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A new study found that raising the temperature by three degrees could cut costs in the supply chain of between 5% and 12%

Food and logistics businesses are calling for an increase to the standard frozen temperature metric to slash carbon emissions in global supply chains.

A group of leading industry names, including the UK’s Cold Chain Federation, the Global Cold Chain Alliance, DP World and MSC, want food to be stored and transported at –15°C – rather than the current –18°C – in a bid to save energy as the sector transitions to a net zero model.

The calls from the newly launched global coalition called ‘Join the Move to –15°C’ come as a study from the Paris-based International Institute of Refrigeration, the University of Birmingham and London South Bank University found that raising the temperature by three degrees could cut costs in the supply chain of between 5% and 12%.

“Frozen food standards have not been updated in almost a century. They are long overdue for revision,” said DP World group CSO Maha AlQattan.

“A small temperature increase could have huge benefits but – however committed each individual organisation is – the industry can only change what’s possible by working together.” 

Most frozen food, such as chips, peas, and fish fingers, is stored and transported at –18°C, a temperature standard set in the 1930s that has not been changed since.

The study found the change could save around 17.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – the equivalent annual emissions of 3.8 million cars annually – and create energy savings of around 25 terawatt hours (TW/h), roughly 8.6% of the UK’s annual energy consumption.

Academics have said this would not compromise food safety or quality.

Cold Chain Federation executive director Tom Southall told The Grocer: “This is something we have been discussing for a while with various stakeholders and it is interesting to see it ballooning as an issue over the last few months.

“It is a global issue and the CCF will be working with international stakeholders to determine the road to revisiting temperature setpoints.”

Within the UK, the CCF’s goals in the short term will be to “increase awareness of the theoretical energy saving potential of raising the temperature setpoint of frozen food as a way to encourage further study and evidence gathering from food manufacturers and most importantly government, aimed at determining the technical feasibility”, Southall said.

The group will also work with its members to “identify any supply chain barriers to adopting higher temperatures”, he added – such as whether “the current cold chain infrastructure can cope with a higher setpoint without increasing vulnerability to increased wastage”.

The idea of changing the industry standard of –18°C, which was set at a time when fewer studies and technology were available, has floated about for a while.

But it has struggled to become a reality as it requires discipline and trust across what are often deeply complex global supply chain ecosystems.

At the forefront of any industry-wide changes will be the frozen food companies, which essentially decide at what temperatures their goods are held. They must prove to retailers and customers they can have confidence in the quality of goods if they are to make any tweaks to the temperature standards.

A recent Nomad Foods pilot study running over six months also found that storing frozen food at –15°C could reduce freezer energy consumption by more than 10% without any noticeable impact on product safety, texture, taste or nutrition of frozen food products.

Nomad CEO Stéfan Descheemaeker said at the end of the pilot in August that “delivered at scale, this could revolutionise our industry and deliver substantial energy use and cost reductions for manufacturers, food retailers and consumers and further reduce the carbon footprint of frozen food products”.

Unilever last month said it was granting ice cream manufacturers a free non-exclusive license for 12 of its “warmer” reformulation patents in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.

Access to these patents would help the industry manufacture ice cream products that remained stable at –12°C, which Unilever said hoped would encourage the industry to move towards more energy-efficient freezer cabinets.

The move to energy efficiency was particularly important as the industry faced rising energy bills and increased demand from cash-strapped shoppers, the ‘Join the Move to –15°C’ alliance said.

The group features some of the biggest names in the industry, including around 60% of the world’s shipping market with backers such as Maersk of Denmark, MSC and Lineage, as well as US-based global food provider AJC Group.