Two different approaches to lighting grocery stores

A major marketing repositioning involving store design, from layout to lighting, is gaining momentum within the nation's retail supermarket industry. Reacting to changing demographics and consumer patterns, some chains are mounting differentiation strategies that give design a prime role in attracting shoppers and increasing sales.

With an annual estimated combined income of nearly one-half trillion dollars, the retail food industry is one of the leading contributors to the US Gross Domestic Product. Twenty-five companies account for over one-half of the entire food industry's yearly gross revenues in a tally prepared by the Food Marketing Institute. The Kroger Co. is the country's largest supermarket firm, operating 3,127 stores that accounted for $49.1 billion in sales in 2000. Albertson's Inc. is the second largest with 2,514 stores and sales of $37.1 billion, followed by Safeway, Inc. at $32 billion generated by 1,689 stores. Wal-Mart's Supercenters are listed as number six with 953 stores that contributed $17.2 billion, while the $10.4 billion total from Sam's Club stores earned them a number-11 slot.

Robert Gorski of Robert M. Gorski Associates Inc., Chanhassen, MN, is an experienced food market lighting designer and keen observer of trends in the supermarket industry. “Polarization is occurring today, with full-service at one end and discounters at the other,” he says. “Where the most activity is happening is in three areas: the discount format of operations like the Wal-Mart Supercenters; food presentation-type stores like Lund's, that emphasize their food service aspect as an alternative to cooking at home or dining at a restaurant; and the stores that emphasize healthy eating, like the Whole Foods chain.” Mass market purveyors, some of which are experimenting with introducing elements of the three formats, continue to maintain their conventional mid-market stance, according to Gorski.

He cites a recent study revealing that 40% of US shoppers prefer full-service food stores, versus 60% who favor the discounters. “But that ratio will change with an aging population and more baby boomers who do not want to deal with the size demands of a 150,000-sq.-ft. (13,500 sq. m) store nor have the desire to cook,” Gorski believes. “They'd rather be catered to, and have confidence that the products they are purchasing are of exceptional quality,” he adds.

Supermarket operators who are adopting a new visual presence in their trading area tend to favor two main interior design formats. Gorski describes one approach as based on theatrical techniques and graphic arts presentations to create excitement. It is represented here by Sentry Foods-Hilldale, of Madison, WI. On the other hand, Lunds, of Plymouth, MN, is an example of the style that Gorski characterizes by an architectural and lighting approach to interior design where “food is the show,” he notes. “Lighting separates the two approaches,” he says.

Theatrical techniques

Sentry Foods, an anchor store in a shopping mall, was expanded 18%, from 46,000 sq. ft. (4,140 sq. m) to 54,000 sq. ft. (4,860 sq. m). Affiliate owner Tim Metcalf redirected the store's emphasis to prepared foods, locating them at the front of the store. Playing a major role in the remerchandising was the lighting, designed by Martin Peck, LC, IALD, IESNA, principal of Creative Lighting Design & Engineering, Germantown, WI. Interior designer for the project is the Marco Design Group, Northville, MI, and the architect is Strang Associates of Madison.

Produce, deli, and bakery are now to the left of the main entrance. America's Market, with hot prepared foods, was shifted to the right, a higher incentive placement as studies have shown that shoppers tend to turn to their right after entering a store. Meats, seafood, and a wine cellar are close by to make it easy for customers to organize meals on the spot.

The seafood department emulates an underwater environment. Polished metal fish sculptures up to 6' long inhabit the ceiling where lights play along watery blue translucent panels. To attract shoppers' attention from the adjacent grocery section, the ceiling combines ocean-blue neon tubes for lighting and signage and four ETC Source Four units fitted with Philips 3000K MasterColor T6 150W HID lamps with a 10,000-hour rating. GAM Products' TwinSpin units and blue GamColor filters in the Source Fours project wave-like images onto the floor. Blue light and white light are balanced to give an accurate color rendition of the food products. “Normally I would not use blue color around food, but we had punched up the food enough with white light that the blue wave animation is very subtle and not distracting,” says Peck.

The low ceiling height and even lower headers made this remodeling project complex, Peck points out. “Rather than monotonous indirect lighting, our concept established the theme with theatrical techniques, dramatizing the merchandise and de-emphasizing such elements as headers,” he says.

More Source Four fixtures with straw-yellow GamColor filters and GAM cloud patterns are used on a large header beam that bisects the produce section. “The ceiling height was nominally 15', but this large header dropped down to 10', so I ended up using the cloud patterns to soften up the header and create a ‘wallpaper-like’ effect,” says Peck. “The owner loved that it blended into the meadow mural behind and de-emphasized the beam.”

Adding dimension to the America's Market section are cantilevered backlit translucent panels. Above the wine display is suspended an open wood trellis. Concealed within the lattices are pendant-hung tracks with adjustable heads. Small sparkle lights are intertwined in the trellis to lend a festive outdoor patio mood.

Indy Lighting track fixtures with Philips White SON HPS lamps provide superior modeling and color to flatter the displays. Louvers were used to eliminate glare. Light levels of 100fc were maintained on both horizontal and vertical displays to eliminate shadows and keep all merchandise visually appealing to customers from top to bottom.

