Co-founder and Managing Director of Adande® Refrigeration, Ian Wood, examines some of the challenges facing fresh food retailers. He looks at the demands for more efficient use of energy, the reduction of food waste and how to achieve them.
The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Saving Scheme has mandatory monitoring and pricing implications for operators using more than 6,000 MWh of electricity per year. The scheme is having a significant impact on food retailers, especially the major High Street chains, where refrigeration may account for up to 50% of a supermarket’s energy usage. Retail refrigerated display equipment therefore represents an area in which significant savings may be made.
The importance of the CRC scheme is demonstrated by the recent establishment of a £12m research centre to support efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in the food chain. The National Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains will call upon experienced engineers, scientists and industry experts to develop energy efficient food manufacturing, distribution and retail systems.
At the same time, retailers are coming under increasing pressure to reduce the volume of chilled merchandise, which may be thrown away due to deterioration in quality or appearance. According to the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), some 6.5 million tonnes of food and drink waste are produced each year in the UK food supply chain. Whilst no accurate figures are available on how much of this waste comes from retailing operations, it is safe to assume that it is a significant proportion of the total value of £5 billion, estimated by Defra.
The vast majority of refrigeration specialists will agree that the dual objectives of lower energy and reduced retail food waste can be achieved by the improved efficiency of retail display cases and the maintenance of accurate and stable temperatures within them. However, there are contrasting views on how these aims should be addressed.
Conventional wisdom has advocated fitting glass doors to the front of traditional open front multi-deck, refrigerated displays and some retailers are already trialling this option. The use of glass doors has raised the question of the customers’ shopping experience and whether doors are shopper friendly.
To evaluate shopper opinions, Adande® commissioned independent research at the stores of three leading supermarket retailers. The survey established that 88% of customers thought the clear visibility of merchandise in refrigerated display cabinets is “very important”, whilst a further 11.4% of those questioned thought it “important”. Unsolicited comments were received, regarding condensation on glass doors, obscuring the visibility of merchandise.
49.1% of respondents believed it would be “very inconvenient” or “inconvenient” to open glass doors to browse merchandise or make a purchase. Similarly, 42.5% of customers said it would be “very difficult” or “difficult” to open glass doors whilst holding a shopping basket or trolley. Surprisingly, this figure rose to 55.8% amongst shoppers under the age of 40.
We also have anecdotal evidence that the energy efficiency and temperature stability of displays with glass doors may be compromised in high traffic areas, where the doors are opened frequently or for extended periods for browsing and shopping. Maintenance and cleaning have also been cited as additional cost factors for retailers adopting the glass door option, whilst the inconvenience of opening glass doors to restock shelves has also been highlighted as a negative.
At Adande®, we have adopted a scientific, technology led assessment of retail refrigerated display systems. The result is AirCell®, a patented air flow management system, designed for open front, refrigerated multi deck cabinets, to deliver significant energy savings, with stable and accurate temperatures, without the need for glass doors. The technology may be incorporated within new cabinets, retrofitted to existing cabinets or fitted as part of refurbishment programmes.
Conventional multi deck cabinets have a single column of cold air from the top to the bottom of the merchandising envelope. As cold denser air sinks, a stacking effect is created and pressure builds at the base of air curtain. This causes cold air spillage from the cabinet, allowing warm air infiltration, which compromises temperature stability and energy efficiency.
By contrast, Aircell® divides the merchandising envelope into separate cells between shelves. The smaller cells have a shorter air column and independent management of air movement. The net result is less pressure on the air curtain of each cell and a substantial reduction in cold air spillage from the case. The performance of the Aircell® system is also enhanced by the elimination of back panel flow, promoting temperature stability and product loading flexibility.
Independent laboratory tests carried out under the accepted industry standard for the testing of refrigerated display cases, BS EN ISO 23953, have confirmed that Aircell® delivers energy savings of more than 25% compared with conventional open front, refrigerated multi deck display cases.
Temperature stability tests, carried out under the same conditions, indicated that Aircell® also delivers more accurate holding temperatures, maintaining the quality and appearance of chilled food over longer periods, reducing the volume of perishable merchandise which may be price discounted or thrown away due to deterioration in quality or appearance.
Aircell® is the result of considerable research and development. We are continuing to invest in its evolution and have recently supported the establishment of a state-of-the-art refrigeration test facility, by ECH Engineering. The test rooms are providing us with additional resources, helping us to accelerate the delivery of Aircell® technology to the marketplace.
Several original equipment manufacturers and major multiple retailers, in the UK and worldwide, have recognised Aircell® as a significant initiative in the refrigerated display sector. We are continuing to work with them and we are confident that Aircell® units will be undergoing live trials, within High Street stores, in the next couple of months.
Tel: 0844 376 0023