UK supermarkets are kept very cold - some are colder than the Arctic. Claire Coleman from Daily Mail ventures inside to test the temperature inside them Tesco was 10.5C and Sainsbury's was a chilly 5.4C
You see, while temperatures across the UK last month were hotter than the Med, in our supermarkets it’s a different story.
Venture into some and you’ll find it’s more bracing than parts of the Arctic Circle, where it was 6C (42.8F) a week ago, compared with 5.4C (41.7F) in the meat aisle of my Sainsbury’s.
So why do supermarkets feel the need to super-chill the aisles? There’s a theory that when we’re colder and our bodies are burning more calories to stay warm, we may subconsciously think we need more food - so cranking up the air con is simply a cynical bid to make us spend more.
But this approach does more than just give us goosebumps - the impact on the environment is staggering.
Retail food outlets in the UK are responsible for around 3 per cent of all electrical consumption, and open freezers and chiller cabinets are incredibly inefficient. Can you imagine how much your electricity bill would rise if you left your fridge or freezer wide open all day?
Research shows that fitting doors on fridges and freezers in supermarkets could reduce energy consumption by as much as 50 per cent. And, in France, some supermarkets have signed an agreement to install doors on all cabinets in new stores, saving enough energy by 2020 to keep the whole UK running for two entire days.
But according to Dr Richard Bull of De Montfort University’s Institute of Energy, supermarkets are reluctant to change. ‘They want produce to be open and accessible,’ he says. ‘They think that’s what consumers want and this encourages them to buy.’
And it’s not just open fridges and freezers that keep the mercury low. The air conditioning throughout these stores is set to Arctic levels, and according to Dr Bull, there’s a reason for that.
‘Very often supermarkets don’t take a long-term view when investing in shops,’ he says. ‘The fabric of the buildings tend to be poor with very little insulation, so they just air condition the whole building - it’s very inefficient, but it’s an easier approach.’
The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers recommends shops have a minimum of 18C (64F), but to find out just how chilly our supermarkets really are, I took an infrared thermometer to seven of our High Street supermarkets, from upmarket Waitrose to budget Lidl.
I took three readings in each store - one by the cabinets in the fruit and veg department, one by the fridges in the fresh meat aisle, and a third by the freezer cabinets.
Here’s how they measured up - and which ones left me shivering...
The veg department looks lovely and fresh, but the temperature is closer to London in February. It’s even colder in the meat section, but the problem isn’t just in the areas where chilled produce is sold.
I encounter cold spots which are clearly where chillier air is being pumped into the store. I can’t understand why anyone would think that loo rolls or baked beans needed to be kept cold, so it seems they just cool the whole place and don’t care what the impact is.
Sue Jackson, 58, shops at Tesco in Falmouth. ‘It’s freezing,’ she tells me. ‘I suffer from Raynaud’s Disease (a condition which causes hands and feet to become very cold very quickly) so I either have to avoid it, wrap up, or dash round.’
Fruit and veg: 11.3C (52.3F)
Fresh meats: 10.5C (50.9F)
Frozen: 17.5C (63.5F)
Shiver factor: ❄ ❄
Tesco say: ‘We control the temperature of our stores between 18C (64.4F) and 24C (75.2F). The air conditioning kicks in if the temperature rises and we heat stores if it falls. We maintain this to make sure our stores are comfortable for customers and colleagues whilst using a responsible amount of energy.’
When I was talking to my friends about over-air-conditioned supermarkets, the same shop was mentioned over and over again: Sainsbury’s. In mine, the fruit and veg aisle was cold but not Arctic. But it was the temperature in the meat section that shocked me: the reading of 5.4C makes it as cold as it was in London on Christmas Day.
And, while some of the freezer cabinets had doors on them, two long aisles of open chest freezers meant it was icy in the frozen section. Nadia Marsh, 42, a mother of eight-year-old twins, says: ‘It’s a lovely respite from the heat when the children are whining and crying. It’s a far less messy than turning the hose on them!’
Fruit and veg: 9.6C (49.3F)
Fresh meats: 5.4C (41.7F)
Frozen: 10.5C (50.9F)
Shiver factor: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄
Sainsbury’s say: ‘We regularly check the temperature, which will vary between different aisles.’
MARKS & SPENCER
As I walk into the food section of M&S in Clapham Junction, the temperature drops a lot. An elderly gent in front of me turns to his wife and says: ‘Lovely, shall we stay all day?’
