Wait, Whose Idea Was It to Keep Produce in Open Coolers, Anyway?

Grocery stores are burning through electricity to please customers with chilled, open-air meat and produce displays.

Pictured: Significant, unnecessary energy waste (Photo: Andersen Ross/Getty Images)

Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

We live in world of hybrid cars, compact fluorescent light bulbs and burgeoning wind farms. So why is it that we don’t think twice about all that electrically cooled air continously spewing from the refrigerators at the grocery store? In other words, if the future is now, why is it we’re still shopping for boneless chicken breasts like it’s 1953?

It’s a question we couldn’t help asking after coming across this article from the Guardian, which reports that one large grocery chain in the U.K. has embarked on something of a revolution (at least in terms of the grocery biz). Are you ready for it? The Co-operative is putting doors on its refrigerators. (Gasp!)

This may not sound like a big deal, until you realize that if every grocery store in the U.K. installed doors on their refrigerators, it would save roughly double the amount of electricity produced by Europe’s second largest coal-fired power plant.

Even as we’ve been dutifully carting our own bags to the grocery store, it never quite dawned on us what energy hogs all those open refrigerators are—but the produce display status quo is essentially like leaving the door on your kitchen fridge open all day, every day. Yeah, you’d expect a pretty big electric bill at the end of the month.

Huge, in fact. Grocery stores in the U.K. use a full 5 percent of the country’s electricity, much of that for refrigeration. By putting doors on the refrigerators in all new stores and retrofitting many others, the Co-operative is saving $80 million a year on its power bills.

So why aren’t all grocery stores seeking more...closure? You guessed it: the fickle customer.

Can we just pause a moment to ask: Who are these people? Are they of the same ilk as the mythical “undecided voter”? Because it seems whenever some sort of simple, environmentally responsible change like this is floated, businesses always cite masses of skittish and seemingly dimwitted “customers” as their top concern. We really want to meet one of these people who would all of a sudden stop shopping for meat or produce if they had to strain themselves to open a refrigerator door.

To wit, a spokesman for another top supermarket chain in the U.K. told the Guardian: “Fridge doors are unpopular with most customers and therefore we have no plans at present to introduce them.”

“Most customers”? Seriously?

And there’s this from a spokeswoman for another chain: “Customers tell us that [fridge doors] make it difficult for them to shop, and we’re finding in busier stores that the doors stay open most of the time with little or no advantage. We believe there are other things we can do to make an impact.”

As for the Co-operative, the chain’s director of property, Dave Roberts, tells the Guardian that while the company was initially concerned about the impact the doors would have on sales, “[W]e found that because we put LED lights around the doors, customers said it brought the product to life. In no places where we have put doors on the fridges have sales gone down.”

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