Let’s Get On the Road with Technology’s Influence on the Cold Chain

The future of the cold chain looks like it will be technologically advanced from not just sourcing to warehousing, but all the way out to delivery. So let’s take a look at the emerging technologies impacting ground transport and warehousing – because there is a lot of ground to cover in between the air and ocean stages of international cargo handling and transport.

No matter whether the pandemic will end soon, the picking and delivery of food along the cold chain remains key. And it is here, in food logistics, where a wide variety of opportunity for new technologies is emerging, as digital innovation became even more widespread due to the continued impact COVID-19 on the industry.

Cutting across multiple global cold supply chains, emerging technologies make a difference on the industry as well as individuals’ jobs. While some may be more inclined to adapt and shift than others, there will still always be change.

It’s About Time, It’s About Place

One of the more prolific technologies is visibility and traceability solutions, as the perishable element makes location and time of delivery even more important than shelf-stable goods. In addition, as food has become less and less local throughout the past few decades, the pendulum of consumer demand has swung the other way.

Consumers now want more transparency on where their food is coming from, and with severe outbreaks of foodborne illnesses happening in the United States, traceability has become a necessity. Not to mention the ease of operation that can exist when every partner knows exactly where a shipment is and has come from in real-time.

There has been a continued focus on providing proof of chain of custody. Technology that clearly shows end-to-end movements (from pick-up, transit, cross-docking, and final mile delivery) is becoming a necessary feature in the cold chain sector. Having the ability to show such data points in real-time along with a predictive delivery time is of great value to all stakeholders.

Sophisticated barcodes, RFID sensors and block chain are a variety of technologies that help bring visibility to life. Adding that together with a user-friendly, easy-to-read dashboard, for instance, can make a real impact on warehousing and transportation operations along cold supply chains.

In addition to these technologies, telematics (the use of GPS and diagnosis technology to optimize routes) is becoming important in the food chain. Utilizing a comprehensive telematics system is crucial to gathering the data required to visualize improvements and optimize an organization to meet increased demand.

Mapping Out Foodborne Illness

Advanced technological solutions can also help stop the effects of a foodborne illness outbreak faster by tracing the contaminated shipment as well as preventing food waste by pinpointing the exact pallet or group of food that needs to be disposed. Past outbreaks such as deadly salmonella and E. coli outbreaks and massive food product recalls may not have had as severe consequences thanks to traceability technology.

In one recent study,  measuring consumer sentiment toward food safety – more than 50 percent of the respondents reporting that safety was their main concern when buying food. The data also showed that while only about 20 percent of consumers use QR codes displayed on food packaging right now, that number would increase to 65 percent if the code led to information regarding traceability.

Transforming Technologies

While traceability is an important part of technology in the food chain, it is not the only emerging technology making a difference. Other technologies include picking, sorting and storage automation, electric lift and high-capacity forklifts, augmented reality and camera systems, and temperature control solutions.

In the warehousing sector, challenges within the cold supply chain are driving innovative electric lift truck offerings and integrated technologies designed to meet the industry’s evolving needs and harsh temperatures. As the labor gap widens and in a world that wants things now, these innovations will continue to be instrumental in shaping the way facilities operate and stay competitive – especially for the food and beverage industries.

The industry has become more vertical rather than horizontal in the physical warehouse space, with companies building up rather than out, requiring forklifts and reach-trucks to handle heavier capacities at increasingly higher heights. These systems also need to be able to maneuver extremely well, as the warehouse increases capacity and optimizes its space.

In addition, facilities in cold storage and transportation are home to harsh temperatures that can be uncomfortable for human workers. Several tech providers have started introducing heated wearables and equipment to make working in these cold temperatures more comfortable for its employees. This equipment also has batteries that last longer in cold environments, where in the past, the temperature would affect battery life.

Camera systems also help avoid mishaps, injuries, and accidents within the warehouse and on the road by providing more visibility for operators to better see their surroundings, also pushing efficiency. Augmented reality wearables help efficiency by assisting workers through the integration of technology into their actual field of vision.

A Pandemic’s Impact on Technology

As new technologies emerge, the solutions they provide will continue to impact the food supply chain as well as consumer demand. COVID-19’s swift effect on the food industry also influenced what technology is growing fastest and how it is implemented, as social distancing and food safety became a top priority.

Robotics and automation helped those in the cold chain who were plagued with sick employees and had to adjust to social distancing guidelines. Those who did not have these solutions in place have since turned a keen eye toward these technologies for the future to help in similar situations.

While restaurants and eateries were forced to close or provide limited service, consumers started ordering a wide variety of food and beverage products online – and expecting they be delivered fast. Consequently, warehouse inventory expanded at an overwhelming rate, causing space constraints, picking errors and stocking inefficiencies. Additionally, with social distancing regulations in place, it became increasingly important for operations to understand human movement throughout a facility. And in this environment, crucial lessons were learned.

As companies competed to meet demands, automated vehicles were introduced at an accelerated rate to help with lane stacking, horizontal towing, and conveyor interfacing to increase efficiency and accuracy. These trucks are ideal for repetitive and time-consuming tasks — allowing plant managers to re-allocate operators’ time to more value-added jobs.

Additionally, semi-automated solutions began making production and distribution processes quicker while helping operators reach higher proficiency levels faster and making operations run more effectively.

Automation and telematics solutions such as real-time location systems allow companies to better understand and monitor the movement of people and products throughout a facility.

