Kate Labbe shops the frozen food aisle of Hannaford in Cook’s Corner, Brunswick. The freezer cases feature motion-sensor LED lighting that turns off when the aisle is empty. Hannaford has set itself an ambitious goal: To be powered solely by renewable energy by 2024. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

BRUNSWICK — Shoppers aren’t aware, but every night, workers at the new Hannaford Supermarkets store here at Cook’s Corner pull down what look like polyester window shades across the walls of produce cases. Sure, they help keep vegetables from drying out. But their real value is holding in the refrigerated air, which reduces energy costs and saves money.

“Most of our stores have these now,” said George Parmenter, who leads Hannaford’s health and sustainability efforts.

Pulling down shades every night at 184 stores across the Northeast is one strategy designed to move Hannaford toward the company’s newest goal: run its supermarkets on 100 percent renewable electricity by 2024. Other strategies include meat cases that can be closed and motion-sensitive lights in freezer cases.

It’s an aggressive timetable, but it’s just one step in an even more ambitious goal in the climate-change-fight for Hannaford’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize. The global retailer is striving to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across its operations by 2040, and its entire supply chain by 2050. That will require a drastic reduction in burning fossil fuels for uses such as transportation, heating and cooking.

“We understand this is going to be a journey for everyone,” Parmenter said.

Energy is among the top expenses for supermarkets. And because profit margins can be as low as 1 percent, food retailers are always looking for ways to use less electricity and fossil fuels.

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In recent years, the global imperative around slowing climate change has led some corporations to double down on reducing both power consumption and their carbon footprints, according to the Food Marketing Institute. Advances in solar and wind power technologies and government policies that encourage them are making renewable energy a big part of the solution. Nationally, Target has set a goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030; Walmart is shooting for that benchmark by 2035.

These goals don’t mean that each store will have on-site, 24/7 renewable generation. Hannaford has rooftop solar on 10 stores. Its store on Cony Street in Augusta, for instance, has a solar array that provides up to 5 percent of its electricity needs. When it opened in 2009, that store was the first in North America to earn a government-recognized LEED Platinum designation for using half the energy of similar-sized grocery stores.

And while a growing number of retailers do have solar-electric panels on site, the prevailing practice is to sign contracts with companies that produce power elsewhere at larger-scale solar and wind farms.

In Hannaford’s case, that currently involves partnering with more than 30 mid-sized community solar projects in Maine, Massachusetts and New York. These partnerships already provide roughly 30 percent of the chain’s electricity, the equivalent of the energy needed to power 16,000 typical homes.

To get to 100 percent, the next stage will involve contracting with more mid-sized solar farms, but also signing contracts for larger, utility-scale projects.

“Powering Hannaford with 100-percent renewable energy sources will make an immediate, positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mike Vail, Hannaford’s president. “This is an important leap forward in our sustainability journey, and one that we hope sparks others to join. Prioritizing the health of our communities and the planet is a win for us all.”

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Reducing energy demand

To economically get to 100 percent renewable electricity, Hannaford, which is announcing its renewable energy goal Thursday, also has to do what it can to reduce demand as much as possible in all its stores.

A typical supermarket has three big electricity loads, according to the Ratio Institute, a sustainability consultant that works with food retailers, including Hannaford. Refrigeration accounts for 40 to 60 percent; heating, ventilation and air conditioning use 20 to 30 percent; and lighting is 15 to 25 percent.

Strategies to reduce those loads are evident in the Cook’s Corner store, which opened in 2021.

Chad LeVasseur, meat and seafood sales manager at Cook’s Corner Hannaford in Brunswick, stocks a meat cooler that features energy-saving retractable doors. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

In the deli area, many of the meat cases have sliding glass tops. That sounds like a simple fix, but the conventional wisdom in food merchandising for many years has been to have open cases, to reduce any barrier for a shopper selecting a product.

A glass door can cut energy costs by 70 percent, Parmenter noted, which really adds up across thousands of refrigerated display cases in 184 stores. So if someone wants to buy an Easter ham at Cook’s Corner this week, they’ll have to slide open a glass door.

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Across the deli, open cases with packaged, refrigerated foods are still in use. At night, workers will pull down the shades, but Hannaford hasn’t yet decided to put doors on these cases.

“It’s an evolution of what shoppers will accept,” Parmenter said.

Because refrigeration is such a big cost, food retailers have learned how to make the energy go further. At the Augusta and Cook’s Corner stores, heat that is given off as part of the refrigeration process is cycled back to recovery units hidden in back rooms. That otherwise-wasted heat is used to warm the store and water.

Lighting is critical, because retailers want to put their goods in the best light to attract shoppers. Of course, everything in this store is brightly illuminated with efficient LED lights. The frozen food aisles are an exception; they are noticeably darker. But if someone walks down an aisle in search of ice cream or french fries, motion sensors immediately flip on LEDs inside the cases.

Light years ahead

Beyond electricity, Hannaford will need to reduce its use of fossil fuels to hit the future carbon emission targets. It has been experimenting with running trucks on biodiesel, refined from the vegetable oil used in its fryers. Over time, it will need to phase out cooking equipment that uses natural gas or propane, as illustrated by the blue flame visible inside the pizza oven here.

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Hannaford’s initiatives have drawn praise from Peter Cooke, co-founder of the Ratio Institute and a former business sustainability program designer at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. He later created a Grocery Stewardship certification and works with stores nationwide.

“Hannaford is light years ahead of the rest of the industry when it comes to their sustainability efforts – and they’ve been doing so for well over a decade,” Cooke said in a statement. “Hannaford associates continue to rally behind making the company more sustainable and that is an advantage to their current and future success in making the planet healthier and greener.”

The company’s efforts also are being recognized by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

“With Maine already facing the acute effects of climate change, I commend Hannaford for taking action by pledging a move to a 100 percent clean energy system by 2024,” said Pingree, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment. “I hope their pledge inspires other companies to embrace renewable energy and sustainable practices.”

Hannaford’s sustainability actions include being the nation’s first grocery retailer to introduce reusable bags in the mid-1980s. It is expanding electric vehicle charging stations to parking lots and currently has 163 plugs at 31 stores. Last year, it became the first large-scale grocery retailer in its marketplace to achieve zero food waste going to landfills or incinerators, by donating or diverting all food at risk of going to waste.

Hannaford Supermarkets operates stores in Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. It employs nearly 30,000 workers and is based in Scarborough.


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