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As 2022 fast approaches, see what our CEO and CCO, Frank Jones and Jason Kay, think will be food retail's top trends in the next twelve months.

From continuing pandemic restrictions through to the momentous agreements at COP26, the past twelve months have seen significant changes across all industries and sectors. This includes the food retail sector. As we prepare to head into the new year, we sat down with our CEO and CCO, Frank Jones and Jason Kay, to discuss what they think will be the top trends across food retail and the cold chain over the next twelve months.

1. The cold chain will play a vital role in the transition to renewables

COP26 and the subsequent Glasgow Climate Pact refocussed the world’s mind on the need to decarbonise to combat the climate emergency. With governments coming together in a pledge to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, the food retail sector has an important role to play in making a world powered by wind and solar a reality.

Moves to implement large-scale demand side response technology in 2022 will help to manage and support load challenges within the grid, meaning that our high street supermarket fridges and freezers will, in effect, become giant nationwide virtual batteries. The load balancing this provides during peak hours could become a key part of the energy solution by managing the unpredictability of solar and wind power generation.

2. Retail controls systems ready to turn digital

Historically, controls systems for retail infrastructure such as refrigeration and HVAC have been predominantly electronic, with the controls industry focussed on selling hardware rather than software. Increasingly, though, retailers are becoming savvy to the benefits of fully accessible, software-agnostic controls systems which can be linked to external data sources.

Imperatively, these software-agnostic systems don’t require hardware updates to keep up with the latest developments of the controls industry or new requirements from the retailer. Instead, they maximise value from existing asset investments and current infrastructure. 2022 will no doubt be the year retailers recognise the benefits that exist in the intersection between easily integrated software platforms and plug-and-play digital controls solutions.

3. The increased focus on ESG will lead to a food retail data revolution 

If 2020 and 2021 were the years board-level execs started to take the power of data seriously, then 2022 will be the year that their organisations recognise the need to build a solid foundation for their data operations. An increased focus on ESG and corporate responsibility coupled with the need to remain financially efficient as we head into uncertain economic conditions, will mean that it is more important than ever for the food retail sector to collect, analyse and use data for good. 

From environmental reporting through to enabling data-driven decision making that improves sustainability, data has a huge role to play in improving ESG initiatives without impacting revenue. The cold chain has not historically made efficient use of its data for good, often due to worries over investment for what is a tight-margin industry. 2022 will be the year that mindset changes (for good).

4. Retailers and the cold chain will work closely to improve sustainability

A trend we have already seen start to emerge is for businesses to begin rethinking what they offer customers from a sustainability perspective. Historically, businesses would set their own agenda and targets when it came to sustainability but, with consumers taking an increasing interest, organisations are now having to adapt to the market deciding what ‘good’ looks like in these areas. 

For supermarkets, this means consumers want to know where their food has come from, what its carbon footprint is, and whether it originates from a farm with sustainable practices. For these reasons, it is now in the interests of the food retail sector to work more closely with organisations throughout across the entirety of the cold chain to improve sustainability and support the supply chain’s journey to net-zero.

5. This isn’t going to be the year we solve food poverty, but it can be the year we build a foundation for a future solution

There have been several new innovations aimed at decreasing food waste in developed countries, including things like apps which enable retailers to give away food that is about to expire. This is clearly a huge step in the right direction to decrease the amount of food we waste, but it doesn’t address the core issue causing global food insecurity: an inefficient and wasteful cold chain.

Food poverty is a global issue, and one that cannot be solved by simply throwing away less food in developed countries. To effectively tackle food poverty, the food retail industry needs to start mapping its data right across the supply chain to drive operational efficiencies, cut down on over-supply, and ensure a more equitable distribution of goods. This will only be solved through a concerted international effort and will require careful coordination that is underpinned by solid data. This won’t be the year we solve the challenge of food poverty, 2022 can be the time we build the data foundations necessary to create a more sustainable supply chain to address future global food security.