A Guide to Choosing Merchandisers

UPDATE: You can access an updated version of this buying guide here

Considerations for Choosing a Merchandiser: Do you want customers to serve themselves? Are you displaying hot or cold foods? Do you want access from both sides? Do you need to remote the refrigeration because the unit is going into an already warm location?


Holding Temperature


Best for:


Either cooled through forced air or gravity coils, self contained refrigeration or remote (which requires a refrigeration tech.)

  • Seafood

  • Sushi

  • Chocolatiers

  • Deli Items

  • Bakery Items

  • Beverages


Non-refrigerated merchandisers can be open displays or can have doors, but there’s not as big of an emphasis on seals.

  • Bagels, Breads, and some cakes (with quick turnarounds)

  • Chips

  • Impulse-Buy Items


Built for keeping items frozen but within easy access, freezer merchandisers typically will require flaked ice for temperature maintenance as well.

  • Seafood

  • Meats

  • Ice Cream

Dual Temperature

Offers the best of both worlds with refrigerated and non-refrigerated sections.

  • Bakeries

  • Delis


Keeps items at a consistently heated temperature.

  • Pizza

  • Hot Pretzels

  • Hot Food in Pans

Within the category of refrigerated display cases falls two types of refrigeration methods:

  • Forced Air: Relying on fans to force air through the system, these merchandisers are most often used for bakery products (pie, cake, danishes), prepackaged products, and some deli applications. Keep in mind that the constant air circulation means that items may dry out quicker if not covered in the case.

  • Gravity Coil: This refrigeration unit utilizes a coil at the top of the cabinet where cold air is emitted and falls down - via gravity - over the items. Raw meats, seafoods, salads, and other deli products that are susceptible to drying from circulating air will do best in these types of refrigerated cabinets.

There are also some refrigerated models that are open-air, and while these are great for impulse-buys and peak business hours, you will have to pay extra attention to where they’re located. Open-air models should not receive direct sunlight, nor should they be located under ventilation or air conditioning ducts. The additional heat and airflow will result in a disruption of the air curtain circulating throughout the merchandiser, and as a result, the case may not be able to hold food at safe temperatures. This type of unit is truly only best for packaged items.


Walk through the following steps when selecting the appropriate size for your merchandiser:

  1. Space Constraints: As with any piece of equipment, your merchandiser will need to fit into your establishment without disrupting the flow of traffic.

  2. Opt for Oversizing: Remember that your typical traffic patterns may not cater to busy peak hours and, thus, you’ll want to invest in a case that is large enough for rush hours and weekends.

  3. Consider the Products: If all of the products in your merchandiser have a short shelf life or quick turnaround time, you may be able to choose a smaller case - but at the sacrifice of increase labor costs. For instance, instead of displaying full-size pans, you would have half-size pans that would be replenished as needed. (Some deli cases have refrigerated storage beneath the display)

  4. Packaging: Whether it’s the plastics that your items are packaged in or the flaked ice you’re packing around cold foods, keep in mind that the cavity of your merchandiser needs to accommodate both the product and packaging.

  5. Clearance: Intakes and exhausts will will reduce the amount of useable space in your case. If people are working behind the unit, remember to leave enough space for them to work comfortably (at least 3 feet).

Refrigerated and freezer display cases generally require an electrical supply (and some a drain) within 6 feet of the unit, while heated cases will - at a minimum - need the electrical supply.


More tiers means more product brought to the front of the merchandiser, which helps promote sales. There are different tier materials that can impact your merchandiser and its effectiveness:

Tier Composition


Best for:

Wire Rack

Will allow for liquids and debris to fall to the bottom, but is regarded as less attractive than glass counterparts.

  • Beverage Merchandising

  • Breads/Bagels

  • Chips

Glass Shelf

Items appear to be ‘floating’ within the case, and light is filtered throughout the case for a brighter appearance.

  • Cakes and Pies

  • Pastries


Different types of lighting can impact the brightness or colors of the items stored within:

  • Fluorescent Bulbs : Some fluorescent bulbs enhance certain colors, which can be beneficial for red meats and pastries. LED lighting is bright and uses less energy.

  • Top Lighting : Typically viewed as the minimal amount of lighting for closed cases.

  • Shelf Lighting : Can add brightness to each shelf rather than simply lighting from one source at the top.

Most health departments require that lights must be encapsulated in your merchandiser so that a broken bulb doesn’t throw shards of glass into food areas. While a well-lit case is more attractive, safety is always first. LED lighting does not have this restriction. Consider glass shelving and reflective back panels for lighting improvements.


Manufacturers typically offer straight or curved glass models for closed display cases (in addition to open-air models).



Best for:

Vertical Straight Glass

Typically associated with a customer-accessible front door, straight glass with no angle is pragmatic.

  • Beverages

Angled Straight Glass

The angle of the front glass reduces glare from overhead lights.

  • Bakeries

  • Delis

Curved Glass

Effective and reduces glare from overhead lighting.

  • Bakeries

  • Delis

Open Air

Accessible without any barrier, open air units are made for impulse buys. These can be heated, refrigerated, or non-refrigerated.

  • Impulse Buy Items

Other Features

Consider some additional features for your merchandiser to improve its effectiveness:

  • End Panels: These can make your case appear fuller, and a mirrored end panel enhances the brightness as well.

  • Interior: Black interiors can minimize the appearance of hardware within the case while allowing colorful products to ‘pop’. Mirrored back panels can enhance the appearance of a fresh, full case even when your stock is low. Keep in mind that some health departments prefer and may even require white interiors for sanitation reasons.

  • Easy Access: Accessibility for cleaning should be an important consideration since you may need to clean your unit multiple times a day. Display cases with a lift up front glass are easier to access and clean. While reach-in merchandisers with doors tend to be easy to clean, some curved and angled glass models have a tilting feature to allow the front to open for easy cleaning.

Shop our extensive line of merchandisers at CKitchen.