REAP grants may cover up to 25 percent of a project’s cost, and the remainder of the cost was covered by Rush Foods, Inc.