Our C-Store Champions are taking the initiative in reducing energy and food waste, helping to look after the planet and cutting their costs

Dennis Williams, Premier Broadway Convenience Store, Edinburgh

Dennis is keen to consider the environment and 98% of plastic and card waste in his store is recycled

Barry Patel, three Nisa Local stores in Luton and Oxford

Manufacturers need to take more responsibility for reducing waste, Barry believes

Sunder Sandher, One Stop, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

LED lighting and doors on fridges are just some of the ways Sunder conserves energy in his store

Ramesh Shingadia, two Londis stores in and around Horsham, West Sussex

Ramesh encourages shoppers to bring in their coffee cups in order to reduce plastic waste

Have you seen your energy costs increasing over the past few years?

Dennis: Yes, we have, through utility companies putting them up.

Barry: Yes, absolutely. The costs have gone up by at least 25% in the past two years. It’s a big worry.

Sunder: Despite utility companies putting their prices up every year my energy costs have actually decreased. As well as doing things around the store to keep the store more energy efficient, every year I ensure to get a new contract for my utility bills and ensure I get the cheapest deal. You only realise that utility companies are very competitive when you look into the options, and there’s always a much better deal to be had. I’m with USwitch Business and they do all the hard work for you to find the best deal for your needs. I don’t pay them anything for the service. I was with British Gas last year and USwitch managed to get me back on with British Gas for less than the price I was quoted.

Ramesh: For us, obviously a main energy usage is electricity and I would say this has gone up about 15%. We always take annual contracts and every year we look on the market for the best offer. Booker has a utility provider we can use, but we also look online to compare prices and go for the most competitive. But still, the costs will go up about 15%.

What have you done to limit the cost increases?

Dennis: We’ve looked at every area of the store to ensure we are not wasting excess energy. A big thing is LED lighting. Everybody has to have this; it’s such an important thing. Retailers also must all look at their chillers and fridges to ensure they are energy efficient as there are so many energy-efficient options on the market nowadays. Chilled and fresh is such an important part of the convenience store offering now so retailers must invest in this area.

Barry: I’ve had the shops refitted with LED lights and doors on the fridges to try to conserve as much energy as possible. Also, just making sure that the staff are turning off the lights when they’re not in the rooms can help. Anything we can do to conserve energy is helpful. I do think it’s important for c-stores to be energy efficient. I can’t see energy prices going down in the future, and with the energy costs, wages and council taxes rising, things could get really difficult in the next three to four years.

Sunder: We’ve put doors on the fridges, LED lighting, low-powered motors on the electric doors and light sensors in the stock room so that the lights aren’t on when not in use.

Ramesh: We did a full refit of our two stores two and three years ago and both stores now have doors on their chillers and LED lighting. The backroom lights only come on when there’s someone in there. We also can keep the heating costs down thanks to the doors on the chillers.

What’s been your biggest investment in this area? Has it been worth it?

Dennis: LED lighting costs £2,500, but we made that back in two-and-a-half years. We’ve had it for three years now. Some people can make that money back in just a couple of years, but it varies a lot depending on the store. I put five lights in first to see the difference to meter readings and the results spoke for themselves, so now the whole store has LED.

Barry: It’s definitely been worth it. The cost of the lighting and fridge doors in the small store was £30,000 and I should get my investment back in three years. From what I gather, these changes make 30% difference to our energy use and costs.

Sunder: The biggest investment was the doors on the chillers as they cost £18,000. I had those put in four years ago and initially every month I saw that my electric bill was down by £500. It was a big investment, but it paid off. These also save me maintenance costs as they are lower maintenance – that probably works out to a few hundred a year.

Ramesh: The biggest cost was definitely the chiller doors, which can be as much as £500 per door.

Are you pleased that the plastic bag charge has been extended to small retailers in England?

Dennis: Absolutely. I know the stats have shown that it has been really effective in cutting down the amount of plastic bags being used and so it makes perfect sense to make sure everyone is doing their bit. It’s very important for everyone to be environmentally friendly, especially in Scotland with the Scottish government having the environment so high on their agenda. It’s important for everyone to ensure that they are doing their bit. I know Theresa May has a 25-year plan, but I think that’s too long. The Scottish government wants to put all these plans into place tomorrow.

Barry: Yes, there’s a lot of plastic bag wastage and since we put a charge in place my plastic bag usage has gone down by 80%. We used to use 10,000 a week and now that’s down to 2,000 a week.

Sunder: Definitely. I don’t sell any plastic bags. We only sell bags for life for 10p and if they get ruined or ripped then we replace the bag. Shoppers definitely seem happy with this and the majority bring in their own bags now, so the impact it’s had on the amount of plastic being used has been excellent.

Ramesh: Yes I am. There are a lot of differing opinions on this, but I think the biggest impact we saw was when we chose to start charging and saw the number of plastic bags we were getting through fall right down by 60%. I think this has been the best way to reduce plastic bag waste.

