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Is it time to get closure on 'doors on fridges' debate?

My editor’s comment from back in 2014 makes interesting reading, in the light of the current debate…

Usually when I mention ‘doors on fridges’ to a retail refrigeration manager, it is greeted with a rolling of the eyes and a sigh.

Whether to enclose or not to enclose the chiller cabinet has been a pretty constant subject for discussion in the UK industry, in the last three or four years.

The energy numbers are compelling, and LED lighting is so much better, they’re pretty much guaranteed to enhance the look of the products as well as lower the electricity bill. And avoiding the overspill of cold air into the aisles will improve things for the shopper too.

But the reaction of the engineering department belies the frustration that despite all this evidence, their retail merchandising brethren just won’t hear of it – because for them it’s all about traffic, footfall, sales per square metre of cabinet etc.

I think the main reason why the engineers roll their eyes at me is that they know I am going to say ‘why can’t you just do the right thing?’ again.

Well, why can’t they?

The supermarkets are pretty keen to do some of the environmentally ‘right things’ - they are admirably ambitious in their pursuit of natural refrigerants; they have made huge strides in their reduction of waste and they are doing lots about reducing electricity demand in all kinds of clever ways.

But they won’t put the doors on.

Or rather they will put some doors on, but in their green flagship stores, where the powers-that-be have already factored-in any potential losses in custom.

The engineers are very open about the dilemma. You may well have heard refrigeration managers like Colin Coe at our Retail Question Time or at the recent IOR doors on fridges debate (which came out in favour incidentally).

His view is that from an engineering perspective, save for some thought around aisle width and a proper assessment of the maintenance aspects, it is just a case of ‘we will do it, if the likes of Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s do it too.’

So why can’t they?

The Co-operative Group is pretty clear that their trials are working for them with doors on chiller cabinets in 298 food stores yielding an average energy saving of 20 per cent and warmer customers.

The retailer’s Alex Pitman, calculates that putting doors on fridges across all the UK supermarkets’ estates could save around 1 per cent of the country’s total electricity bill – a massive potential saving.

Most people believe it needs a top-down approach to make the supermarkets take action together, where the pressure is on the bosses to act – if not a regulation, then some sort of code of practice

I think I have seen just such an opportunity.

Retailers’ trade body the British Retail Consortium has published its goal to reduce emissions from retail buildings by 50 per cent by 2020.

In the same report the BRC report highlighted that the Consortium was ‘looking forward to working with the Retail Efficiency taskforce…on the identification of barriers to further energy efficiency action…’

I may be getting over-excited here, but I think the BRC is angling towards the government overseeing something just like an agreement or doors. It is low hanging fruit after all.

The French already have a voluntary agreement in place, with their position helped by government incentives and tax breaks. That’s what we need

As one retail refrigeration manager at last week’s Euroshop exhibition: “Most other energy saving measures that haven’t been implemented already are only going to give you 3 or 4 per cent now. In that context, doors on fridges and all-LED lighting in store would seem to be no-brainers now.”

One more thing. That taskforce was the ‘refrigeration taskforce’ DECC minister Greg Barker originally promised the industry last year, but nothing happened.

Do we need a better reason to get lobbying?


Readers' comments (1)

  • Andrew, an excellent, emotive and highly persuasive blog which should inspire lobbying against the questionable practice of the supermarkets to not fit doors.

    Wasting an estimated 1% of country’s total electricity bill displays both an unbelievable arrogance and greed that should not be acceptable in modern society.

    The continued acceptance of the reluctance of the supermarkets to fit doors to display cases subtly illustrates the folly of our overall thinking towards energy saving and environmental impact.

    At some point in the future we will look back and wonder how we ignored and tolerated the obvious energy wastage and environmental damage from supermarkets for so long.

    Merely shaking our industry head and wagging our finger does not absolve us completely of being complicit in this environmental crime. Yes, wasting such a huge amount should be called a crime. We need to lobby as you suggest and also support building a practically –inarguable and compelling case for the use of doors.

    A gentle debate about the pros and cons of fitting doors (which as you say came out in favour) is little more than a mildly entertaining distraction from finding real effective measures for bringing about meaningful change.

    Great call to action Andrew.

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