Think Outside of the Box!

For our latest expert interview, we spoke to Mark Kaner of Western Extralite. Mark Kaner is recognised as an expert in retail lighting and through a career that has spanned roles with General Electric and Lightolier he has worked with architects, interior design firms and National Retail clients. At Western Extralite, Mark works directly with retail clients, providing them with unique and effective lighting solutions that offer retail customers and experiential and exciting shopping environment. Mark also works with several key architecture firms designing lighting systems for prototype and flagship locations.

What big trends are you seeing in the fresh food areas of supermarkets that are driving new approaches to lighting?

One of the big trends I am seeing is that some of these stores are also becoming destination restaurants. This is true especially of lunch, but also a quick stop in the morning as an alternative to Starbucks and again in the afternoon on the way home to pick up dinner.

As people are busy, the need for a quick prepared meal that is healthy and doesn’t break the bank is highly desirable.

With this in mind, we need to look at these spaces not only as stores but potentially as a fast casual dining experience at least in some parts of the store.

Increasingly, many specialty departments within the store such as bakery, cheese & wine are also “stores within stores”. In these cases the lighting in these departments is deliberately different than the rest or the store. Not only is the accent and general lighting different in terms of the type of fixture, but even in terms of mounting heights. This creates a totally different atmosphere than the rest of the store, resulting in a destination zone for customers.

How is deployment of lighting changing in response to these trends?

The trend is toward less fixtures and a more un-cluttered ceiling; less track and more targeted lighting that is merchandising specific.

Are there any standout stores in terms of their creative approach to lighting?

Whole Foods does the best job, but there are also some smaller local specialty Shops - such as Standard Market in Westmont, Ill - that focus more on fresh merchandising lighting. In general, there a lot of of room for improvement in lighting across the entire supermarket industry.

What are the biggest challenges for lighting designers in fresh food areas and how does you overcome them?

The challenges range from avoiding spoilage to creating the proper balance between general and accent lighting. Spoilage can be caused by ultraviolet or infrared energy. The absolute best source to use to avoid this is LED.

Otherwise you need to provide lensing and use UV filters to reduce the amount of UV. IR energy, or more specifically heat, can be avoided by the use of medium to wider beams of light (therefore reducing the number of fixtures) or by the distance from the light source (which can reduce the amount of heat on the products).

Potatoes for example are a particular problem because excessive light can cause them to turn green which not only spoils them but potentially can make them toxic as well.

Is lighting of fresh food areas in supermarkets likely to change in coming years and if so, how?

It is already changing. There is a huge shift toward LED for a variety of reasons. Lower energy costs, longer life and less maintenance are all key factors, in addition to the benefits listed above about the lack of UV and limited IR. In the past year the technology is finally available that allows you to use accent lighting provided by LED that can actually work in a retail environment and be affordable. Currently this is limited to accent lighting but there is a huge potential for general lighting. However, lighting companies are still trying to "match" LED to other older sources equivalent, rather than thinking forward to what lighting could be with LED technology. Luckily, LED companies that are truly electronics manufacturers are not encumbered by the old lighting mindsets and can look to the real future of light.

Where do you believe lighting manufacturers should be focusing their innovation efforts at the moment?

The entire lighting industry is one of backward thinking. When a new technology becomes available, manufacturers look for ways to incorporate this newest "flavor of the month" into existing fixtures, or at best new fixtures that fit within the family of products they already offer. The clear winners will be those that can really think out of the box; taking this new technology and seeing what we can do with it, thinking in terms of applications and solutions in a three dimensional environment.

To paraphrase Robert Bernard Shaw, "There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

From a lighting context, let's look at the lighting and imagine the ways to achieve outstanding light for merchandising without the limits of what currently exists. Why not shoot for the stars...why just look for another alternative the 50 watt MR16 or a lower wattage LED that can replace a 90 watt halogen PAR38. What was so magical about those lamps? Nothing? It was what was available to replace 150 and 75 watt incandescent sources.
Think out of the box!