Have you ever noticed something different when walking down the chilled food aisles in your local Co-op food store? They are not as chilly as other supermarkets. And for one simple reason: they’ve fridge doors on nearly all their refrigeration units.
Back in 2010, the supermarket chain became the first in the UK to pioneer a policy of installing fridge doors on food chillers in all new and refitted stores. By the time the Co-op had fitted doors in 500 of their 2,800 stores, the company were saving a cool £50m a year on their hefty energy bills. They aim to have all their stores saving energy through this simple and inexpensive measure by 2020.
Of course, on top of the financial benefits, the group have greatly reduced their carbon footprint since 2010 too. Like all big food retailers, refrigeration is a costly necessity for the Co-op, accounting for around 50% of their energy usage. It is their biggest cost after staff wages. Their closed refrigeration initiative, however, helped to reduce their energy consumption by approximately 30%.
The Cooperative have made further savings too. The closed-door units require smaller motors, therefore take up less space. They’re also less prone to breakdown and require less maintenance. With the chill kept inside the chillers, stores are also warmer and require less heating.
So, with all these obvious benefits, why did it take so long for the Co-op to have its Eureka moment? And why haven’t others, with a few exceptions, such as Tesco’s Metro and Express outlets, followed their example?
Mostly, it’s because large supermarket chains fear the impact on food sales. There is a belief that consumers are less likely to browse and make impulse purchases when food is kept behind fridge doors.
Are they right to be scared? The Co-op’s example would suggest not. The Co-op’s Director of Property, Dave Roberts, has previously commented saying: “That was a big concern for us. But…in no places where we have put doors on fridges have sales gone down.”
Across the channel, supermarkets in France have agreed a voluntary initiative with the government to introduce doors to 75% of all refrigeration units by 2020. This initiative will reduce France’s entire electricity usage by a staggering 1%. French supermarket giant, Carrefour, have been at the forefront of the policy and have, like the Coop, not seen a significant impact on sales.
With British food retailers dragging their feet, it will be interesting to see if a future UK government decides to follow the French example.
So, to put doors on your fridges or not? It is a difficult decision for food retailers.
Ryan Conner, Director at SmartAir Solutions comments: “We like to help our clients make decisions like this by giving them the main options available to them along with projections on energy usage. Regardless of doors or no-doors, we recommend energy efficient refrigeration systems. Modern systems are the smartest we’ve seen yet in terms of energy efficiency, but costs and ongoing maintenance must be weighed up against lost revenues. The Co-op’s example would suggest that it’s a risk worth taking, but that’s a decision we’ll leave to our clients, who know their customers better than us.”