Neelands Refrigeration Limited

Leading Grocery Cooler Design and Installation

Reg Neelands established Neelands Refrigeration Limited (NRL) in 1957. The family business has been growing successfully in the Canadian market for more than 50 years, establishing lasting partnerships with clients in Ontario and beyond. Based in Burlington, Ontario, the team of approximately 140 executives, technicians, service specialists and sales representatives offer an evolving variety of refrigeration products and services for food stores across Canada.

Today Noel Neelands, Reg’s son and president of NRL, leads the company. Noel’s family history has helped form the way he leads the business, offering value and exceptional service to clients large and small.

“My father was in refrigeration,” Noel explains. “It all goes back to the end of World War II. He went into the industry when he left the Air Force. In a partnership with my uncle, he worked in that business for more than 10 years, before starting his own company in 1957. He wanted to move into larger grocery store refrigeration, so he broke off from his brother-in-laws’ business. Right at that time, in the late ‘50s to early ‘60s, supermarkets were starting to pop up. Before that it was all smaller grocers.”

Noel is happy to be continuing the family tradition, and his insight is evidence of his family’s innovative spirit. “When American-style supermarkets came to Canada, my dad did the bulk of their refrigeration,” Noel explains. “The company evolved from there. I worked there during summers while I put myself through university. The company never really grew exponentially, because my father preferred small and manageable. The company was successful and prosperous, but was not experiencing major growth. My father retired back in the ‘80s. My brother Paul was in the business, as well. He retired about 10 years ago, which is around when our growth started to take off.”

Leading Service, Lasting Relationships

NRL works with several major retail and grocery chains. “These days we work with Wal-Mart, Costco, Loblaws, Longos, Target, Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall among other major chains,” Noel explains. “Now that the supermarkets have pharmacies, the drug stores are selling food, too, which has opened up a broader market for us. Our strength has been both with the chains, as well as with the independent market. We don’t focus on chains; we focus on everybody. We sell and engineer the product, design stores, install the product and service it; we provide a complete turnkey service.” 

Noel notes vertical integration as a key aspect in the company’s success. “In our vertical integration, we design stores for our independent customers,” he continues. “We provide layouts, auto CAD drawings and the information important to architects for construction. We provide refrigerated display cases, compressor equipment and control systems, as well as computerized controls that operate all the major functions of a supermarket. We then install all of the refrigeration equipment, as well as the piping, wiring and integration of all systems. Once the store opens, we provide all the service and maintenance.”

Greener Freezers

The team works with Hill Phoenix, a U.S.-based manufacturer for refrigeration equipment. Hill Phoenix has established the largest share of the Canadian market and continues to develop a presence. The company is a leader in new technology offering new market opportunities for Noel and his team. 

“Technology today is evolving,” Noel explains. “Everybody is looking for green, sustainable technology. There is a big push, and for the most part companies are moving through the preliminary stages of sustainability, while we want to be the industry leader in HFC free stores.”

Noel is proud to note the companies’ relationship is thriving. “We have achieved great success with Hill Phoenix’s CO2 system,” he continues. “Prior to this, we dealt with technology that is a half-measure or a workaround. We had to use synthetic refrigerant in conjunction with other natural refrigerants like glycol, in certain applications, but we hadn’t been able to completely eliminate synthetic. We can now. Now it’s all about getting costs down and making this CO2 technology affordable for all of our customers. It’s great to be green, but it’s also quite expensive.”

Continued Growth and Development

Despite the recent recession, NRL has remained on a steady path of growth. “Our only challenges have been in competitive markets in terms of contracting,” Noel explains. “And that was really only in the last year or so; 2012 was a difficult year, but everything looks like we’re back into growth again. The challenge is to maintain a competitive advantage and drive costs down with new technology so they are affordable to everyone we sell to. The larger supermarket chains are committed to the green movement, but it’s the smaller guys we need to get to, as well.”

NRL recently picked up a major contract with Target, launching another big step in company growth. “Target has been on our radar now since January 2011,” says Noel. “It has been a long time coming. The move was purely relationship based. We had to fly to Minnesota to meet with directors of operations both in Canada and with the high level executives at Target headquarters in Minneapolis. We were invited there to discuss what we could do for them. Of course, they had done their due diligence, and knew our company very well. They had probably made up their minds already, but wanted to meet and talk with us before moving forward in our new business relationship.”

The company continues to attract new business, which Noel chalks up to the team’s continued dedication to excellence. “You have to be good at what you do,” he explains. “You can be vertically integrated, you can create a niche for yourself but you still have to be the best. Customers look for quality of installation, quality of service and for us, that hasn’t changed much over the years. We have a great team of people and we are good at training. Our management is committed to new technology and our field crews are ready and willing to learn. We have an entire department focused on control systems. Everyone is trained in computerized controls for supermarkets. That is pretty unique in Ontario. We are always looking at new technology.” 

As leaders in green, sustainable refrigeration technology, as well as reliability and service, Neelands Refrigeration Limited will continue to push to improve the industry while working with businesses of all sizes