Major upgrade in progress at Red Apple

A project to save energy and better serve the community is well underway at the Red Apple Supermarket with a state-of-the art refrigeration system and new food cases throughout the store.

“Our whole focus is going green and being energy efficient,” owner Mitch Negro said in a Tuesday interview. “The biggest draw in any grocery business is the refrigeration equipment.”

Red Apple owner Mitch Negro stands next to a new frozen meat case that was recently installed at the supermarket in Lovell.
David Peck photo

The project began with an engineering study performed by Associated Foods, Red Apple’s supplier, last June when store engineers came to the Lovell supermarket to begin planning the project, measuring the current cases and assessing the refrigeration system prior to the ordering phase.

Then in October Negro hired Mountain Electric of Lovell to replace every florescent light in the store with new LED bulbs, which has impacted the store’s power usage, he said.

But the best was yet to come. A giant crane towering over the store on Dec. 22 signaled the beginning of a multi-phase project to replace the entire refrigeration system with a new computerized system. The crane placed two new condensers on the roof that will be much more energy efficient.

Negro said the new storewide refrigeration system uses state-of-the-art Hussmann equipment and cases and a new Protocol system to run the new system, what he called “the brains to run it all,” adding, “It’s the latest in refrigeration technology.”

“We used to have all compressors and complicated stuff,” Negro said. “It has been simplified tremendously. It’s a huge advance for simplicity and dependability.”

Negro said he has a friend in the grocery business in Colstrip who went through the same process recently and has been keeping track of Red Apple’s progress.

“He’s so happy for me. He said, ‘You’re just going to love it. You’ll be shocked at the power savings you’re going to get,’” Negro said.

The old store compressors are being decommissioned and replaced by two computerized Protocol systems, one for “low temp” (frozen) storage and another for “medium temp” (refrigerated) food.

“We’re basically replacing everything,” Negro said. “The condensing system on the roof is being decommissioned. They were so inefficient that during the hot summer months we had a water system to sprinkle the condensers to keep them cool. The new condensers will handle any weather extreme.”

As part of the project, Air Controls of Billings is re-piping the entire store with new copper pipes that will run to new cases from the ceiling.

“We have all new refrigeration and freezer cases. We’re replacing every case with the exception of produce, which we did a few years ago,” Negro said. “We’re converting everything to new 407F refrigeration gas. Every line will be overhead.”

Negro said that, when the store was built, the refrigeration lines were installed under the main floor and ran up into the food cases, with a concrete slab poured over the lines. The new system will be much easier to work on, with the lines located in the false ceiling above the cases, he said.

“Refrigeration-wise, it’s like a brand new store,” he said. “It’s the latest (equipment) out there. And it’s high efficiency.”

The changeover

This large crane towered over the Red Apple Supermarket in December while placing new condensers on the roof of the building in Lovell.
Courtesy photo

Negro said Air Controls has done a great job expediting the changeover from old to new as new cases arrive, quickly unloading and removing old cases, installing new cases and replacing the food.

“We are expediting it as fast as we can,” he said, “to minimize (the inconvenience) as much as possible for our customers. We know it really gets frustrating. We’re trying to do it as fast as possible.”

Negro said Red Apple has received great support from Associated Foods, which has sent a crew in with computerized schematics to instruct store personnel on the best placement for products.

He also said he’s “extremely happy” with the work Mountain Electric is doing, noting, “They’re right across the street now (old MDU building), and Shane (Kannard), with all of the big jobs we’ve done so far, from LED lighting to new refrigeration, has been in the store for many, many weeks now.”

The phases

Major work began on Dec. 22 with the arrival of the crane and new condensers, plus new Krack equipment for the walk-in coolers. Two new connected reach-in meat cases arrived on Jan. 24, and on Monday new reach-in food cases arrived for the frozen food aisle and were being installed Monday and Tuesday, with the west side cases removed and replaced with new cases, which were then loaded with food from across the aisle via a re-set crew, after which the east side cases were to be removed and replaced by new cases.

“The nice thing is that we’re gaining space and can offer new products,” Negro said. “We’ll decommission and chop up the old system and while we’re at it we’re cleaning and snaking the drains before hooking together the new cases. By tomorrow (Wednesday) noon we should have all of the stuff back out in those areas.”

Next up is the arrival next week of new meat, dairy and beverage cases, and various other cases, Negro said. Then on March 7 comes new deli and bakery cases, plus a new rotisserie for chicken. The deli will feature a self-serve cake and deli case, plus soup. A portable warmer for rotisserie chicken will be placed in the front of the store near the checkout aisles.

Negro said he is extremely excited about the upgrades at the store.

“I love the fact that we’re improving the community’s store,” he said. “The community means everything to me.”

By David Peck