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Festival Foods Harnesses the Sun in Wisconsin

Green initiatives may at times seem like programs better suited for the big chains, along with things like enterprise resource planning or corporate social responsibility. But in central Wisconsin, Festival Foods is revealing how an independent supermarket operator can take the lead and make a visible difference. Its 13th store, opened in October in Manitowoc, incorporates an array of energy-saving

“Green initiatives” may at times seem like programs better suited for the big chains, along with things like “enterprise resource planning” or “corporate social responsibility.”

But in central Wisconsin, Festival Foods is revealing how an independent supermarket operator can take the lead and make a visible difference. Its 13th store, opened in October in Manitowoc, incorporates an array of energy-saving features that help trim operating costs while also revealing the environmental conscience of the owners.

“We're helping the environment, starting today,” said Mark Skogen, president and a member of the third generation of owner-operators of Festival Foods. The Skogens invested in several upgrades to the store that are intended to deliver long-term energy savings and reduce its environmental impact.

The most visible innovations are in lighting systems, he said. The new 70,000-square-foot building incorporates 172 solar-driven, cylindrical Apollo Solar Light Pipes in the ceiling, integrated with photocell detectors that automatically dim overhead fluorescent fixtures to save watts when the solar resource is plentiful.

The dome-shaped Light Pipes have internal mirrors that amplify sunlight. The Light Pipes can illuminate the store up to 10 hours per day, depending on the time of year, and consume no electricity. From the sales floor, they look like an ordinary bright light fixture.

As a complementary feature, Skogen added, in the overhead electric light fixtures, “we use a more reflective lighting hood that we hadn't used before.”

With relatively few sun-drenched days in the area and an expectation of rooftop snowpack for several months of the year, photovoltaic solar panels were judged as not yet being a good economic option in Festival Foods' part of the country, said Chris Walters, project manager for the store's contractor, TCI Architect/Engineers/Contractors, LaCrosse, Wis. “With the average amount of sunlight available, it has not caught on yet.”

Walters said that Festival Foods should expect a “seven- to eight-year payback” on the Light Pipe system from energy savings, with a shorter payback on the LED lighting specified for the store.

The new store makes liberal use of energy-saving LED lights inside freezer cases and coolers. Not only do they deliver a superior light spectrum that helps show the product clearly, they are linked to motion sensors that switch off the lights when the aisle is empty, but switch them on instantly when a shopper or a worker walks by.

The effect was initially disconcerting, Skogen said. “Sometimes it is hard for us as operators to look over from a distance and see a dark case.” Similar lighting controls turn off or reduce the lighting in areas of the store that are not in use, such as offices and rest rooms. Energy-saving LED lights are also employed in exterior signs.

The saved watts will add up, Skogen says, adding that the natural light enhances the appearance of merchandise displays.

He expects customers will notice. When the Manitowoc store opened on Oct. 10, Festival ran a full-page color newspaper ad touting its green features, which extend beyond lighting to encompass advanced refrigeration systems, ventilation fans and energy-saving roofing systems.

Skogen said Festival also worked hard on some visible, low-tech details. “We have been recycling plastic bags, and we are now rolling out a biodegradable plastic bag. A lot of cities have been taking that decision out of stores' hands, so we want to be out ahead of that.”

Festival is also offering reusable cloth shopping bags, with plans under way to offer them in “seasonal designs.” And in response to customer requests, the store is installing specially designed recycling bins for beverage containers and other plastics in its sit-down eating areas.

A family-owned company now based in Appleton, Wis., Festival Foods has operated in the region since 1946, when Mark Skogen's grandparents Paul and Jane Skogen opened their first food store in nearby Onalaska. For the present owners, operating “green” amounts to an expression of community responsibility.

Said Skogen, “We see an awareness among our customers about green issues. This may not be a cutting-edge part of the country, but it's something they appreciate. When you make a statement with some green initiatives, they will then challenge you to do more and point out where you can do more.”


In keeping with this community focus, Festival partnered with other central Wisconsin companies to design and build the new store. The energy-saving Light Pipes were designed by Manitowoc-based Orion Energy Systems, while that technology and many other features were installed by TCI. Total budget for the construction was approximately $7.85 million.

“What Festival Foods has done with energy efficiency in Manitowoc will serve as an energy efficiency beacon for a wide geographical area for years to come,” said Orion president and chief executive officer Neal Verfuerth. “This is the way many commercial and industrial buildings will be designed and built in the future, and most of the energy-saving features they've used may eventually be retrofitted into older structures as well.”

Other notable green features of the Manitowoc Festival Foods store include:

  • The white-coated roof system is designed to reflect heat in the summer to save on air conditioning. It may also serve to bounce a few more light photons toward the light pipes, compared with conventional dark or ballast-topped roofing. Below the surface is high-R-value roof insulation that helps control the building's interior temperature.

  • The HVAC systems were outfitted with high-efficiency heating and air conditioning components, coupled with constant air balancing and dehumidification, as well as destratification fans, which help move and blend air.

  • Reclaimed heat from refrigeration compressors is used to warm some areas of the building and to heat water.

  • High-efficiency refrigeration compressor systems were selected that use less refrigerant and less copper piping, and that self-monitor to prevent leaks.

  • High-efficiency ECM (electronically commutated motor) fan motors in all refrigerated cases require 60% less electricity to run, but are twice as effective as conventional induction motors at circulating air.

While the energy-saving upgrades added some capital costs to the new store, the decisions were as much about conviction as cost savings, said Skogen. “We're very satisfied with the investment.”

He added, “It's really more about ‘being green.’ We're not trying to impress shareholders, because they are us. We like to do what's right for our community.”