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A Quick Guide to Food and Beverage & Perishable Freight Shipping and Logistics

Nathan McGuire
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October 1, 2021
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A Quick Guide to Food and Beverage & Perishable Freight Shipping and Logistics
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Change is the one constant in food and beverage logistics. As consumer preferences evolve, so does the shippers’ approach to food logistics. Paired with ongoing disruptions in terms of inventory and changing regulations governing the transport of such goods, it’s imperative to understand the real state of the food and beverage industry and why clear, concise, and transparent management strategies are critical to the function of the food supply chain

What Is Food and Beverage Logistics?

The industry is moving toward a new normal where urgency has replaced lean inventory models. Food and beverage logistics companies are also under constant pressure to adapt operations to meet the changing needs of the industry. This includes the changing approach to logistics as dining habits evolve, the increased use of meal delivery services that align with increased demand for convenience, and the unique demographics at play within the whole industry, whether that’s in a restaurant or a grocer, notes Deloitte. Understanding these facts is critical to understanding what food and beverage logistics really involve. 

The simple definition is food and beverage shipping logistics includes the processing, packaging, shipping, and delivery of all food and beverage goods or items that may be consumed in such a manner by consumers. This inherently includes a degree of pharmaceuticals that fall under the food and beverage space, such as the addition of medication-grade enzymes to food products to create an array of health-conscious alternatives, such as lactose-free products. 

Food logistics are also subject to rigorous regulations and a clear mandate for full transparency. For instance, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food, expands on prior advancements: “The rule establishes requirements for shippers, loaders, carriers by motor or rail vehicle, and receivers involved in transporting human and animal food to use sanitary practices to ensure the safety of that food. The requirements do not apply to transportation by ship or air because of limitations in the law.”

It’s equally important to remember that food and beverage supply chain management includes the management of alcohol shipping, including wine, beer, and liquors or spirits, which are further subject to a host of varying regulations as well. All shippers have a duty and responsibility to ensure they’re following all applicable laws governing the transport of food and beverage goods at the proper temperature, with the proper chain of custody, and according to all regulations at all times. This is especially true as local regulations may vary from federal regulations. Nonetheless, any and all regulations apply to all food shipping services for all products falling under this spectrum of perishable shipping logistics. 

Why Food and Beverage Is Intertwined With the Cold Chain

The simplest definition of food and beverage transport comes from its connection to the cold chain. Any foods or beverages that have a risk of spoilage due to temperature extremes should be carefully shipped. Of course, that’s much easier said than done in a world where climates may vary drastically between O/D pairs and by lane. In some cases, depending on the season, product type, and risk, a cold truck—for example, a refrigerated truck or reefer—may be necessary. However, the age of capacity crunch continues to make procurement of any capacity difficult, so finding ample cold truck capacity can be more troublesome. Regardless, there are some instances when a cold truck might not be necessary even while shipping perishable food items, such as moving chocolate during cooler months and in northern climates. Thus, it’s helpful to have a side-by-side comparison of the pros vs. cons of cold truck shipping use for food shipping companies. 

Pros of Cold Truck Shipping Cons of Cold Truck Shipping
Temperature-stable transportation Increased fuel consumption cost
Less risk of spoilage for both food and beverage logistics Higher landed cost
Dedicated expertise with cold freight Environmental risk of refrigerant leaks
Ability to handle traffic or dwell time delays in transport easier Requires pre-cooling of freight and trucks
Reduce liability due to delays Higher insurance premiums
Assets usually closest to end-users, manufacturers Limited reefer capacity despite strategic asset planning and placement

Risk for Food and Beverage Companies Moving Perishable Items’ Spoilage

Since the biggest risk in the food and beverage supply chain comes from the temperature- and time-sensitivity of such goods, it’s important to understand where these risks come from and how they are driving change within the industry. There are numerous risks affecting the ability of food freight companies to get items delivered on time, and as reported by Forbes, “Regulatory pressures for cleaner, more efficient warehouses and fleets, as well as safety regulations, hours of service, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules that are constantly changing create more complexity and confusion. The strain on the global economy is forcing companies to find new ways to get closer to consumers. Skilled talent is more difficult to find in a time when warehouse workers and truck drivers are in short supply and high demand.” Furthermore, setbacks in food shipping services can lead to additional risks that impact the reputation and value of your supply chain that go well beyond simple spoilage, including:

