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Selecting The Right Food Display Case

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually quite a number of display case options that populate the market, all of which are incredibly different.  This wide variety of options can make it rather difficult for purveyors to pick out the right case.  To make things easier, we have compiled a list of the primary kind of display cases and the important factors on deciding what display case is right for your operation.

Types Of Cases

There are a number of primary display case types on the market that are intended for the foodservice industry.  Here are the most common:

  • Meat & Seafood Cases – Meat and seafood cases are refrigerated single level cases that hold just above freezing.  They are intended to hold fresh meat, poultry and seafood at their ideal storage temperatures without allowing them to freeze.  Glass cases are meant to house and shield unwrapped meat and fish (and are ideal for butcher shops or fish markets), however there are also a number of open-air models that are suited to house wrapped meat products in places like supermarkets.  They almost always have frost inhibitors to prevent the glass from frosting, and since fish often rests on ice, seafood specific cases will often have trays to catch run-off water.
  • Deli Cases – Deli cases are refrigerated display cases that have multiple shelves, and hold around 40° F.  Delis require multiple shelves to display their products, and the cured meats and cheeses they sell should be kept further from freezing.  These cases inherently retain moisture, which aids in keeping the product inside fresh.  There are also some single shelf deli cases that are ideal for storing deli sides, such as pasta salad.
  • Bakery Cases – There are both refrigerated and non-refrigerated bakery cases.  Refrigerated bakery cases feature shelves and hold around the same temperature as deli cases, however they tend to have less moisture (or even have adjustable humidity).  These refrigerated cases are intended to house items such as pies, cakes, confections or other baked goods that may deteriorate quickly at room temperature.  Non-refrigerated deli cases are dry, and are intended to stay that way.  Items including bread, bagels, or some baked dessert items should not be stored in moist climates.  These items are usually prepared fresh daily and are better stored dry at room temperature.  Additionally, there are refrigerated and non-refrigerated rotating displays for baked goods which are perfect for diners or other locations looking for an eye-grabbing way to display their desserts.
  • Hot Display Cases – There are a number of heated display cases on the market intended to hold prepared foods at proper temperatures for service.  These glass display cases can range in size from small countertop pizza or concession cases to large deli case sized floor models.  Many manufacturers offer larger heated display cases with adjustable humidity control, giving end-users an adaptable case that can be filled with varying products.  There are also a number of open-air heated displays as well that are intended to operate in self-serve style establishments such as convenience stores or cafeterias.
  • Sushi Display Cases – Sushi display cases are single shelf glass displays that can extend much longer than many other deli cases.  They only have one shelf, are significantly less tall than freestanding display cases, and are intended to rest on a counter or bar.  These display cases can be either refrigerated or non-refrigerated, and can be built to custom specifications, should prefabricated models not suffice.  Traditionally non-refrigerated cases are the norm (depending on the climate the restaurant resides in), as most sushi bars will prepare rolls fresh throughout the day.
  • Combination Display Cases – There are some display cases that feature dual temperature zones.  There are bakery cases that feature a refrigerated zone and a dry non-refrigerated zone, and there are also cases that feature a refrigerated zone on the bottom and a heated area above.  These combination units can be ideal in instances where more than one display case may be necessary.
  • Open Display Merchandisers – These display cases offer stocking opportunity for grab-n-go items, dairy, vegetables and other impulse purchases. They are great for produce departments or near registers.

Display Case Considerations

When shopping for display cases there are a number of important factors that need to be examined.  Bearing in mind what you will be storing in your case will directly affect everything; here are the most important factors to examine while shopping.

  • Temperature – Temperature is one of the most important, if not the most important factor that determines what kind of case is best.  It can be beneficial to examine primarily one of the aforementioned cases by need (i.e. look at sushi cases if you are housing sushi, a deli case for your deli, etc.), however there are still options within those categories.  Knowing what you will be storing and the environment it will be stored in will help you choose the display case with the best temperature range.  For example, a sushi case in a warm climate should opt for a refrigerated sushi case to maximize the shelf life of their rolls.
  • Humidity – As we earlier discussed, some products should be stored in humid environments, and others should not.  Operations that have definite needs when it comes to humidity can easily find the ideal display case; however those that change what their display holds frequently may need a case with adjustable humidity.  There are many cases with adjustable humidity, including refrigerated, non-refrigerated and heated, that allow humidity to be turned up or down with the turn of a dial, which are perfect in these instances.
  • Lighting – Display cases are nearly all illuminated, however it is important to examine if the interior lighting that comes standard with the case your are eyeing up is sufficient.  Some locations have lower levels of interior light which may make it difficult to view product, or conversely, the light may be too bright for the softly lit environment.  Additional lights can be installed by some manufacturers per requests, or some bulbs can be removed or turned off to keep the display case from being too bright.
  • Size – Display cases come in many sizes, and it is important to know where you want your case to rest, and the dimensions required to occupy that space.  There are small countertop display cases / merchandisers, and there are large floor model display cases that can be 96” long or higher, so it is important to find one that is adequately sized to fit the desired product but that does not become a drain on energy costs.  Additionally, it can be relatively unappealing to the eye to have a display case that looks empty or overly full, so sizing your display case to your business’ needs is important not only to your bottom line, but your aesthetic appeal as well.
  • Shelving – Shelving is important when choosing the proper display case because it can dramatically increase the storage capacity of a display case.  Though it reduces the available height clearance of each shelf, most display cases will not store items that are incredibly tall.  Only in instances where this clearance is necessary (for example a bakery case storing a wedding cakes or a deli case that features tall signs) are these shelves superfluous.

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