What do you think about the idea for a deposit scheme for plastic bottles?

Dennis: I am in no way against recycling schemes. We recycle 98% of our plastic and cardboard thanks to Booker, who take it all away for us – they’ve won Carbon Trust awards for this work. But my issue with the bottle deposit idea is actually how it will work in practice. We have Roseanna Cunningham [Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform] coming to our store this month so that we can show her just how difficult it will be to put this idea into practice. We have a food-to-go section, so what happens if people come in with their dirty cartons and we’ve then got to try to use them. There’s issues of cross-contamination. We don’t know what people have done with their cartons before bringing them back to us. We don’t have room in our store either to store all these empties.

Barry: I don’t think it’s right that retailers have been lumbered with the responsibility again. The change should come from the manufacturers; they should use bottles that are biodegradable. Recycling is a major environmental issue and so manufacturers should be made to take responsibility for the bottles they are producing.

Sunder: I think that most retailers are in favour of the idea, but we don’t want plastic bottles flying around our stores. I think if it can be worked in a way that the machines sit outside our stores and people can use the vouchers they get in the store then that would probably work, but I know small store retailers are concerned that they won’t have space for the machine and all the bottles.

Ramesh: I think it’s a tricky one, because I think retailers are going to have to take the brunt of it. There’s a lot of sensitivity in society now about plastic waste and the damage to the environment. The BBC documentary has had a big impact on people’s thoughts, but it’s had a negative impact on retailers who now might have to be lumbered with the task of taking in the bottles, handling the bottles, giving the rebate and so on. I think that the Chancellor needs to think about giving us retailers some sort of rebate for doing this.

Do you encourage staff and customers to reuse containers and plastics?

Dennis: Absolutely. We have cardboard and plastic bins out the back of the shop which we’ve had for years and the community can use them to recycle if they run out of space in their recycling bins, or don’t have recycling bins.

Barry: I certainly try to encourage the reduction of plastic bag use and we’ve sold a lot of the bags for life as a result. We give our unwanted plastic and cardboard to Nisa and also try to recycle as much as possible, but we do find that the plastic and packaging waste is increasing.

Sunder: By not selling the 5p plastic bags that’s a big encouragement to shoppers to bring in their own bags, and they do ensure that this happens most of the time now. I have also trained the staff to be on the ball with their reductions to avoid wastage. Our fortnightly collections prove we really don’t have much waste.

Ramesh: We have a lot of people come in with their own cup for their coffee, which we encourage, and we make sure to recycle all the plastic and cardboard packaging.

chiller doors

Do you think doors on chillers are helpful?

Dennis: Yes, but it’s important for every store to decide what works best for them. We have doors on the alcohol chillers, but not on the other fridges. We took a conscious decision to do that. We know people like to browse the alcohol aisle before making their choice, whereas the chilled and fresh are more impulse driven and having a barrier in the way could be detrimental to sales. Our chillers are still energy efficient models, though.

Barry: Definitely. Initially I was concerned that the doors might have a negative impact on basket spend, but it seems that as long as you keep the doors clean and the fridges tidy, it doesn’t impact sales. I think that customers appreciate the effort we are making to reduce energy usage.

Sunder: Absolutely, as well as saving electricity the other great thing about these is that they improve the shoppers’ comfort as it’s no longer cold to walk through the chilled section. This encourages shoppers to stay longer and browse for longer. It’s also meant that I haven’t needed to turn on my heating at all! They’re the acrylic seamless doors which look really good and make the food look cleaner, more hygienic and they look bright and fresh under the LED lights.

Ramesh: When we first looked into it we thought we would get our investment back in one year. In the end we got it back in a year and a half. The bigger your store, the more money you can save by putting in doors, and for us our energy bill dropped by 30% in the bigger store.

food waste

How do you keep food wastage to a minimum?

Dennis: We’ve got the deli, so when food is starting to reach its date then it can be used in meals. We also go to the wholesaler nearly every day and buy only what we need, so that keeps wastage extremely low.

Barry: I incentivise the staff with a recycling and wastage target and if they can hit it then they get shopping vouchers every quarter. We have also increased the amount of deliveries we get from Nisa so we can get better sell-by dates.

Sunder: We only do a small amount of food prep in store and that’s with frozen bread and pastries. To avoid throwing away packaged perishable products we reduce them by 25% at 5pm and then by 50% at 8pm. They will generally always sell so this keeps food waste to a minimum. We only have to have a 1,100ltr bin picked up once a fortnight so that goes to show how little wastage we have. All our plastic and cardboard is taken by One Stop once a week.

Ramesh: We have a large fresh and chilled range and are constantly analysing any waste to check whether we should be ordering that product, ordering less or merchandising it differently. We tend to reduce products coming to the end of their sell-by date by 25% at midday and then by 50% at 6pm.