Safer but also more sustainable: a look at the cold chain of the future
Nowhere are logistics processes under such pressure as in the food sector. The cold chain must become faster, safer, and better controlled, resulting in major technological transformations. But how do companies combine this evolution with that other priority: a sustainable energy policy?
A logistics chain that is 100% safe? It’s not an easy task. It’s a cliché to say that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but in food logistics, where the impact of a weak link can be disastrous for public health, there’s a practically literal reason behind the cliché’s truth. All parties involved must therefore be on the same page, show the same level of commitment, and be prepared to make similar investments.
These investments are clearly visible today: the refrigeration and freezing infrastructure in Europe has been given a substantial boost in recent years. The large-scale distribution of Covid vaccines has played an important role in this, but the general evolution in the world of food logistics has also caused the market to grow. Plus, the demand for specific refrigerated transport continues to grow. Those who can invest in professional cold-chain technology to get a piece of the pie.
Transformation is more urgent than ever
Meanwhile, customers are becoming increasingly demanding, logistics processes are constantly under pressure, and the temperature control regulations are getting stricter. Cold chains have been transformed into a network of smart sensors and real-time data streams. This increasing automation makes the transformation to green energy more urgent than ever. Fortunately, the shift has clearly begun. This is also confirmed by Wilco Jansen of food wholesaler Sligro, “Everyone was already making huge investments to save energy in the warehouses. Nowadays, LED lighting, maximum thermal insulation, and infiltration of rainwater into the ground are standard across the board. We also utilise heat recovery as much as possible: we use the heat released by our refrigeration and freezer systems to heat the building.”
Green shift, red accounting?
Switching to renewable energy costs a lot of money, but everyone realises that the investments will pay for themselves in no time. “Our customers also have certain expectations when it comes to sustainability,” says Wilco Jansen (Sligro). “We want to show our existing and potential customers that we pursue an environmentally friendly energy policy. That certainly plays a part, too.”
In their quest to maximise transport volumes, distributors are looking for additional flexibility. An interesting paradox emerges here: the greater the demand, the more they use smaller boxes. “Frozen food normally represents the smallest segment of total transport, which makes it difficult to organise it efficiently,” says Tom Malfroid of Collect&Go-Colruyt. “That’s why we now combine the three main temperature zones in one trip: refrigerated, deep-frozen, and room temperature. We’re redesigning our entire chain with this perspective in mind.”
Less is more: smaller boxes, more efficiency
With the introduction of relatively small isothermal boxes, the sector is building a safe, sustainable, and smart solution for refrigerated transport. Specialised companies such as Etheclo develop boxes ranging from 18 to 30 litres for transporting refrigerated or frozen products. The savings that can be made are enormous. “With their relatively long cooling time of 36 hours, Etheclo’s boxes are perfectly suitable for long distances,” says co-founder Jos Mierman. “They allow us to keep a lot of big lorries off the road.”
Want to know more about how the green shift is dominating the food logistics sector today? Then download the full trend report from our website.