By Mark Timmons

Introduction
Water treatment dealers are frequently looking for additional revenue streams to enhance the profitability of their businesses. Many dealers have diversified into bottled water, salt, commercial/industrial water treatment, air purification and other related (or unrelated) businesses. One area that has been overlooked is a business which requires clean, quality water: produce misting in supermarkets and other related misting and/or humidification systems, such as outdoor evaporative condensation (such as at outdoor restaurants, amusement parks, etc.) and humidification (humidors for tobacconists and butcher cases, etc.). This article focuses on how water treatment dealers can increase revenues and profitability by selling and servicing supermarket produce misting systems.

Fruits and vegetables thrive in mist
Supermarkets utilize produce misting to increase the shelf life of produce (lettuce, broccoli and other green vegetables) and to maintain and enhance visual freshness.  It is also used in butchers’ meat cases to increase the shelf life of meat and prevent shrinkage due to moisture loss. Produce misting accomplishes the following:

  • Doubles the shelf life of produce
  • Cuts produce waste by 50 percent
  • Stops produce weight loss
  • Helps produce retain greater vitamin content
  • Improves the fresh look (which drives sales)
  • Fast return on investment

“A produce misting system keeps everything hydrated. Almost all produce needs humidity, just like live flowers. The shelf life of most produce would only be about half of what it is with the misting system. It’s a great way to keep products fresh for the customer,” said Alison Bendler, a spokesperson for Bashas’ Supermarkets.

Misting! Not spraying!
Some supermarkets spray their produce, drenching it in the process and making it very unappealing to consumers. A light mist for six to eight seconds every six to eight minutes keeps produce fresh and lightly misted. That’s what is necessary for produce in a supermarket to maintain its freshness and stay crisp and green. Correctly misting produce accomplishes many things, the most apparent being making the produce more appealing (which may make the consumer buy more product, thus creating more profit for the supermarket). Misting extends the shelf life of the product, which means less waste and more profit for the supermarket. The shelf life of produce is a matter of days with misting and a matter of hours without it!

A misting system
A produce misting system is generally comprised of the following components:

  • The misting bars and nozzles, which are positioned underneath shelves in produce cases and into the overhead canopy of the case;
  • The controller, which usually includes some sort of on/off timer that opens and closes a solenoid at specific intervals and some type of system to boost the pressure; and
  • A filtration or reverse osmosis system

A photo of a complete system is shown here. There are several manufacturers of these products. Supermarkets are concerned with functionality, simplicity and the bottom-line and you’ll recognize that many of the parts used in misting systems are parts that water conditioning dealers deal with on a daily basis.

The misting nozzles themselves should be a simple configuration. Some nozzles are on bars that are infinitely adjustable, but they are costly and prone to leakage and breakage. It is generally sufficient to have one misting nozzle every 10 to12 inches per shelf. If you have multiple shelves, you may need misting bars mounted to each shelf to achieve proper misting coverage. Remember, you are not spraying the produce…you are misting the produce. The higher the pressure, the better the produce will be misted. Optimum pressure is at 80 to 120 psi. This elevated pressure effectively atomizes the mist over the produce so that it is wet, but not soaked. It is generally unnecessary to have multiple nozzles which contort around in different directions. At higher pressures (over 100 psi) one can simply vary the on time of the mist to widen or shorten the misting pattern. In extreme situations, nozzles can be installed every six inches.

Reduce TDS with RO
It is most desirable to mist the produce with water containing a low level of total dissolved solids (TDS) – below 40 PPM, if possible. This keeps residue from building up on the leaves of the produce, making the product more visually appealing. It also keeps the cases and mirrors cleaner and more appealing, thus saving manpower. The misting nozzles should be positioned so as to mist the produce, not the display case or mirrors. Again, adjustable nozzles  are made so that the mist can be directed toward the target area, but fixed nozzles are directed toward the target by the duration of the spray time (the longer the time, the wider the spray pattern).

The logical and most economical way to reduce the TDS level is reverse osmosis (RO). Water treatment dealers are uniquely qualified to supply any pre-treatment necessary for the RO system. A system should be designed to need maintenance (filter changes, etc.) no more than every six months. In some parts of the country where the TDS is below 80 ppm, it may be unnecessary to utilize an RO system. A five-micron filter and carbon block filter will deliver the desired water quality in those areas.

Setting up the system
Any system used for produce misting should be mounted in such a way that it cannot be tampered with by unauthorized personnel. While the RO system can be installed a number of feet away from the case, the misting controller and accumulator tank need to be in close proximity to the case for optimum efficiency. The feed water to the RO system is generally supplied with ½” tubing and, in fact, the misting controller and booster system may also be supplied with ½” or 3/8” tubing. The tubing which most water treatment dealers use in their systems is the same type as is used in misting – so are the quick-connect type fittings.

Conclusion
Produce misting, service meat case and seafood humidification and other such applications are all a natural extension of water treatment. As water dealers look to grow their businesses, they should consider this something to investigate and integrate into their existing business.

About the author
Mark Timmons is President of U.S. Water Systems Inc. of Indianapolis, Indiana He is a CWS-VI, CI, CSR and has over 32 years of experience in the =water treatment industry. US WATER manufactures and distributes misting and humidification products nationally and internationally. Timmons can be contacted at [email protected] or at (317) 209-0889.

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