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French Retailer Warns Of Big Turn Off Over Heatwaves And Russian Gas

European retail is beginning to face the very real prospect that air conditioning and heating may be cut and trading hours slashed as the sector, quite literally, runs out of gas.

With heat waves and record temperatures recently scorching much of Europe and impending gas restrictions as Russia continues to squeeze supplies, the industry is bracing itself for restrictions for both the hot and cooler weather.

Last week the boss of major French grocery chain Leclerc warned that the supermarket chain – France’s largest food retailer – could reduce trading hours at its stores this Fall as part of emergency measures to deal with the risk of power shortages because of the war in Ukraine.

That’s for the future. Right now the problem is that it has been sweltering in many regions of Europe and French shopkeepers are currently expected to keep their doors shut while their air conditioning is turned on, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, France’s minister of ecological transition, announced recently.

Having air conditioning on with the doors open could lead to “20% more consumption,” Runacher told French RMC Radio, describing such a situation as “absurd” given the current tight energy supply in Europe.

Air conditioning in stores has been a key target of energy rationing recommendations in France and across Europe. In France, as in other European countries, domestic air conditioning is relatively uncommon, installed in fewer than 5% of French households for example.

France Considers Shorter Shop Hours

Looking towards the cooler months, CEO Michel-Edouard Leclerc told France Info radio: “For this winter we have a crisis scenario where Russia cuts gas supplies. We could close some stores during certain hours.”

Most supermarkets have already collectively agreed to cut electricity usage. The heating will be lowered, lights dimmed and screens switched off after closing time as part of a so-called ‘energy sobriety plan’ to save on power this winter and retail specialist association Perifem – which assists retailers with technical issues related to the climate – has announced a series of measures that most supermarket and hypermarket groups will adopt from October 15.

In all supermarkets, the temperature will lower to 63oF, while light levels will also be reduced, by 30% during opening hours and up to half in the morning, before the stores open to the public. At night, ventilation will be switched off, as will all illuminated signs as soon as the supermarkets close. The production of ice, especially for fish counters, will shift away from peak energy times.

Leclerc recently posted a lengthy LinkedIn article outlining the situation in which he stressed that before challenging citizens, the state and companies “must first be pioneers and exemplary”.

He said that hypermarkets and supermarkets will have to commit to reduce their energy consumption for the coming months and, if the situation becomes critical, to further measures, up to and including reducing store opening hours.

Describing the proposal as “patriotic”, he cautioned that all over Europe measures are being taken to prepare for two or even three uncertain winters and concluded: “We will not have to be satisfied with the same mistakes as yesterday, in the time of Covid, when injunctions served a little too much politics: before lecturing consumers or making anyone feel guilty, our companies must commit.”

He added that the business wants to reduce energy consumption by 40% by 2040 regardless.

Energy Reduction In Europe

Other signatories to the energy cuts declaration are grocery giants Auchan, Carrefour, Casino, Intermarché, Lidl, Picard and Système U, while Aldi and the Louis Delhaize Group are currently missing from the list.

While the French move is currently unilateral, E.U. member states have been trying to store gas during the summer ahead of higher winter demand for fuel, though concerns are deepening that the continent may struggle to build up sufficient reserves. A wider energy reduction agreement was passed among Members last week.

Europe’s gas stocks are 62.6% full and there are fears that meeting the target of at least 80% for winter will be difficult.

Several countries, including Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands had their Russian gas deliveries suspended after they refused a Russian demand to pay in roubles, while Germany and Italy are especially vulnerable as they derive the highest proportion of their gas supplies from Russia.