/ Shopping

Should all supermarket fridges have doors?

A young woman removes a cold beverage from a supermarket refrigerator

On what’s set to be the hottest day of the year so far, we’re discussing open supermarket fridges. Are they wasting energy?

It’s set to hit 38°C outside our office today. It can be a real struggle to keep cool, and it seems that supermarkets are no exception!

On Tuesday in Faringdon, Oxfordshire (where the mercury peaked at 29 degrees), a Tesco store’s fridges and freezers failed – leaving the supermarket unable to sell any frozen or chilled produce.

Supermarkets compared: which is best?

On the same day, environmental experts Business Waste called for a ban on open fridges due to their environmental impact. 

While the open fronted fridges without doors make it easy for us to see and access chilled groceries, the powerful refrigerant used to keep things cool is particularly damaging to the environment.  

So would it be better if we found our cheese, meats and other essentials behind closed fridge doors?

Energy consumption

According to Business Waste, supermarkets use 1.5 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, with between 60-70% of that used by fridges. If doors were used on the fridges instead, it could save millions of kilowatts of electricity.

Some supermarkets, including Aldi and Tesco, have promised to cut down the harmful hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) they use to cool open fridges. But fridge doors would mean less electricity wasted on keeping something cool. 

While this would be a change for shoppers, the extra hassle we’d have to face could be worth it to help reduce the environmental impact of excessive energy use.

Are the aisles too cold?

Putting the environment issue to one side, doors on the fridges could also prevent shivers as you travel down the aisle in search of bacon.

Extreme temperature fluctuations can have an impact on your health. Studies in places such as Dubai (where the outside temperature can reach 45°C) have found that a sudden drop in temperature from hot to cold can harm your health.

Severe air conditioning in shopping centres and public buildings in Dubai has led to doctors reporting eye infections, respiratory infections and muscular spasms as a result of a sudden lowering in temperature. 

In this UK heatwave, coolness may sound appealing, but some more vulnerable groups of people can become unwell as a result of sudden drops in temperature. It’s much better to slowly cool down to avoid your body being shocked. 

Have you ever been shocked by the temperature changes in the supermarkets? Would you be happy to have doors on the fridges? Are you concerned by the environmental impact of wasting energy?

Let me know in the comments, and keep cool out there!

Comments

I once fainted in Sainsbury’s when I was heavily pregnant when the cold air hit me.

Interesting observation this morning. My appetite has gone in this heat. I went into a shop to get some fruit. A couple of minutes in the cool, my appetite was back and I ended up buying a lot more than I meant to. Of course I’m not saying that is why the shops keep such low temps but is it helpful by-product of having open fridges?

Where I live, it’s set to rise to 31°C today, so I might take the opportunity of going shopping and spending some time near the fridges and freezers. Of course it makes sense to have doors, providing these are designed to self-close to avoid possible injury to customers and staff.

Yes; the appetite declines in very hot weather. We tend to eat when it’s cold, because evolution has placed the imperative in our brains that when it’s cold, we need to add insulation and energy, as during ice ages we wouldn’t next know when we would eat.

Vynor Hill says:
25 July 2019

If it saves energy then it is a good move. It shouldn’t be too difficult to design shelf space that was attractive, immediate and enclosable. There are some horizontal freezers with sliding covers, but that doesn’t satisfy the need to stack things vertically at eye level. The trays at the bottom of the shelves make goods less obvious as one rummages, but no one will bend right down to systematically get goods at floor level apart from the occasional tin of beans or detergent pack. Yes, they should but probably would find the replacement costs a barrier for doing so immediately.

I give up on my icon trouble. Perhaps it’s the weather, who knows?

Should all supermarket fridges have doors? – “According to Business Waste, supermarkets use 1.5 million kilowatt hours of energy per year, with between 60-70% of that used by fridges. If doors were used on the fridges instead, it could save millions of kilowatts of electricity.” – This begs the question, why do we ask the question? And that’s never mind the HFCs.

“While this would be a change for shoppers, the extra hassle we’d have to face could be worth it to help reduce the environmental impact of excessive energy use.” – What do we mean by “hassle”? For someone like me, if I called having to open a fridge door a hassle, it would mean I had lost all sense of what hassle means. For someone frail on the other hand, for example, it may mean having to ask staff for help. I may be lucky, but I have never not been helped in a supermarket when I have asked, including sometimes by fellow customers.

