Fresh is in: How food retailers are adjusting to the modern customer

Today we wanted to take a closer look at the shift towards modern refrigeration in food retail. New refrigeration systems are better for the environment, and there’s more demand for them as we move towards healthier and fresher foods.

As consumers, we’re making the connection between refrigeration and produce that is made with clean, whole-food ingredients. In America, recent studies show the ‘freshness’ of food is the most important factor behind a purchase, and the UK’s organic market is worth over £2 billion (and growing) every year.

The question, then, is obvious: what’s behind this change, and why does it matter to business owners and food retailers?

Social media matters

Can a tweet change the food industry? Perhaps! Despite the UK being very diverse, food retailers are now able to draw on the data available from social media – to name but one source – to better understand their customers.

This is changing how refrigeration is used and invested in. From grocers to supermarket chains, the industry is moving away from out-dated solutions that are more harmful to the environment and towards greener, more efficient systems.

These changes are primarily driven by the need to save our environment, but it’s also about reacting to the modern needs and views of customers.

Healthier living is trending

Despite ongoing challenges around obesity and taking better care of our bodies, we’re doing a great job on a wider scale!

The UK fitness industry is worth over £5 billion and the global weight loss market was estimated in 2018 to be worth a staggering £241 billion. As we touched on at the start of this article, the UK organic market was worth over £2 billion in 2018 – a 6% rise over the previous year.

People are clearly interested in living healthily. So, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with refrigeration?

Fresh food is favoured

As consumers flock towards healthier, fresher food, any retail business that sells produce is having to adjust. As you might imagine, processed food is usually easier to store; ramen packets don’t need to be chilled and sold within two days!

Vegetables, grass-fed and organic meat and fresh fish are all examples of items that are increasingly in demand and difficult to store without a great refrigeration system. At a smaller scale, these systems need to be presentable, efficient and affordable; at a larger one, carbon footprint and small margins in operating costs become serious issues.

We’re also seeing the internet come into play where food retail is concerned. Amazon recently purchased Whole Foods for over £10 billion in a bid to expand their online ‘Pantry’ and in-store food offerings, and the global e-commerce grocery market is set to expand from £37 billion in 2018 to a staggering £116 billion in 2025.

A major driver behind this shift is a growing preference for foods and snacks that are seen – and branded – as ‘fresh’.

2018 report ‘Future of Fresh’ found that 75% of consumers wanted fresh snacks. 60% wanted food that is fresh in general and 56% of shoppers avoid preservatives and additives. The biggest market? Millennials and the ‘iGen’ that follows them (no, we didn’t make up that name!).

What this means for food retail

This growing preference for fresh food and the new, on-demand ways to buy it all require serious refrigeration power. We’re finding ourselves in a food retail world where products with the shortest shelf lives – and a constant need for chilled storage – are expected to be bought and delivered within increasingly small deadlines.

The growing backlash against preservatives and additives in food alone point towards an increase in the need for cold storage. Preservatives might not be trendy now, but they’ve long helped food retailers sell products that are cheaper and easier to store. As ‘fresh’ rises, so too will the need for refrigeration.

Saving the environment

This leads us neatly to the subject of the environment.

In 2016 the UN signed the Kigali Amendment in a bid to ban the use and sale of harmful HFC gases used in older air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. In 2019, the younger generation has led strikes and events across the globe aimed at seeing climate change addressed faster and on a greater scale.

While it might sound odd to link these efforts to humble refrigeration, it actually does matter to food retail.

As we mentioned at the start of this article, it’s an age of social media! The young are increasingly involved in environmental protest and activism, and you’d better believe their principles are being watched closely by business owners across the world.

Supermarket chains like Marks & Spencer Food are making the headlines by investing in Formula One inspired refrigeration systems that lower their carbon footprint – and you’d better believe this kind of positive exposure makes a difference to their bottom line.

Social media matters in 2019, and while we’d all prefer to see more done in the name of simply ‘doing the right thing’, it’s at least something to see these investments being made by food retailers in a bid to better sell to their customers!

In conclusion

One reason is sometimes enough for a business to invest in something.

Are my customers looking for fresh food? I’ll spend money on new systems. Do they want to see a better environment, and to buy from businesses that show themselves as contributors to that? I’ll cut my carbon footprint and remove harmful HFCs from my cold storage systems. Are they concerned about their health and fitness? I’ll sell more products that help them achieve their goals.

The simple truth is that all the above is happening at once, and it’s a big deal in the refrigeration world Royale supports and lives within. Businesses that invest in modern refrigeration systems can now expect that best possible results: cutting costs, selling better produce to your customers and contributing to a greener future; not a bad ‘value proposition’, if you ask us!