Shopper behaviour & carbon goals drive future of UK cold chain

Shopper confidence, cold store technology and sustainable next steps were key topics discussed at Cold Chain Live! 2022. Ti editor Kirsty Adams reports.

The absence of products on UK supermarket shelves has turned the confidence shoppers felt in supply chains during the pandemic into angst. As the need to hold more stock closer to shoppers increases, the weight of an efficient chilled supply chain is heavier than ever.

Global supply chain experts gathered at Birmingham’s ICC earlier this month to debate the challenges driving change in temperature-controlled storage and distribution.

UK grocery shopping behaviour is changing

According to Susan Barrett, Chief Executive Officer of the IGD (Institute of Grocery Distribution) – a resource for retail data and insight – confidence amongst shoppers is low, whilst concerns  over product availability is high. This has led to 90% of grocery shoppers changing their shopping behaviour in response

According to the IGD’s Shopper Research Data – which was presented at the event – demand for food and drink in the  retail sector rose by 12% during the pandemic, whilst demand for out-of-home food options (restaurants, pubs) collapsed.

Pressure on production and distribution during the pandemic was extreme, but services were considered excellent by users.. Shoppers – even those too vulnerable to leave their homes –were usually able to get what they needed.

More affluent shoppers in particular were originally feeling  positive towards the food sector post-covid, but due to inflation increases, all demographics are feeling negative at present. Research shows there is a general lack of confidence in the food sector amongst consumers at present

Fast-forward to 2022, and grocery supply chains are not performing as well as they were during the pandemic, according to IGD’s research. On shelf availability of products over the last 12 months has been at approximately 65%. Prior to the pandemic, it would have sat consistently at over 90%.

The data shows that the majority of shoppers noted low availability on their last trip and this applies across multiple product categories.

Barrett, whose background is the food supply chain, questions system durability, and whether it’s time to re-assess stockholding practice. Is the current low-stock, just-in-time approach still optimal? Or would holding more stock, closer to shoppers, increase durability and improve service?

She flags that yes, there would be financial implications if this were to happen, but if products are out-of-stock, no-one wins.

Reducing emissions in the cold chain

If holding stock closer to consumers is the answer, then so is world class technology in temperature-controlled storage facilities. To reduce emissions in the UK’s cold chain – from temperature-controlled storage to refrigerated distribution – industry experts at Cold Chain Live! made their recommendations to its operator audience. Dr Rob Lamb, Group Sales & Marketing Director at Star Refrigeration, says emission targets for the cold chain sector are likely to become more stringent. Operators must replace old systems – software and hardware – whilst also considering how energy is sourced and recycled.

According to Lamb, 38% of UK cold stores are still operating on Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). He adds that on a small level, “hydrogen on site might be just around the corner” and suggests that heating created in cold stores could be channeled into the district heating network.

He argues it’s essential the UK build better cold stores and upgrade existing ones. Construction must change, adds Lamb, as new design parameters shift due to the UK’s record temperatures, and are now subject to higher ambient design conditions.

Tom Southall, Policy Director at the Cold Chain Federation, says that ‘being seen to be green’ is driving cold chain businesses to change, and is evident in both customer and investor specifications.

Southall made a number of recommendations to operators which will help reduce emissions on UK roads. These include: upgrade to the latest, cleanest transport refrigeration units and maximise fuel efficiency with start/stop modes.

He also recommends collaboration via vehicle routing, reducing the number of empty journeys, consolidation and urban logistics.

Ti recently reported Nestle’s efforts in its chilled products supply chain in Belgium where by collaborating on truck space and journeys, it reduced carbon exhaust fumes by 63% and CO2 emissions by 43 tonnes per year.

As the UK tackles challenges in its food supply chain thanks to external events including Brexit, the war in Ukraine and COVID-19, investment in new technology and some supply chain reconfiguration are essential next steps for cold chain operators.

Source: Cold Chain Live! 2022

Author: Kirsty Adams


Supply chain strategists can use GSCI – Ti’s online data platform – to help them navigate their way through strategic reconfiguration and sustainable next steps.

GSCI data can help users identify opportunities for growth, support strategic decisions, help them stay abreast of industry trends, as well as understand future impacts on the industry.

Visit GSCI subscription to sign up today or contact: Michael Clover for a free demonstration: [email protected] | +44 (0) 1666 519907








Shopper confidence, cold store technology and sustainable next steps were key topics discussed at Cold Chain Live! 2022. Kirsty Adams reports.