There are two sure fire ways to improve your business… process and people. When it comes to transporting fresh food items these two things are critical to ensure products with a limited shelf life and require refrigeration arrive fresh, safe, and of great quality for the consumer. This is something our team has learned over the years working in food operations and logistics. Here’s some of those insights to help you understand the process of cold chain and what to look for in your transportation and consolidation providers.
Time is of the Essence with Fresh Product
The one rule to keeping any produce item safe and fresh, that is cut when harvested, is to get it cooled as soon as possible. The distance from field to a packing shed or processing plant is usually five-to-50 miles. In the case of produce that is being packed in the field or in a packing shed, the longevity of the product is dependent on how quickly it is cooled, but also how consistently it stays cool. It only makes sense that the less stops a product has to make along the way, the refrigeration of the product remains consistent. That results in optimal shelf life and quality.
- Shorter cut to cool times optimizes quality and shelf life
- Product has to remain cool once cut until it is ready to be eaten
- The less stops / warehouses product sits in, the better product quality will be
The Basics of Cold Chain Logistics
With that in mind, getting it from the field or packing shed to refrigeration is the first leg of the journey for fresh produce. Sometimes it goes to multiple warehouses along the way, meaning the product temperature drops as a result of doors being opened and product being moved.
A common practice to reduce those stops is to send product from the field to a consolidation warehouse. This is where simplification of the journey produce makes after leaving the field begins. In a consolidation facility, produce arrives to one place from multiple growers and producers based on what the customer has ordered.
Another great solution for restaurants buying produce is delivered programs. The selling agent for the farm and producer works with a network of local produce distributors to get restaurant orders from the West Coast to the regions where the restaurants are located. For larger restaurant chains, this involves coordinating with multiple distributors. In the end these delivered programs make the path from field to the restaurant as efficient as possible.
Consolidation / Delivered Programs:
- Take Away Trips to Multiple Coolers
- Eliminates Wasted Driving Time
- Faster delivery from field to market
- Product Remains consistently cooler (reduced opening closing of refrigerated areas)
- Increases Product Shelf Life and Freshness
Transportation is a Complex Business
These transportation options solve multiple problems that come up when you are dealing with transporting fresh food items, but also helps you deal with the changing regulations and complexities that comes from transporting product.
Changing Transportation Regulations
Recently new regulations were put in place nationwide on truck drivers with a requirement to use electronic logging to ensure drivers remain compliant to these regulations. As a result, shipping times have increased, which has a negative impact on product shipments. But to compound the problem, shortage of drivers and knowing the providers you can rely on makes this a very tricky side of business.
Using consolidation and delivered programs not only reduces the trucks, distance, and time product is on the road, but also take the administrative concerns out of your hands such as phone calls, paperwork, scheduling so that your pickups are optimized by a team that is on call 24/7/365. Also, this team knows the providers that can be relied on to get product from cooler to your dock regardless of the miles in-between.
Streamline your Supply Chain with:
- Reduced Freight Costs
- Reduced ELD penalties
- Reduced administration / phone calls
- Less Appointment Scheduling
- Optimize Pickups
The Right Partner Makes all the Difference
Process goes only so far if it is not backed by people to carry it out well with the customer’s success and satisfaction in mind. The biggest hurdle to simplifying business is knowing who to partner with on consolidation, delivered programs, and transportation management.
Working in produce, one advantage for the buyer is to be as closely connected to the source as you can. Have you been in the fields, seen harvest, packing, and/or processing facilities? It is important to work with providers that understand all aspects of the fresh industry beyond transportation needs from agricultural, operations, food safety, product development and supported by sales and marketing?
Is your provider connecting you to other producers and products in the industry, making sure your orders are streamlined and efficient? Fresh produce providers with a strong network of growers and processors brings you more options with product, pack size, and growing regions, so that the produce you order perfectly fits your needs.
Because fresh produce has a short shelf life and has strict requirements on its storage, you need to work with a provider who will answer your calls and emails promptly, that is responsive. Transportation is an industry that constantly is moving, so is your provider available at all hours and on holidays? But more than that, are they flexible to quickly find solutions to the roadblocks that may pop up?
Look for a provider that:
- Connects you to growers and buyers
- Is transparent in their operations
- Offers Customization of product and pack size
- Sources from Multiple Growing Regions
- Is Responsive and Flexible