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Crisis shines a light

26 October 2020

The challenges faced in 2020 have shone a spotlight on the strength, resilience and importance of the cold chain, says Shane Brennan, Chief Executive of Cold Chain Federation. Cold storage and distribution businesses continue to pull out all the stops to make sure that fresh and frozen food has been in place to refill supermarket shelves, to help meet the surge in demand for home deliveries, and to service hospitals and other key workplaces at all times.

As the world braces itself for more months of Covid disruption, cold storage businesses are making sensible preparations wherever possible. Long term social distancing arrangements, supporting growth in online shopping and home deliveries, and looking to make best use of warehousing technologies are just a few of the measures cold storage businesses are embracing. 

From the start of the crisis Cold Chain Federation has provided updates, advice and a cross-industry forum for its members, as well as representing the industry’s concerns and solutions both to Government and across the food supply chain. I have no doubt the closer networks and strengthened relationships in place will outlast the crisis to the benefit of all.

As well as preparing for further Covid disruption in the months ahead, cold storage businesses are also trying to prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. But with scant detail from Ministers and their Departments about the new systems and processes businesses will need to follow, early preparations can only be frustratingly superficial. 


In February 2020 Government announced that that rigorous border checks would be introduced, in stages, from 1 January 2021 for goods imported from the EU to the UK. The Cold Chain Federation repeatedly urged Government to address its lack of infrastructure and planning for the huge border operation this will require. In June 2020, Government published revised plans to instead introduce the new checks in stages. Extending the timetable was a sensible move but I have concerns that Government is still behind even its revised timeframe in terms of developing the necessary infrastructure and processes.

Cold storage businesses need to be ready for the new paperwork that will need to be completed before a consignment leaves the storage facility. From April 2021 all products of animal origin (POAO) will require pre-notification and the relevant health documentation. From July 2021 traders moving all goods will have to make declarations at the point of importation and pay relevant tariffs. Full Safety and Security declarations will be required, while for SPS commodities there will be an increase in physical checks and the taking of samples: checks for animals, plants and their products will now take place at GB Border Control Posts.

Similarly, while the Cold Chain Federation supports Government’s proposals for Operation Brock to filter and manage the flow of vehicles at Dover by only allowing ‘border ready’ vehicles to flow through with others directed to holding places for support to get ‘border ready’, we are wary that the traffic management model is based on an IT system that has not been tried and tested. 

In September I was part of a cohort of logistics leaders to meet with Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove to discuss concerns and, we had hoped, solutions to these challenges. However there is little sense that our forewarnings are leading to effective Government action. We should all anticipate disruption.

The Cold Chain Federation is providing urgent advice for its members and ongoing liaison with Government on both Covid and Brexit issues, but we are also working hard to support our industry in keeping the cold chain’s crucial energy challenge high on the agenda.

Climate change

With Government working to meet the targets of its Net Zero emissions law, there is no doubt its policies will demand increasingly ambitious improvements in energy efficiency across the economy. At the same time we can expect energy costs to continue rising. The Federation is working to help businesses with a cold storage facility make the right plans and take considered action now in order to meet regulatory requirements, and to tap into the potential to reap commercial rewards for many years to come.

The cold storage Cold Chain Agreement (CCA) is a prime example. Under the CCA businesses from a range of sectors meet targets for improving the energy-efficiency of their facilities, in return for a discount on their Climate Change Levy bills. The Cold Chain Federation administers the only scheme for cold storage businesses.

More than 400 facilities are already signatories to the cold storage CCA and their collective 16% improvement in energy efficiency between 2012 and 2018 has saved signatories £10m each year. Previously due to end in 2023 and closed to new entrants, Government announced in March that the CCA scheme will be extended until 2025. The tax saving rewards on offer remain very attractive, and the target to be reached is more ambitious. 

The Cold Chain Federation has started a programme of activities to help signatories identify how best to accelerate their energy efficiency progress and meet the new CCA targets. Don’t miss the first in our new Cold Chain Insights series in November 2020, which will feature discussion of the updated CCA requirements as well as an exploration of our new comprehensive guide to maximising energy efficiency in a cold store.

This new guide, Energy Efficiency in the Cold Chain, covers both ‘quick wins’ for swift, incremental energy efficiency improvements as well as longer term, high impact opportunities. It can help cold storage businesses start a programme now that will bring rewards for many years to come.

The guide sets out the steps for creating an energy strategy that will help identify ambitions as well as improving financial planning and forecasting. It details technical opportunities such as minimising chamber heat loads and maximising operational efficiency in refrigeration systems but, crucially, it also explains how to assess energy usage, how to build the business case for investment in energy efficiency, and how to generate an energy efficient business culture. 

Technological development is enabling impressive improvements in cold store energy efficiency, but as an industry we must recognise that the majority of our cold storage needs are met by older facilities and will continue to be for some time. Improving our industry’s energy performance requires action across the spectrum.

My message as we look to 2021 is that while we must prepare well and work together for the Covid and Brexit changes on our immediate horizon, we must not put off the greater challenges and opportunities of energy efficiency that will follow closely after but cast a much longer shadow.

For more information, visit www.coldchainfederation.org.uk

2020 activity

  • February: Publishes new guide, the first of its kind, ‘Keeping People Safe in a Cold Store’
  • March: Secures extension to the cold storage Climate Change Agreement
  • March - June: Delivers weekly Coronavirus Information Webinars
  • June: Holds Energy Week webinar series
  • June: Publishes new ‘Report on the UK Cold Chain’
  • August: Publishes comprehensive new guide ‘Energy Efficiency in the Cold Chain’
  • October: Holds Cold Chain Live! Towards a Zero Carbon Cold Chain, a 4-week series of new publications, leader interviews and virtual workshops
  • November: Launches the first in the new Cold Chain Insights series, focusing on energy in cold stores