By Colin Rodgers, director, V-Tex.

Hotels, bars, and restaurants will soon be able to serve chilled drinks more sustainably, thanks to pioneering ‘rapid chill’ technology coming to market. Currently, a huge amount of water and energy is wasted by the hospitality sector, and a repeat offender is drinks refrigeration. This is something UK Hospitality has pledged to tackle as part of its net zero by 2040 pledge made in October 2022.

The pressure is on, as carbon emissions from refrigeration in the overall food industry stands at 3.2% of total UK emissions, according to the latest industry research.

How can we permanently change the way drinks are chilled, and rein in costs while saving enormous amounts of water and energy worldwide? What exactly is possible today?

Rapid chilling as a new alternative

Traditional refrigeration methods in hotels and restaurants often involve continuous operation of large-scale refrigeration units, leading to substantial energy consumption. With bills escalating for businesses, this is far from ideal, coupled with the harmful carbon emissions generated. Britain suffered a net decline of 4,593 licensed premises in the year to March 2023, according to the Hospitality Market Monitor from CGA by NIQ and AlixPartners. Although the rate of closures has since slowed, there’s no denying businesses are being pushed to their limits in the current economic climate.

Teamed with other business improvements, rapid chilling technology can help. It employs advanced cooling mechanisms that chill beverages in a fraction of the time required by conventional methods. By significantly reducing the duration of refrigeration, establishments can curtail their energy consumption, resulting in lower utility bills and a direct, positive impact on the bottom line, and Scope 1 GHG emissions. Additional benefits are that fewer chiller cabinets are needed, while more space is freed up, which could be more profitably utilised.

Tailored beverage chilling

Furthermore, the energy efficiency of rapid chilling technology can be attributed to its ability to maintain precise temperature control. Unlike traditional systems that often operate at a constant temperature, rapid chilling technology adapts to the specific cooling requirements of each bottle or can, improving the customer experience, while optimising energy usage and minimising waste.

A quality Chablis will need to be served at a different temperature to a can of ginger beer, for instance. Rapid chill units can also help hotel staff become more efficient and streamline their processes – able to chill on demand according to customer preferences, and in line with real-time demand. On a wet Wednesday in November when hotel diners are scarce, having hundreds of bottles of wines and beer sitting ready chilled in a large refrigerator is not a sustainable way to operate. With a small rapid-cooling unit, wine, beer, and mixers can be chilled to order, as and when required.

Technology supporting ‘chill then go’ service

New rapid cooling solutions being patented today harness the latest technology. For instance, in the case of a V-Tex drink-chilling unit, a ‘Rankine vortex’ is deployed. This is a mathematical model of a vortex in a viscous fluid. Drinks are placed in a unique gripper and subjected to ‘forced convection,’ as opposed to the natural convection of existing equipment. Drinks are chilled in minutes, offering energy savings of 50-90%. This system also eliminates the need for commonly-used chemicals and glycol, adding to the environmental benefits.

Flexibility is another notable feature, as these units can accommodate any size can, plastic or glass bottle drink from 150ml to two litres. It means vendors can offer customers a wider choice of chilled beverages without the need for large and bulky refrigeration equipment. This also supports upselling opportunities. For example, with the market for low alcohol beverages growing, it becomes possible to offer a far broader drinks menu, without adding hefty refrigerated storage costs. Larger volumes of drinks can also be cooled using fewer refrigerators, a particular advantage for large-scale operators such as contract caterers.

It’s time to transition to using less refrigeration

In the foreseeable future, the conventional practice of maintaining 24/7 refrigeration for pre-packaged beverages in commercial settings is likely to undergo a significant transformation. Change can start today. Forward-thinking hotel businesses are already embracing eco-friendly refrigeration solutions, opting to rapidly and flawlessly chill beverages precisely at the point of sale or consumption. Recognising the dual benefits of enhanced business operations and positive environmental impact, these establishments are paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient approach to beverage chilling. I’ll drink to that.