Seeking sustainability, food supplier ASKO looks at all the links

Seeking sustainability, food supplier ASKO looks at all the links

Sustainable food is essential for the future of our planet, and major food wholesaler ASKO is examining every link in their supply chain to further strengthen the environmental credentials of their operations. Renewable energy, autonomous warehouse vehicles and highly automated zero-emission ships all figure into the mix.

As Norway’s largest grocery wholesaler, ASKO is also one of the country’s largest transport companies, with more than 600 trucks on the roads every day. The company’s environmental goals include reducing energy consumption by 20 percent compared to the early 2000s, becoming a self-sufficient provider of clean energy, and using 100 percent renewable fuels for transportation.

Torbjørn Johannson, Chairman of the ASKO board
Torbjørn Johannson, Chairman of the ASKO board

“ASKO ultimately intends to use only renewable energy sources,” says chairman of the ASKO board Torbjørn Johannson. “We currently operate 100,000 m2 of solar panels, and we will soon add 10 wind turbines and hydropower to our operations.” ASKO is already part of a large offshore wind consortium, and is applying for more licenses in 2022. The company also intends to be a driving force in the development and use of biofuels and hydrogen to power their distribution infrastructure.

“The goal is for ASKO to produce as much energy as we consume,” says Johannson. “This includes clean energy for our fleet of trucks, which by 2026 will be based on battery and hydrogen powered zero-emission technology, using charging systems supplied by ABB.” He adds that ASKO is contributing to the circular economy as well, using food waste from its customers to produce biofuels.

Holistic thinking to meet multiple goals

ASKO’s stated goal is to provide effective and sustainable distribution of products to the grocery, retail convenience goods and institutional catering sectors. “In addition to meeting these operational goals, our ambition is to be a sustainable and climate neutral enterprise,” says Johannson.

According to Johansen, the company devotes equal attention to the entire value chain, from production to consumption: “Seeing our enterprise in a holistic perspective allows us to optimize resources and realize our sustainability goals. We strive to implement efficiency and sustainability measures where they matter the most.”

Local operations, global perspectives

“Though we serve primarily the Norwegian market, we operate from an international perspective. This is necessary in order to be able to collaborate across food production and logistics segments, where cooperation between national authorities, regulatory regimes and industry stakeholders is a prerequisite,” says Johannson.

ABB and ASKO to electrify Norwegian delivery fleet
ABB and ASKO to electrify Norwegian delivery fleet

“At the same time, focus on local sustainability is important because the food industry has such a large impact on the world community, and efficient food transportation at all levels is critical to achieving global climate goals,” he maintains. “We are working actively to facilitate good international cooperation through participation in EU projects like Horizon 2022, helping to combat climate change and contributing to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Digital solutions strengthen the chain

For ASKO, digital technology is a key to achieving efficiency in the food transport chain. “Digital technology enables efficient flow of information between all systems and stakeholders, supporting seamless movement of goods along the entire supply chain, from purchasing to warehousing to distribution,” says Kai Just Olsen, head of ASKO Maritime. “We are also working to achieve automated processes wherever feasible. Automation can help us increase efficiency, improve the quality of goods and services, and lower operating costs.”

Specific examples include smart energy management of warehouse buildings, automating warehouses for identifying and processing of goods, implementing autonomous warehouse vehicles, and using dynamic transport planning systems to optimize transport capacity. “In the future, automated terminal vehicles for loading and unloading of vessels may also include battery-electric autonomous drones for the transport of trailers by sea,” Olsen says.

From road to sea

“ASKO's primary reason for shifting transport from road to sea is because moving large volumes of cargo by water is more efficient. Improved efficiency also helps us to meet our climate goals,” says Olsen. “We operate on both sides of the 100 kilometer-long Oslo Fjord, and we were looking for an efficient way to move goods across the fjord to save driving miles. Since we had already committed to sustainable vehicles on land, we decided to investigate sustainable ships as well. Our motivation for implementing marine transport is that it should help us optimize logistics and lower costs wherever we apply it.”

ASKO is in the fortunate position of controlling their entire goods logistics chain, making it possible for them to introduce new solutions with a minimum of red tape. “It’s easier to start something new when you have full decision-making control, including a long-term perspective on investments,” Olsen confirms. “Battery-powered and other zero-emission vehicles may require a larger initial investment, but they are cheaper to operate in the long run.”

Making each link make a difference

“ASKO's preferred maritime solutions are highly automated, cost-efficient zero emission vessels sailing between smaller ports on the fjords where we operate,” says Olsen. “We are also targeting automated zero emission terminal tractors for loading and unloading operations.”

To link these systems to a larger infrastructure, ASKO is pursuing sustainable short sea transport between Europe and strategic ports in Norway. “In addition, we will prioritize transfer of goods to alternative modes of transport such as zero emission feeder ships, rail transport over longer distances, and zero emission trucks for shorter hauls,” Olsen relates.

“Forward-thinking stakeholders in the food industry realize that consumers are demanding sustainable products, and our industry must shoulder our share of the responsibility in meeting these demands,” Johannson concludes. “By working proactively to change our business models, companies like ASKO can be drivers in moving operations and regulations in the right direction.”


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