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Now is the time to influence the future of retail

Collaboration across the cold chain is the industry’s great opportunity to make a real difference to save energy

If there is one thing you can say about our Retail Question Times, it is that they always provide good value.

Fantastic value for the audience, of course, as they are absolutely free to attend, which is why these debates regularly get attendances above the hundred mark. It’s a chance to find out what retailers think about the future – and there’s lunch, too. That really is a retail bargain.

But seriously, without fail these events provide some really valuable and positive discussion for the whole supply chain.

We are grateful that the panellists come and provide an honest assessment of where they are and where they want to be.

They don’t come just to give a lecture; they come in expectation that the suppliers in the audience will be able to help them with some of the technological challenges and, increasingly, the legislative ones.

The Question Time we held last month was the sixth, but this one was notable for marking a very different mood among the retailers.

To a man, they described how they felt they were in the midst of a new landscape, where the combination of fierce retail competition, a change in shopping habits and, inevitably, the impending impact of legislation were creating new challenges.

This translated into a remarkable openness about the task ahead, for which we should all be thankful – far from saying “we don’t have the budget to do much, so don’t get your hopes up” , the retailers said what they wanted from the suppliers was help in finding creative solutions.

For although margins are tight, the continued importance of energy saving to the bottom line means that the cooling industry can really help the retail sector, particularly as convenience stores are becoming more and more popular.

Look at the discussion on pages 12-17 and you will see time and time again the request for collaboration; for suggestions of new technology; for assistance in navigating the refrigerant minefield that F-Gas is presenting.

And there is money available – indeed, a number of the panellists virtually demanded more proactivity from suppliers, particularly when it came to the challenges of ever-smaller store footprints, refrigerant alternatives and heat recovery. 

It seems to me that this should herald a new opportunity for the cooling industry.

Retailers are looking for help in developing technology in: integrated cooling and heating; doors and/or cabinet air curtains; small footprint cabinets and packs; heat recovery and phase change; and intelligent controls, together with closer analysis of refrigeration data.

That’s quite a portfolio for the supply chain to get its teeth into.

But now the ball is in the industry’s court.

As John Skelton of Sainsbury’s said, with regard to integrating the refrigeration and other M&E services: “If cooling doesn’t take up the opportunity, somebody else will.”


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