Flexibility is our industry's middle name

By SMI Director Jill Seymour

Many businesses are finding themselves in a real catch-22 situation right now.

On one hand, they are hesitant about planning too far ahead until there is a much clearer indication of how the fallout from Covid-19 is going to impact on their profits.

But on the other, the need to maximise efficiencies and save money or energy where possible – as well as capitalising on any new opportunities that arise - is also right at the top of their agenda.

The food retail chain is one sector which has benefited greatly over the past few months, particularly those stores which have not had to rely too heavily on third-party suppliers.

However, this boom in demand has brought with it something of a logistical headache too. In those first few weeks of lockdown, when many families were panic buying or stockpiling, even the biggest retailers found they did not have sufficient frozen or chilled storage space.

Thankfully, flexibility is the temperature-controlled insulation sector’s middle name.

Since the pandemic took hold, we’ve seen a significant rise in demand for products delivering thermal insulation barriers and protection, portable cold rooms (Cold-Korner and Chilled-Kube, including our TCZ Temperature Control Zone curtains) for large areas.

They make it possible for any combination of ambient, chilled products to be stored in any building or vehicle, and to be regularly reshaped or reconfigured.

From airports to ships, beer cellars to portable catering units, these systems have gone into overdrive to help keep all manner of products at their optimum temperature. We have also worked closely with the funeral sector this year to ensure a sufficient supply of mortuary units – using the exact same technology - were on standby at the height of the pandemic.

And with more families choosing to receive their weekly supermarket shop by home delivery, the interest in thermally insulated roll cage covers, box liners and thermal bags has also increased.

When we invented and supplied one of the first flexible cold rooms to Waitrose many years ago, one of the partners suggested the name Temperature Controlled Zone (TCZ), and it has stuck with us ever since.

The real benefit at a time like this is that a TCZ is so easy to use, quick to fold away, simple to fit and amazingly effective as a flexible cold room. As we like to say . . . it allows you to ‘hang up a cold room’!

Our unique thermal insulation material Tempro can cut energy loss by at least 25% in chillers, and as much as 33% in freezers. It does exactly what it stated, through vigorous validation and testing over the years, many have tried to copy us.

We have one customer in the south of England who pulls out a TCZ to divide part of his bakery into a chilled area to insert cream and chocolate after the product is baked, cannot speak highly enough of the ease and saving they are making.

Another took their TCZ with them when they moved premises and was able to buy more curtains with added track to extend into their new building.

Where companies are ripping up long-held business plans, we believe that this kind of flexibility is going to become even more crucial in the coming months.

The global cold chain monitoring market was valued at around £4 billion last year and is predicted to top £7 billion by 2025.

The key factors driving this growth include a spiralling demand to protect the environment with energy saving products like ours that are needed for temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals, movement of chilled and frozen goods, mortuary units, chilled and frozen logistics.

The world is a small place these days, and many products are travelling huge distances to reach their end users, covering vastly differing climatic conditions.

The ability to maintain cargo at its specified temperature is mission critical but we have covered this with our range of Back-Stop and Multi-Stop curtains to protect goods in ambient to chilled and chilled to frozen.

However, providing a suitable temperature-controlled environment, often at short notice, is just part of the battle these days.

The question our sales team is being asked more often than any other right now is: “What is the Covid-19 risk?”

That’s no surprise, as the virus has significantly impacted food safety practices across the entire industry.

It was interesting to read the other day about tightened border checks in countries such as Belgium, France and Switzerland, where officials are now carrying out far more stringent tests on food in transit.

Consumers want guarantees that the food on their plate has been carried in optimum conditions – and for the majority of frozen or ambient produce, temperature control is the number one factor.

No-one can ever give a 100% anti-bacterial guarantee, of course, but we now enrich our strip curtains, door and thermal windows with Bio-Gard, a trademarked compound which has been chemically proven to kill 99% of all known bacteria.

Over the course of 10 years, it has been tested under many conditions to ensure that it complies to world standards such as JIS Z 2801. 2000, ISO 22196:2011, and EU Directive 20002/72EC.

Unsurprisingly, there has been keen interest from hospitals, food retailers, food processors and manufacturers, caterers, restaurants, laboratories, mortuaries, the Ministry of Defence, and a host of others.

A key message coming from our customers is a desire to reduce their carbon footprint. Companies are setting stringent targets, and challenging deadline dates are paramount.

One of our newest customers, an ice cream manufacturer, described himself as ‘a sceptical engineer by nature’ and monitored energy consumption on the freezer unit where Cold Stop curtains had been fitted.

He now appreciates that installing our Cold Stop thermally efficient curtains in place of simple plastic strips can have a rapid return on investment, reducing energy use and costs. We have now progressed onto trialling our Back-Stop curtains on one of the company’s delivery vans.

Under these challenging times ahead of us, SMI Ltd is recognising the need to invest, and we are increasing our bespoke manufacturing with new staff.

Flexibility is our industry's middle name