he cold chain is facing fresh challenges.
The rapid growth in sales of fresh food
is increasing the demands that grocers are
placing on those who store and transport it—
“I would say the biggest development of the last year
has been the renewed focus on having a fresh cold-chain
network,” says Josh Brogan, VP for A. T. Kearney’s ana-
lytics practice. “[For] the clients I’m working with today,
ultra-fresh product is growing at an enormous pace, while
the rest of the store is actually shrinking.”
According to Packaged Facts, sales of frozen food in
the four major categories of dinners/entrees, pizza, side
dishes and appetizers/snacks have remained stagnant
from 2012 through 2016 (the last full year available).
Meanwhile, major categories in fresh food, such as eggs,
salads, refrigerated meats and refrigerated side dishes,
have experienced double-digit growth, or nearly so,
according to IRI.
The shift from frozen to fresh has not been lost on Don
Durm, VP of customer solutions for PLM Trailer Leasing.
“When I was growing up, you would walk into a grocery
store, and there would traditionally be four or five aisles
of frozen food,” Durm says. “You would go to the back
to get your fresh meat, and then maybe a little bit on the
side would be your produce. Today, refrigeration almost
begins with the fresh-cut flowers at the front of the store.
It goes all the way around with the bakery, wraps around
with the produce, then the fresh meat department, and
you just keep going around there. Manufacturers understand this. People are shopping the perimeter of the
The most obvious challenge with delivering fresh,
refrigerated product is shelf life, while the degree of challenge varies. Certain items, such as meat or prepackaged
produce, Brogan says, have relatively long shelf lives. “But
when we’re talking about things like cut fruit or foodservice [items] like freshly made pizza, the shelf life is significantly lower—a couple of days, as opposed to a couple
of weeks,” he says.
The challenge is intensified by the demand for flexibility in delivery. Mixed, customized pallet loads have
become the norm, says Chris Owens, VP of business
development for third-party logistics provider Americold.
“That pallet of one type of frozen pizza is now a mixed
pallet of fruits, vegetables, dairy, breads, meats and seafood,” Owens says. “It’s customized for the destination
store and loaded in sequence to match the pallet unloading rotation on the route from the back-of-the-store cold
room, down the aisles to the individual SKU shelf locations in that store. Most retailers’ legacy distribution models are not built to support this change.”
Handle With Care
Delivering mixed loads, reliably and safely, is complicated by the fact that many kinds of fresh products have
unique handling requirements. The most basic is that different products have to be kept at different temperatures.
For fresh foods, these can range from about 28 F for fresh
meat to about 55 F for potatoes and bananas.
Another complicating factor is that many forms of produce, especially those shipped out of season, are picked
unripe and meant to ripen en route. This has to be timed
to the delivery schedule, and if that schedule is thrown
off, the product’s shelf life can be reduced—or, in extreme
cases, the product is ruined.
the Cold Chain
Refrigerated food is the fastest-growing part of the cold
chain—and the part that presents the most challenges.
By Pan Demetrakakes
which fresh meat
should be held,
compared to 55 F
for potatoes and