‘I’m quite sensitive to the cold so I really notice it,’ Cleudi Gossage, 23, tells me. ‘I know some supermarkets put doors on fridges and freezers and if they all did that, it would limit the amount of energy they waste.’
In M&S some of the frozen goods are behind glass, but it’s still not enough to stop the place feeling very cool, with a low of 7.7C in fresh meats - like Manchester in March. A bit of a surprise, given that the company has vowed to be greener.
Fruit and veg: 9.2C (48.6F)
Fresh meats: 7.7C(45.9F)
Frozen: 16.4C (61.5F)
Shiver factor: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄
M&S say: ‘We monitor our stores to ensure that the ambient temperatures are comfortable for customers and employees.’
One of my friends has a theory that the posher the shop, the colder it is. Consumers equate air conditioning with luxury, because maintaining low temperatures is expensive.
High-end Waitrose was certainly cool - I noticed a lot of yummy mummies throwing cardigans on - but while the fruit and veg area wasn’t staggeringly cold, the frozen section was one of the coldest that we tested.
‘At the moment I take twice as long shopping as it’s so refreshing,’ admitted Jeane Trend-Hill, 48, a Waitrose regular. ‘Although in winter I tend to move around the freezer aisles a lot quicker!’
Fruit and veg: 14.8C (58.6F)
Fresh meats: 8.5C (47.3F)
Frozen: 10.6C (51.1F)
Shiver factor: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄
Waitrose say: ‘Our shops are regularly checked to make sure temperatures are at the right level to keep our customers comfortable, whilst also ensuring our food is kept fresh.’
The Asda in Clapham Junction is a vast hangar of a place and must take a staggering amount of energy to cool, so it was a surprise to find that the huge front doors seemed to be fixed open, meaning their air con needs to work extra hard.
As I stepped across the threshold, I was hit with a blast of icy air. Some of the staff in fruit and veg were wearing fleeces and gloves.
However, it was in meat that things got really cold - a staggering 7.6C (45.7F). On the plus side, in the freezer aisle the temperature is a pleasant 18C (64.4F), thanks to doors on the freezers.
As I stepped across the threshold, I was hit with a blast of icy air. Some of the staff in fruit and veg were wearing fleeces and gloves
Emily Davies, 31, from Kent, has a newborn and shops regularly in her local Asda. ‘It was about 30C outside so he was just in a vest but inside it was so cold that his poor little legs started going a bit blotchy so I panicked and ran back out. I’m sure nothing was seriously wrong, but it can’t have been very comfortable!’
Fruit and veg: 14.3C (57.7F)
Fresh meats: 7.6C (45.7F)
Frozen: 18.0C (64.4F)
Shiver factor: ❄ ❄
Asda say: ‘Our stores are carefully temperature controlled for our customers to shop in a comfortable environment, while ensuring our products are in the best condition.’
At least at the Co-op, their sliding doors were working which gave me hope that it wouldn’t be quite as cold. But their fruit and veg aisle was one of the coldest I came across.
Justine Walker, 37, has a two-year-old and a three-month-old. ‘In general supermarkets are too cold,’ she tells me. ‘I really don’t understand why they have to be quite so cold.’
With doors on the freezers, the frozen aisle wasn’t quite so Arctic, but still below the 18C recommended. As Co-op had doors on the freezers, the frozen aisle wasn't quite so Artic, but still below the 18C
Fruit and veg: 9.3C (48.7F)
Fresh meats: 8.2C (46.8F)
Frozen: 17.5C (63.5F)
Shiver factor: ❄ ❄ ❄
Co-op say: ‘We keep our stores at a suitable temperature so our customers enjoy shopping with us and our colleagues are comfortable too.’
I don’t feel dramatically chillier the second I step through the door. A lot of the less perishable fruit and veg, such as tomatoes, melons, cherries, cucumbers and whole lettuces, isn’t refrigerated at all - and all of the fresh meat is in chest fridges with closed lids. It feels like an average day in May. Why can’t every supermarket do this?
Fruit and veg: 14.2C (57.6)
Fresh meats: 17.2C (63F)
Frozen: 14.6C (58.3F)
Shiver factor: ❄
Lidl say: ‘We cool our stores to 23C during the summer months. We have chosen 23C (73.4F) over 18C (64.4F) in order to minimise energy consumption and this hasn’t fluctuated with the hot weather.’