“Many fresh items, when picked/shipped, are
done so before maturity and then ripen in transit
or when in the hands of the consumer,” says Sean
Maharaj, a director in the retail practice of con-sultancy AArete. “The challenge for these items
occurs when transit times become prolonged
due to shipping issues or weather-induced
conditions,” in which case, he says, “the
freshness factor falls into jeopardy.
In some rare cases, refrigerated
ocean containers with fresh
produce from overseas have
been stranded at local ports
where the items ultimately
spoil or need to be disposed
of because of their unsaleable
To make matters more com-
plex, certain products, such
as blueberries and bananas,
emit gases such as carbon dioxide or ethylene. Other
kinds of produce, such as tomatoes, are picked unripe
and are deliberately exposed to ethylene, typically by a
distributor, to ripen them just before delivery to a grocery
store. Complications arise when these types of produce
items are stored in close proximity with those that emit
ethylene, which can ripen neighboring produce pre-
maturely, with ruinous results. This can happen easily
because often, ethylene-rich products such as bananas
must be shipped in open boxes to allow them to off-gas.
Besides inadvertent ethylene exposure, this presents
issues with cross-contamination during transport.
“You have to make sure that you’re sanitizing your trailers properly, and then you’re worried about cross-contamination when you have a mixed load,” Durm says.
Factors such as off-gassing often make delivery of fresh
produce more complex than simply segregating loads by
“Typically, it’s best to marry like products together that
have similar [temperature] needs, but considerations such
as carbon dioxide production and respiratory behavior all
WINSIGHT GROCERY BUSINESS FEBRUARY 2018 95
present additional challenges,” Maharaj says. “Without
these factors considered, issues such as foodborne illnesses and pathogens become a real problem from both
a consumer health and dollar value perspective.”
Cut at the End
Picking and shipping produce that ripens en route—either
naturally or by ethylene gassing—is by far the most common strategy for dealing with perishability during shipment. Another strategy for certain kinds of processed
products is to do the processing in-store whenever possible, such as fresh-cut fruit. However, Brogan says, while
cutting fruit in-store increases the shelf life and decreases
the product cost, it increases labor costs.
“When you look at fresh-cut fruit, it only lasts a couple
of days on the shelf,” Brogan says. “There’s a couple of
ways we can address this. Can we put more effort on the
store side? Do we ship the fruit and have the store cut the
fruit, which would extend the shelf life?”
A more common way for retailers to deal with perish-
ability issues— especially the larger players— is to insist on
more frequent deliveries with ever-tighter time windows.
Robert Fay, president of Florida Freezer, a third-party logistics provider concentrating on cold storage,
describes “anecdotal evidence” of truckers having to
deliver refrigerated and frozen foods with more precise
schedules. Grocers are demanding greater precision in
delivery, “which is putting a greater demand on carriers
that they’ve got to meet these time windows at a time
where there is a severe driver shortage, that is only getting
worse, on very crowded highways.”
Perfecting the Range
The best way by far to ensure that produce and other
fresh foods arrive on time and in the right condition is to
strengthen the integrity of the cold chain upstream in the
store. In the case of fresh food, “integrity” doesn’t simply
mean that it stays cold; it means that the load never varies
from what can be a narrow acceptable range. This range
must be maintained not only for the actual product, but
also for the ambient air inside the trailer or warehouse.
“Fresh product likes to be in a very, very tight range.
They don’t like the swings,” Durm says.
Truck technology is an important contributor to cold-chain integrity. Much of that technology is concentrated
in the refrigeration unit. “The major thing to get the product to the store is the ability to correctly use the transport
refrigeration unit in the front,” Durm says. Modern refrigeration units can be programmed to maintain the proper
temperature and airflow when the operator simply enters
the kind of produce.
Coupling this kind of technology with GPS, and putting
it in the cloud, can increase the efficiency and reliability
Today, refrigeration almost begins with the
fresh-cut flowers at the front of the store.
... Manufacturers understand this. People
are shopping the perimeter of the store.”
—Don Durm, PLM Trailer Leasing