What future for UK coldstores

Coldstores: is the the drive for autonomous automation at the expense of customer service? Jon Stowe, managing director of ACS&T writing in this month’s Cold Chain News assesses the future challenges and responses for the coldchain industry

The cold storage sector has long been considered a mature market, the not so glamorous part of the industry with high investment and fixed costs with often low returns. Increasingly, questions are starting to be asked about the suitability of older facilities for the future, especially as regulations on the use of refrigerant gases and increasing energy costs all impact the operating costs of coldstores.

More recently, the threat of carbon taxes on emissions only adds to the fanfare that the future of coldstores is only for large brand new automated coldstores with the much-trumpeted ambition of carbon net neutral.
Of course, there is a place for this type of sizeable automated solution, especially as growth in demand is fuelling investment. In the last twelve months, factors like Covid-19 and Brexit have shown that there is not enough cold storage space in the UK to accommodate peak volumes.

However, more importantly, most research suggests sustained long-term growth for frozen food, creating a new wave of commercial activity within the cold storage market. So recent months have seen acquisition, expansion and market consolidation as the market segments and polarises into specific activities and categories.

The majority of the investment continues to be in large single chamber automated high bay warehouses. These remain ideal applications for customers who require standardised high-volume storage working to fixed operating parameters with limited variability or flexibility. At the other end of the spectrum, several local or regional single site coldstores have created a niche in providing a specific service in a defined catchment area. They have excellent customer service but have limited strength and depth due to their scale and cannot offer national coverage flexibility.

However, in this age of unpredictability, responsiveness and pace, there is a real need for coldstore operations that are large enough to provide national coverage and small enough to offer genuine customer care. They also need to provide integrated warehousing and in-house transport solutions, and with a suite of added-value options, all bespoke to each customer’s requirement.

In line with widening consumer choice and expectation, there is now an increasing need for product segregation encompassing organics certification and plant-based products. Coldstores with varying sized chambers in the same complex deliver this flexibility to allow both segregation and the ability to move into larger chambers as sales flourish.

About ACS&T
“ACS&T is the market leader in providing national and local coverage with integrated own fleet transport solutions. With it being our centenary this year and delivering operational excellence since 1921, the business has a wealth of experience in partnering manufacturing, food service and retail customers. With the implementation of its new five-year strategy, the company is focussed on growth and expansion by being famous for bespoke solutions, flexibility, innovation, quality, agility, accreditation and naturally excellent customer care – making ACS&T the credible alternative to fixed and inflexible cold storage.”

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