The author should have written ‘…save millions of kilowatt-hours of electricity’, though the meaning is obvious since the correct unit is given earlier.

Vicki Crowe says:
25 July 2019

Hi Sophie, I’m the writer who wrote this.

I think for the supermarkets it’s a matter of convenience both for the loading and unloading of the shelves and for the customers taking the items. It’s also easier for them to stock-check items if they don’t need to open a door. Supermarkets are trying to balance time/energy use/customer turnover etc. to make sure they’re still making a healthy profit. So while it may seem like a simple – “please add doors” I think the retailers could disagree.

By hassle I meant an extra level of effort that is a little inconvenient. I think it’s a hassle to do the washing up which is why I have a dishwasher – but I am capable of doing my own washing up. For supermarkets it can be the difference between making and not making a sale. The more barriers shops put in place the easier it is for a shopper to decide “no I don’t want that enough”.

I agree that the doors should be accessible to everyone and think that the best option here could be sliding doors so shoppers won’t need to grip handles (which can be difficult for people with arthritis for example).

My local Co-op has sliding doors on all of its fridges and I think this is a good option. I am particularly keen on this as it means I can open the door with my elbow so I don’t need to put any of my shopping down!

The Coop has been fitting sliding doors throughout their shops, and these are easily wedged open by staff when rotating stock.

The open, chest-type freezers are efficient without tops, I suspect, although tops could make a difference; how much would need to be measured. I’ve long thought the least efficient and most wasteful are the chiller cabinets.

Cold air is denser then warm air so I suppose the theory is that the open top fridges retain the cool air apart from when the contents are disturbed. In the vertical cabinets much of the chilled air will fall out when you open the door. I don’t think this is a big issue but if someone has calculated the loss of energy it would be interesting to see.

Sorry malcolm, just read your comment!

Yes. It seems so obvious I wonder why they dont all do it already?

Can anyone estimate the electrical saving? Is there a reduction in refrigerant use as well?

M&S fridges last night could not cope with the heat.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EAYWOf_XUAAptnW?format=jpg

M&S often do this, when it is hot, to keep the cool air in. You just lift the cover to get to the food you want.

First time I saw it – was a bit of a surprise! The shop was much quieter than usual. I am guessing many people went in, saw the blinds and left again. The poor staff were rushing about checking the temps of the fridges.

Happily I got my shopping in ok. 😉

JONATHAN GOLDING says:
26 July 2019

I started a petition on this subject last month which has already gained 24,000 signatures. Please feel free to sign and share!

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/261092

The number of supporters is now approaching 27,000. Well done Jonathan for doing something positive.

I’d like to see the evidence that supports this. “Retailers in the United Kingdom unnecessarily waste huge amounts of energy on open fridges and freezers.“. Presumably Jonathan has it?

Well done Jonathan! Great to gather so much support in such little time 🙂

Malcolm – Jonathan has provided a useful link in his petition: https://www.coolproducts.eu/news/why-dont-supermarket-fridges-have-doors

The figures given in the 4 JRC report suggest that a saving of £2.3bn a year in the UK could be achieved by such energy efficiency. There are 87 000+ grocery stores in the UK, an average of £26 000 a year each. Does that seem possible? Is this all down to simply lack of doors? I would think that would be enough of a stimulus to stores to address the problem. I wonder what the projected energy saving in the UK would actually be (the data was EU wide) and what work our cost-conscious supermarkets will have done to save money. We could ask them?

I was under the impression that in modern, large volume, supermarkets and superstores sophisticated heating and ventilation plants were a comprehensive solution to maintaining a balanced temperature in different areas, so that the heat from refrigeration and air conditioning or the escape of cold air from open cabinets were part of the mix both for economy and for energy conservation. I should be interested to know if this is correct.

Vertical chiller cabinets generally have blinds that are pulled down when the store closes but their thermal insulation properties are not so good as doors. Frozen food is generally already either in deep cabinets or behind spring-loaded doors.

Which is why Id like the supermarkets to be asked rather than just jumping to conclusions. All too easy to demonise someone in the absence of their input.

It is referred to as HVAC – heating, ventilation and air conditioning, so a search for supermarket HVAC will turn up plenty of reading material.

