All the fun of the playground Albert Heijn is banking on natural refrigerants to help deliver its goal of becoming CO2-neutral by 2025. Accelerate Europe saw at first-hand how the Dutch supermarket giant is testing innovative new ideas at ‘Europe’s most sustainable supermarket’ in Purmerend. — By Andrew Williams
miling broadly as he crosses the imposing atrium of the Ahold Delhaize group’s Zaandam headquarters, Alfard Clerc is a man who clearly loves his job. Lucky for him, for there is much to do – the senior manager (store engineering) in Albert Heijn’s Real Estate & Construction department plays a central role in delivering the supermarket chain’s ambition of becoming CO2-neutral by 2025.
Albert Heijn is part of Ahold Delhaize group, a global supermarket giant with 22 market-leading local brands. Together, the group accounts for over 6,500 stores serving more than 50 million customers per week, in 11 countries around the world. Ahold merged with Belgian retailer Delhaize in July 2016 to create a new group with a combined workforce of over 375,000 associates. Albert Heijn boasts 950 supermarkets across the Netherlands and Belgium. It also counts the Etos drugstore and Gall & Gall, a beverage vendor, among its store portfolio. The company harbours lofty ambitions. “By 2025, we want all our supermarkets to be CO2-neutral. That’s a big aim for the future,” says Clerc.
At the heart of Albert Heijn’s strategy are plans to become HFC-free. Vincent van Dijk, a store-engineering consultant for the Dutch retailer, sets the scene. “We’re looking at an HFC phase-down. That’s the main route we’re following – and making our installations a little bit better every day,” he says. Clerc nods. “We have a strong focus on how we’re going to develop or change our chemical refrigerants to natural refrigerant CO2 installations. We have a very clear goal there – we’re aiming to make that shift over time,” he says. Since 2015, Albert Heijn’s policy is to fit all new and remodelled stores with fully CO2 transcritical installations. As an intermediate step, the company installed 350 hybrid CO2-HFC systems between 2010 and 2015, while the first pilot fully CO2 transcritical store opened in 2012. “First of all we are a supermarket – we create stores for our customers to buy groceries. We also have an ambition to do the right thing. Here at Albert Heijn, we say, ‘Do a little bit better every day’. Making the shift to CO2 refrigeration is very obvious for us,” Clerc says.