Have you ever wondered what it takes for your favorite foods to get to the local grocery store? The products on the shelves see a lot of the world before they arrive in your kitchen. And each step in the food logistics journey requires expert knowledge to ensure its safe and reliable arrival.
Every supply chain starts with the raw materials manufacture according to customer needs. In this case, farmers stagger their crop sowing and animal raising based upon the demand of their customers and their available space so that the entire crop doesn’t come to maturity at once. This helps modulate food prices, minimize storage costs and keep a consistent supply in stores and storage.
Cold Storage Solutions
Once fresh food has been harvested, some goes on to be processed and frozen or canned to prolong shelf life, but most customers prefer purchasing food in its fresh from the field state. So most product goes into cold storage warehouses until regular shipments or special orders come in from food retailers.
The high demand for fresh food has created a cold storage shortage across the U.S. that can make finding space difficult and costly. Paired with the short shelf life, this has created a situation where most food products are in and out of the warehouse rapidly to decrease costs and minimize storage space needed. For this reason, 3PL providers work to create just in time supply chains and offer crossdocking solutions that require little to no storage time between food production and distribution.
Once a food retailer has determined a need to fill their stock, foodstuffs are sent to a fulfillment center to prepare for shipping, the vast majority of which are still fulfilled by human workers even for national food retailers like Walmart. So, the order is confirmed, picked, packed, and labelled with some TLC by packing associates. Then, the order undergoes a quality control inspection to ensure it is complete, all products are undamaged, and the food products themselves are in good condition to stand up to the stress of shipping.
Cold Chain Distribution
Distribution is the step that varies most for food logistics. Depending upon the distribution partners a third party logistics provider uses, the order could take a plane, train, truck, and boat, all of which are required to have cold chain technology to keep the food fresh. There may even be another cold chain storage facility in its future. But generally products have a four-step process to arrive at the retailer: international distribution to your country (if grown outside it), a regional hub for food distribution, a smaller district hub, and then a last mile delivery partner will take it to your food retailer of choice.
Though a large order from the same manufacturer may be group shipped to their first destination, each step in the process diverts products, and distribution partners pool the resources of many manufacturers into less than truckload shipments to improve efficiency and limit costs. The final leg of the journey often has as many as 500 manufacturers’ products inside.
Fresh Food Retail
A food retail space functions like another mini distribution hub. It has a receiving dock with temperature-zoned storage for room temp, cold storage, and frozen food products. Then store workers display products in the store much like a long-term storage space. You act as a mini fulfillment provider by shopping the space and selecting which products to scan, package, and take home. Or you can pay for the convenience of another person to do that for you with online food retailers like Instacart.
With a wide variety of special needs, each food product must have a team of experts to ensure its proper storage, packaging, and arrival just in time for consumer need and in good condition. Choosing a 3PL provider with a mastery of cold storage and cold chain solutions is key to creating a great customer experience and turning around less than stellar ones. To learn more about what to look for in a cold chain solution, reach out to our team of experts.