  • Illness resulting from foodborne pathogens or causing medications to lose viability.
  • Fines resulting from regulatory violations.
  • Upset customers due to stock-outs.
  • Chargebacks and returns.
  • Cross-contamination of foods and beverages.
  • Freight refusal by retailers.

What Are the Common Perishables Shipped in Logistics?

The most common perishables shipped in the food and beverage space include:

  • Produce, including the need to avoid spoilage in heat during cross-border trade of such goods.
  • Meats and meat-based products, for example, beef, poultry, pork, fish and lunch meat.
  • Dairy products, ranging from prepackaged refrigerated goods to raw ingredients.
  • Alcohol-containing beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits. 
  • Pharmaceuticals and natural health products that require refrigeration.

Steps to Ship Perishables

Shippers that need to move food and beverages should follow these steps:

  1. Start with a plan for insulation and take advantage of multiple layers in packaging, such as wrapping a pallet of goods in cardboard to act as a subsequent layer of insulation.
  2. Find the right cooling agent, whether that’s dry-ice-packed shipments or moving freight by means of a cold truck.
  3. Avoid wasted space by consolidating shipments based on origin, destination and safety, and avoiding the mixing of goods that create a risk for cross-contamination—such as not shipping raw meats and produce in the same truck.
  4. Set finite time frames for shipping, unloading and stocking or storage, accounting for possible delays in dwell time or traffic, especially as it relates to weather-related impacts during warmer months (in other words, hurricane season). 
  5. Ensure accuracy in all labels, including temperature requirements and types of freight that may be shipped alongside the particular item. For example, produce vs. meats, sell-by dates, and destination/origin data. 
  6. Schedule pickup and delivery with temperature constraints in mind, avoiding the risk of damage or spoilage to other goods. This is especially important when not unloading a full truckload, as may be the case when receiving or shipping goods via LTL.
  7. Implement a dynamic routing schedule that can leverage data analytics to find ways to improve the optimization of transport and reduce risk along the way.
  8. Consider working with an expert in food and beverage logistics that can handle all needs, including packaging, insulation, carrier management, capacity procurement, scheduling, and intervention for when things go awry. 

Benefits of Outsourcing Food and Beverage Logistics

Outsourcing to a freight brokerage is not simply about eliminating the need to handle food logistics, but rather, it’s about tapping the collective value of a partner that can help your company expand its vision and avoid risks. For instance, consider these benefits of outsourcing the management and execution of perishable items shipping within food and beverage logistics:

  • Experience in past food and beverage logistics to always stay strategic.
  • Lower costs associated with larger buying power. 
  • Quality assurance guarantees.
  • Turnkey access to infrastructure and capacity.
  • Ready-to-use solutions that save IT resources.
  • Less hassle in managing fleet assets.
  • Reduced liability in freight.
  • Better scalability and flexibility.
  • Larger market penetration.
  • Access to more capacity. 
  • Higher performance. 
  • Faster speed to market. 
  • Radical transparency and visibility.
  • Data-driven decision-making. 
  • Ability to focus on your business, not logistics.

Streamline Food and Beverage Logistics With Wicker Park Logistics

Few types of logistics have a bigger impact on the global economy than food and beverages. Failures within the food and beverage supply chain can literally cost lives through increased risk and lead to a massive backlash against a single company. For reference, think about all the food and safety recalls issued over foodborne illnesses in recent years. Each incident diminishes the ability of shippers and manufacturers to maintain their brands’ images and more. Fortunately, your organization can create a turnkey strategy to manage food and beverage logistics by understanding all the points above and working with an expert in the space. Connect with Wicker Park Logistics to get started today.

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