The retail conglomerate Ahold Delhaize USA is facing a number of challenges as it adopts CO2 (R744) and other natural refrigerants, according to Kathy Loftus, Vice President of Strategic Construction Projects, Energy and Facility Services for Retail Business Services, a company of Ahold Delhaize USA.

Loftus also highlighted the importance of involvement from a wide range of stakeholders, including academia, government, manufacturers, servicing contractors, end users and investors.

“We all know the benefits of natural refrigerants, and we all want to get there, but we’ve got to do it very quickly, and it takes a village,” she added.

Loftus delivered these remarks during her end user keynote presentation at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) America Summit 2023 on natural refrigerants. The conference took place June 12–13 in Washington, D.C., and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of

“We all know the benefits of natural refrigerants, and we all want to get there, but we’ve got to do it very quickly and it takes a village.”

Kathy Loftus, Retail Business Services

NatRef challenges

Ahold Delhaize USA encompasses thousands of supermarkets across several retail brands along the East Coast of the U.S., including Hannaford, Stop & Shop, Food Lion and Giant Food.

Many of these brands have been committed to natural refrigerants for over a decade, explained Loftus, with transcritical CO2 being the go-to refrigeration technology for new stores, despite a number of challenges.

When assessing refrigeration options, retailers must consider the potential additional energy costs of natural refrigerants, the availability of components and replacement parts and a lack of experienced contractors for installation and servicing, she said.

Other challenges that Loftus has encountered include the complexity of CO2 systems and control technologies, the height of propane (R290)-based display cases and the suitability of R290 for both low and medium temperatures.

Remodels are more difficult, predominantly due to timing, logistics and costs, Loftus added.

“How do we balance existing system age with existing refrigeration cases,” she asked. “Racks can last for 15 to 25 years, but cases get replaced every 5 to 10 years. It doesn’t make sense to fully replace a system if equipment is not at its end of useful life.”

Another significant challenge is retrofitting a refrigeration system while keeping a store open, she explained.

Simpler solutions needed

Solutions for the long term must be simpler to build, operate and control, Loftus explained.

“We [also] think that there is an ability to be more modular, more integrated and more compact, because space is a huge issue when we’re talking about food retail,” she added.

During her presentation, Loftus also called on policymakers to make regulations clearer and more prescriptive, particularly around the HFC phasedown schedule and the use of doors on refrigerated cabinets.

“I’m not sure why there isn’t regulation that says that every food retailer has to have certain products behind doors,” she said. “That would make it so much easier and we would save energy. We have commitments to do that moving forward and it will help us get to net-zero, but I think we also need assistance with regulation.”

To help offset the costs of upgrading refrigeration systems, Loftus encouraged end users to explore utility incentives.

With so many retailers establishing climate targets and making commitments on natural refrigerants, Loftus urged more action from the industry, particularly service providers, to ensure the capacity is there.