Peck's design meets Wisconsin's stringent adherence to ASHRAE's 90.1 energy limitation of 2.2W/sq. ft. for the retail areas and 0.8W/sq. ft. for the back of house and hallway areas. “Because the store is open for business around the clock, timing controls reduce non-essential lighting for six hours during the day, exceeding code requirements,” Peck notes. Ballasted lamps keep maintenance and operating expenses to a minimum.

The result? A predicted 20% increase in sales has been far exceeded. The jump in revenue is approaching 60%, according to store management. The store is also an award winner, taking the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers' (NASFM) Grand Prize, Convenience or Grocery Store/Food Retailer; and the Institute of Store Planners (ISP)/VM+SD International Store Design Competition, First Place, Supermarket Design.

The architectural approach

Opened in July, the new 41,000-sq.-ft. (3,690 sq. m) Lunds is located in suburban Plymouth, a community approximately 30 miles northwest of the Twin Cities with mixed demographics. Russell Lund III is president and CEO of Lund Food Holdings, Inc. John Pazahanick is vice president of store development and real estate. RSP Architects Ltd., Minneapolis, designed the building. Interior design and lighting was created by Robert Gorski.

The interior utilizes blond wood fixtures and floors with walls in pale neutrals to make the most of the natural light from banks of clerestory windows. Ambient and feature lighting give the store an upbeat and pleasantly efficient personality.

Lund Food Holdings is a high-quality regional chain that also includes the Byerly's markets. It has grown its full-service image by combining sleek contemporary architecture with artful and enticing product presentation. “Lund's take-home meals are comparable to the cuisine of better restaurants,” asserts Gorski.

“It is a culinary presentation from every aspect,” he says. Counter personnel assemble platters of food as requested by the customer and will also do custom grilling. Soups have their own gleaming stainless steel-lined section where the offerings are made fresh throughout the day.

Gorski draws attention to the fact that the generous amount of natural light not only saves energy but also “makes people feel good to shop in an environment with daylight around them.” In designing daylighting for food stores, care should be taken to keep direct sunlight away from produce and other light-sensitive perishables to prevent spoilage.

To separate the prepared and specialty food areas from the grocery aisles, Gorski opted for “a very crystalline, jewelry store type of presentation, to give the merchandise gloss and mass.” General lighting is provided by Lithonia's low-bay HID TG series utilizing Philips MasterColor 200W metal-halide lamps, and PM series 2'×4' troffer fixtures with 3500K T8 fluorescent lamps.

Point source lighting for providing accents in the produce and wine departments is accomplished with Indy's 420T and 402T series fixtures utilizing Philips 70W MasterColor and 100W White SON lamps. Gorski reports that by mixing these two lamp types he achieved a CRI of close to 100.

Above the cheese and bakery departments are Lithonia's LTC series low-voltage track lights carrying GE 50W Constant Color MR-16 flood lamps. “They achieve both intimacy for the department and sparkle so they can be seen at a distance,” Gorski says.

When customers require assistance in locating items, the store is outfitted with product locators on six electronic informational kiosks. Recipes and specific product information are also programmed into the kiosks.

Lund's is also undertaking a major remodeling of a 60,000-sq.-ft. (5,400 sq. m) Byerly's unit in Ridgedale, MN, applying the food service and lighting techniques first successfully installed for Plymouth.

Vilma Barr is a New York-based writer specializing in design and merchandising. She can be contacted at

Lighting Equipment

Sentry Foods

BK Lighting 12V surface-mount spotlights
BK Lighting 120V adjustable surface-mount downlights
BK Lighting recess-mount 3" 12V downlights
Day-Brite 2'x4' 4-lamp fluorescent troffers
ETC 575W Source Fours
GAM Products TwinSpin pattern rotators
GE, Osram Sylvania, and Philips lamps
Indy Lighting recess-mount 100W downlights
Indy Lighting 100W spotlights
Indy Lighting 100W wallwashers
Kenall Manufacturing cool 2-lamp surface wrap fluorescents
Kurt Versen fluorescent downlights
LSI Industries 175W metal-halide floodlights
LSI Industries 400W metal-halide floodlights

Omega 175W 10" cylinder downlights
Omega 175W 12" cylinder downlights
Roberts 24V sign uplight
Tivoli pendants with Q35 MR-11 lamps
Tivoli 120V marquee
Zumtobel Staff Lighting recess-mount fluorescent downlights
Zumtobel Staff Lighting recess-mount fluorescents


Indy Lighting 70W HID recess-mount fixtures
Indy Lighting 70W 420T ED-17 CMH track fixtures
Indy Lighting 100W 402T White SON Futura fixtures
Lithonia Lighting HID low-bay fixtures
Lithonia Lighting 2'x4' troffers
Lithonia Lighting 75W low-voltage track
Lithonia Lighting 32W staggered strip
Lithonia Lighting 32W strip
Columbia 32W sign/poster lights
Winona 400W HID indirect fixtures
GE, Osram Sylvania, and Philips lamps