Spain: Energy efficiency and sustainability in the food sector

Photovoltaic panels, energy supply from renewable sources and recharging points for electric vehicles are the main measures adopted by retailers and FMCG companies within their energy saving policies. In terms of sustainability, plastic reduction is key now.


The increasing awareness to reduce CO2 emissions, as well as energy savings, have long permeated companies in Spain. In the 2019 Sustainability and Energy Report published by Alimarket magazine, it highlighted the solar panels’ growth, which had skyrocketed due to the approval of the Royal Decree-Law 15/2018 on urgent measures for energy transition and consumer protection. This regulation was later reinforced by another decree, the 244/2019, regulating the administrative, technical and economic conditions for self-consumption of electrical energy. 

This year, despite the instability of the situation caused by the coronavirus crisis, the trend has been similar and retailers have continued to bet on these measures, as well as the installation of recharging points for electric cars in the parking lots of supermarkets.

Lidl has built a photovoltaic facility of more than 11,000 m2 in its new logistics platform in Cheste (Valencia), which supplies the plant for self-consumption and avoids the emission of more than 200 t of CO2 annually.

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All the energy is of 100% renewable origin in the rest of the logistics platforms and central offices of the chain. For this and other reasons, in 2019, the German company has reduced its carbon footprint by 10%, thus achieving the Lean&Green logo for the second consecutive year. The new platform in Cheste also has a fleet of gas-powered trucks; in total, Lidl has 80 trucks of this type. For its customers, it has already installed almost 130 recharging points for electric cars.

Mercadona's strategy: changing its stores for more efficient ones

The sector leader, Mercadona, is immersed in the renovation of its stores to adapt them to the new efficient model (Tienda 8) which consumes up to 40% less energy than a traditional shop. The Valencian chain already has 800 shops of this type and, by 2020, a further 160 locations are expected to be refurbished. In the area of logistics, it is committed to sustainable transport through different strategies (optimization through truck filling, silent logistics, trucks powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) or mega trailers). In addition, it is incorporating recharging points for electric cars in its shops and already has more than 1,000.

The main energy efficiency projects of food retailers are shown in Table 1.

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Table 1. Main energy efficiency’s projects of food retailers

Energy efficiency commitment also includes FMCG companies

Retailers have not been the only ones to invest in energy efficiency improvements. In 2019, food and beverage manufacturers have also carried out various projects. Nestlé, for example, has invested 17.2 million euros in the construction of a boiler for recovering coffee grounds at its factory in Gerona. It produces some 45,000 tons of coffee grounds per year and is expected to use 80% of this to generate steam using the new boiler, which came into operation last June and will generate 125,000 tons of steam per year.

In this way, 70% of the energy produced in this factory will be very efficient. Furthermore, after reaching an agreement with the energy services provider Enertika, it will install a photovoltaic solar farm for self-consumption at its Reus factory, with more than 1,500 panels, which will be operational in the first half of 2021.

The Spanish multinational Cerealto Siro, dedicated to the manufacture of cereal-based food products, has started up a biogas facility in Venta de Baños (Palencia), thanks to an investment of 5 million euros. In addition, 100% of the electricity consumed by its plants in Spain came from renewable sources last year.

The fruit and vegetable company Vicasol has also invested 5 million euros in its plants located in Puebla de Vícar (Almería), in part to improve its energy efficiency through photovoltaic roofs.

Within the meat sector, the sectoral association Anice has just created its own electricity marketing company (gesinCarn), using 100% renewable sources. In the meantime, the companies are moving forward with their own projects. Mafrica is studying the technical and economic viability of a biogas plant fed with animal by-products generated in its slaughterhouse. The launch of this facility will be in addition to the photovoltaic roof that is already in operation. The investment planned for this year is 3 million euros, which will involve other items related to energy efficiency and sustainability.

The main energy efficiency projects of the FMCG sector are shown in Table 2.

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Table 2. Main energy efficiency’s projects of FMCG

The big ones are opting for a more sustainable fleet

Large companies are leading the way in sustainable production and transport projects. Among them, Coca Cola has launched a program to decarbonize all activities in its value chain, which will enable it to reduce emissions from its direct operations by 50% and those of its value chain by 35%. In terms of its logistics, it has closed a primary transport route, which promotes the sustainable solutions it has been using up until now, such as rail transport, the use of gas-powered trucks and increased product occupation per trip, through mega trailers or duo trailers.

At the beginning of the year, Heineken signed a long-term power purchase agreement with Iberdrola that will guarantee the supply of green electricity to its four factories and offices in Spain . To this end, it will build a new photovoltaic plant in El Andévalo (Huelva). Iberdrola was not the only company with which Heineken reached an agreement this year, but also with Grupo Eulen for the management, execution and development of a biomass generation project using regenerated water.

Plastic bags becoming extinct in supermarkets

Apart from solar energy and energy efficiency projects, the reduction of single-use plastics and the replacement of traditional plastic bags by recyclable ones have been the sustainability milestones for retailers during 2018 and 2019.

Table 3 shows the main sustainability projects of food retail companies.

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Table 3. Main sustainability projects of food retailers

Fruit and vegetable companies reduce plastic in their packaging

Food companies have also made a commitment to sustainability. In this case, the modernization of the packaging stands out mainly by avoiding single-use plastic and replacing it with more sustainable products. Within the sector, fruit and vegetable companies have had a great deal of weight in the implementation of these measures. Thus, the cooperative Vicasol has launched a packaging without plastics, which also is compostable for its new line of organic products. In Fruitgrowing they are working to avoid plastics, making the greenhouses are recyclable and that the trays of the products are compostable; while Flor de Doñana uses compostable plastics in its crops and has begun to introduce this type of material in all its products.

Water marketing firms have followed a similar line. In this sense, the leader of water packaging in the country, Aguas Danone, managed to reduce plastic by 270 tons in 2019. In the medium term, the company's main objective is to incorporate recycled plastic into its packaging, which it aims to achieve by 2025, manufacturing 100% of its bottles with r-PET, both with its Lanjarón and Font Vella labels.

The frozen solutions specialist Copesco & Sefrisa, which has spent several years researching new technologies to achieve more sustainable packaging, has finally launched the Flat Skin project that reduces waste by 60% and plastics by up to 50% compared to the previous one

Table 4 shows the main sustainability projects of FMCG and packaging companies.                    

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Table 4. Main sustainability projects of FMCG and packaging companies

Packaging industry responds to sustainability

Packaging manufacturers have had to innovate to meet the demands of companies. Smurfit Kappa, for example, has launched proposals to group beverages. GreemClip is their alternative to the non-biodegradable rings used in the six-can packs. This cardboard package groups the cans together and allows them to be separated individually. The other proposal is TopClip, which replaces the film used to group and sell cans in a single indivisible pack.

Source: Alimarket