There are ways of reducing the energy consumption of open refrigeration cabinets but doors do seem the best option. With hinged opening doors there is a small risk of injury. Sliding doors are probably safer but opening one will mean that the one next door cannot be opened and there is more risk of the door being left open by shoppers.

HVAC will take account of all loads, throughout the year, including that from refrigeration devices but I doubt it will directly address the devices themselves. The cost of energy in maintaining the correct store environment will be substantial and the efficiency of all contributors will be of direct concern to the stores’ managers. Personally, I doubt it is a “wasteful” practice in view of the energy involved but as stores will have professional building services engineers looking after their pennies I’d like to see what they have to say.

It makes sense for deep freezer cabinets to have lids that can be kept closed and opened by the customer when required [Farm Foods used to use this method and might still do so but we don’t have one near us]. Even if they are generally left open during shopping hours they can be closed when the store closes.

Sliding doors seem to create problems due to misuse or rough handling. There is a local Tesco near us and I sometimes have to carry out adjustments to get the sliding door back to the closed position. The British have lost the art of being gentle with mechanical things and use too much force. The ice cream compartment seems to suffer the most.

Robyn says:
27 July 2019

I would definitely prefer doors, I get far too cold walking through the chiller section of a supermarket and it puts me off spending too much time there. It’s hard to browse when you’re shivering! It’s also such a waste of electricity.

All the fridges in our village shop have doors.

Some years ago when in Greece, I noticed that their chiller cabinets had ‘curtains’ made of transparent plastic strips – less efficient than doors as there were multiple very small gaps (and less tidy) but certainly a lot better than a vertical shelf system without anything to prevent all the cold air flowing out and it was very easy to reach through them to take things out.
Locally people are generally helpful, so anyone having a problem opening doors asks someone nearby for help, just as they do if they want something from a high shelf they can’t reach but I quite understand that doors could be more of a problem elsewhere, where everyone seems to be in a rush.

This seems to be the DT regurgitating existing material, as it does. I’d like to see the study on UK commercial fridges an the real effect of containing cold air with doors, screens, etc. I am neither doubting nor accepting what is being said; I would simply like to see UK evidence. As I said above, I’d also like to hear what the supermarkets have to say, particularly as the claimed energy savings mean a great deal of money to them and that is bound to be a factor they recognise.

If we could make Freedom of Information requests we might get this information from supermarket chains, but until then we need to rely on what snippets of information are available. Here is an old article about action by the Co-op: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/dec/25/co-op-supermarkets-extend-fridge-door-scheme

Which? could ask them. I asked them a year ago about their plastic packaging policy and received informative replies. I published them in the relevant Convo. I see no need to go down the FOI route unless the better approach fails.

Anna says:
13 August 2019

Yes, Doors on all the freezers and also all the fridges: dairy, meat, fresh juice, pasta, everything. It is utterly ridiculous that all that cool air is wasted by just pouring off the shelves into the store. The electricity they can save is tremendous, and surely outweighs the cost of installing doors? Personally I think they also need to fit all the supermarket roofs with solar panels.

During the hot weather my Tesco Local’s refrigeration failed too meaning that some of the open cabinets were empty. In a relatively new Aldi store, all fridges have doors. Its no great imposition to have to open the doors although I noted that one has lost its door. I discovered that at times of peak electricity usage (4 to 8pm), companies using a lot of electricity, such as Tesco, are paid to turn off their refrigeration. I signed up to get a solar battery form Eon at a reduced price so that they could take power from my battery to help “balance the grid”. Not entirely satisfactory, as in spite of the fact that Eon has not started taking power the system was exporting all the power and the battery failed within two weeks. Somewhat paradoxically, the battery draws power for cooling fans which were running quite a bit during the hotter weather. I see no real reason all supermarkets should not install fridges with doors. It would reduce the need for power. I would be happy to see legislation to this effect.

Apologies for being pedantic Which. The photo’ alongside the headline to this story actually show freezers, not fridges! The contents are probably bags of frozen vegetables. A fridge would contain dairy products, fresh and processed meat, fresh pasta etc.

Well spotted @dugalheath, we’ve amended the photo, and I’ve amended my notes to no longer request a “really cool” image from our picture desk.

I’ve made tea now – will it improve the jokes? Stay tuned!