SPECIAL REPORT: Is energy labelling on commercial refrigeration working?

Energy labelling

If you take Brexit out of the equation for one moment — and the inevitable question marks it places over the implementation of energy efficiency regulations imposed by the EU — the labelling of refrigeration equipment similar to what we’ve been used to in the domestic market for years is ostensibly a very good thing.

When all said and done, it ultimately gives foodservice operators the ability to compare models and select equipment based on lifecycle costs. And putting a focus on lifetime expenditure should help to push the sustainability message to the fore, which can only be a good thing.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are forced to invest in developing products that meet a uniform green standard and, in doing so, know they are competing on an even playing field at long last.

That’s not to say the process of integration has been entirely smooth so far. The race to be ready by July exposed some clear shortcomings.

“Although it seems the whole industry has been working hard to bring all their products into line with the new regulations, it appears in some cases certain cabinet variations, such as freezer counters, have proved difficult in attaining good ratings due to the testing standards — this has also highlighted grey areas of interpretation,” observes Nick Williams, managing director of Precision Refrigeration, who says that in Precision’s case the cost of complying with the regulations, including investment in new test chambers, R&D and external testing, works out at an average of £2,000 per product.

Minimum Energy Performance Standards

Adande, meanwhile, thinks the main issue was that manufacturers failed to get their houses in order to implement the guidelines correctly. “We were surprised that other manufacturers had not fully implemented the requirement to publish their labels/product on their materials and websites by the July 1 deadline,” says sales director Karl Hodgson.

“The opposite was true too, with some manufacturers publishing labels well ahead of time, even displaying them openly as a marketing exercise at trade shows, despite rule embargo. One noticeable change introduced through this energy labelling is a reduction in quoted “usable” volumes for most undercounter drawer systems. This has provided a more realistic set of data for the final customer.”

“Certain cabinet variations, such as freezer counters, have proved difficult in attaining good ratings due to the testing standards — this has also highlighted grey areas of interpretation”

Arguably the biggest cause for concern, however, is the issue of user awareness. The general consensus seems to be that many operators don’t know that the energy-labelling directive even exists, let alone that it has come into force.

“There are still many customers who have very little, if any, knowledge of what MEPS (minimum energy performance standards) is and how it affects them,” laments Malcolm Harling, sales and marketing director at Williams Refrigeration. “Although the product’s energy rating is doubtlessly a consideration in the buying decision process, our observations are that price and footprint remain the main drivers at the current time.”

This is confirmed by Adande. It claims that it has had specific enquiries for it’s A+ fridge but anecdotal evidence from visitors at trade shows and feedback from its customer service team suggests that little or no reference has been made to labelling as the motivator for purchase. “This scheme is just one of a range of criteria for buyers to consider, the most critical factor being that their ultimate choice sufficiently meets their operational needs,” says Hodgson.

Keith Warren, director of trade association CESA, admits it is still early days but he believes the arrival of MEPS has increased the profile of lifetime operating costs compared to capital cost. For him, it is now about raising awareness. “A key issue is to educate the market about what the labelling actually means and why it is significant,” he comments. “That’s why CESA publishes its Energy Labelling Guide, which explains the issues in layman’s terms and includes a useful glossary of the jargon.”

“Our observations are that price and footprint remain the main drivers at the current time”

Despite the inevitability of teething problems, most industry stakeholders emphatically agree that the EU Ecodesign Directive is a positive step for the foodservice sector. Glenn Roberts, managing director of Hoshizaki Gram UK, says:

“The directive has not only provided a fair and equal testing process, that allows buyers to compare refrigeration models like for like, but it also means that units that do not meet the MEPS have been taken off the market, leading to a more sustainable foodservice industry in the long term.”

Mondrian 01

Roberts says that in the past it has also been difficult to substantiate claims of energy efficiency, with no agreed testing process or comparison protocol making it tricky to differentiate one manufacturer’s refrigeration equipment from another.

“Now every refrigeration unit sold within the EU must undergo the same testing process, meaning that models rated as an ‘A’, such as our SUPERIORPLUS 72, have been verified so distributors and purchasers can be confident in the energy efficient credentials of any model.”

With the regulatory legwork done, it is now a case of making sure operators realise that when they are taking the energy efficiency of a product into account, it no longer has to be the guessing game it once was.

Brexit won’t negate regulations, insist experts

The fact that Britain is poised to leave the EU within the next 18 months means that, in theory at least, minimum energy performance standards and the subsequent energy labelling process, will no longer be legally binding, apart from in instances where manufacturers are exporting to Europe.

But industry experts are unanimous in declaring that the panic button does not need to be pressed. “Europe will still be the UK’s biggest market, so manufacturers will continue to need to build to EU specifications,” notes Keith Warren, director of CESA. “Effectively Brexit will have little impact in this specific area. The UK will still have a say in setting the energy labelling standards through the established standards-making processes. What will change is the UK’s ability to shape or influence the big policy decisions and the respective implementing measures.”

However, notes Warren, as CESA is part of the European Federation of Catering Equipment Manufacturers (EFCEM), it will still have significant influence. “Meanwhile there are no signs that the UK government wants to deviate from the established regulations — nor that there is any benefit in doing so,” he points out.

Nick Williams, managing director of Precision Refrigeration, says that even though it will need to comply with the regulation to sell its products into the EU market, there is a practicality in applying the same standards parameters to the UK.

“It is good that we have a regulation acting as a level playing field for customers to reliably compare products. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel and start over with a new UK version of the legislation,” he argues.

Indeed, with manufacturers having invested so much time and money into the testing and labelling process in order to provide clarity for the consumer, few see any sense in the regulations being ripped up or replaced.

“The labelling requirement will remain in force in continental Europe and may be adopted by other regions or countries and as such it will remain very relevant to our business,” declares Karl Hodgson, sales director at Adande.

“The situation for the UK is unclear at this point but based on examples such as Norway, and the amount of work required to establish different standards specifically for the UK, we expect the current legislation on labelling will be maintained. Time will tell.”

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