The future of the cold chain looks like it will be technologically advanced from sourcing to warehousing and delivery. These technologies will remain important in the picking and delivery of food along the cold chain long after this pandemic passes ends.

The Super Human Element in Supply Chain Logistics

The Super Human Element in Supply Chain Logistics

While a logistics manager has responsibilities that vary from one organization to the next, one thing is for sure, it’s not an easy task – especially in the age of COVID. That’s because they have the crucial role of ensuring things go smoothly no matter what, and often under the most challenging conditions imaginable.

From healthcare to manufacturing to food and beverage sectors, every industry is feeling the effects of the pandemic, most notably in getting products to where they need to go. Transportation is the glue that brings these products to distribution centers, stores, warehouses, and consumers’ doorsteps. Logistics mangers ensure grocery stores have food on shelves; retail outlets have the stock needed to satisfy their customers; and pharmacies and health centers have the critical medicines and supplies that keep us alive.

There is a lot resting on the logistics managers of the world. So how is it some people are naturally a good fit to excel in the supply chain environment? What remarkable qualities they possess? Let’s take a look:

The Role of the Logistics Manager 

A logistics manager, or supply chain manager, supervises the entire supply chain purchasing and distribution process for his or her respective operation. So number one, strong leadership skills are essential. They handle the entire delivery process of products by scheduling both inbound and outbound shipments and constantly monitor them to ensure each product arrives on time. They constantly collaborate with product carriers to determine and negotiate shipping rates for materials. They also typically manage the inventory of products stored within the warehouse. And in the process they build strong and long-lasting relationships with product suppliers and clients. The list goes on…

Experience also counts, big time. There’s a certain insider knowledge one can only gain from hands-on experience in the world of logistics. Extensive knowledge of what’s going on in the industry – in the here and now – is also a must. Being equipped with information on the latest happenings and trends in supply chain management is essential to succeeding in this field. It also doesn’t hurt to take time to do research on other companies’ processes, and benchmark on their best supply chain practices

 What Makes A Great Logistics Manager?

Among the skills listed by Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the most important in supply chain careers is “a broad knowledge of logistics, IT and database experience, customer service abilities, and critical-thinking skills.” So let’s start there.

In terms of problem-solving and critical thinking, a logistics manager has to handle unexpected challenges that may occur, like shipping restrictions or limited capacity. Creative thinking skills are also a must. So they often have to go outside the box to achieve the desired best outcome – and know when and how to do so.

Excellent time and task management skills are also important for logistics managers to have as they must prioritize and complete several duties – often all at the same time and with varying deadlines.

Quick Follow-Through

The most successful logistics professionals have two things in common: They’re organized and they’re detail-oriented. The supply chain has numerous moving parts, so by mastering the art of being organized, they are adept at following up with even the smallest component of the supply chain to ensure an important delivery gets to where it needs to be. They are involved in the process from the start right until the very end and have a way of reviewing and keeping tabs on things super efficiently and quickly.

In a position that requires coordination with a number of different teams and people, every detail must be accounted for. Incoming products must meet certain standards and must be delivered according to a specific schedule, with the supply chain manager effectively navigating elements like timing and cost. Teamwork within logistics is an essential skill for every professional in the field, especially when speed and quality are of the essence.

Ability to See the Big Picture

Logistics managers need to be able to see the bigger picture of the supply chain they are working within and visualize processes from start to finish. They’ve got to anticipate what could go wrong with everything from packaging to shipping and delivery – and even formulate contingency plans on top of their contingency plans in order to make the supply chain flow continuously. Planning ahead is a major component of logistics. Which brings us to the next important quality.

Forward Thinking

As a logistics manager, they not only must have a holistic understanding of supply chain management, but also have the ability to make accurate predictions of the possible needs of their company, as well as outcomes of actions made across the entire supply chain. They always think and plan ahead – and live by the maxim, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Adaptability & Problem Solving

Problems and last-minute changes are inevitable in logistics, making adaptability and flexibility crucial. Well honed problem-solving skills that involve analysis, business development knowledge, operational information, and even psychology are an absolute necessity for a supply chain professional to make it this business.

Sound Decision-Making

Because the supply chain work environment is very fast-paced and fraught with disruptions, there exists a considerable amount of pressure. A manufacturing facility that shuts down unexpectedly, or bad weather, accidents, and civil unrest can all cause major delays – resulting in significant losses in revenue in a short amount of time.

In a world where so many products are in record high demand, and the customers themselves are becoming more demanding, logisticians who thrive in this environment do so by learning and mastering how to handle stress, stay calm, and make sound decisions – fast!

Interpersonal Skills and Honesty

Since their work requires interacting with people from all walks of life, it is imperative that a logistics manager maintains good connections with everyone in their realm. There is no room for miscommunication in this industry – nor is there room for dishonesty. It’s not uncommon for some people to attempt to cover their mistakes, such as a late shipment. But a seasoned logistics manager understands that by being fully accountable and transparent with customers, it may actually strengthen the relationship with the customer.

Continually Seeking Improvement

A hyper-focus in continuous improvement expertise is, and will continue to be, key to a company’s logistics success. Professionals in this field use information gathered from various systems to monitor, analyze, and adjust processes accordingly. Those who have developed the ability to identify ways to continually streamline work processes are critical to their organization’s continued success.

Thanks for Our Blessings, During a Year of Continued Challenges

A message from the CEO

As we approach this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, let’s take time to reflect and give thanks for the many blessings the year has brought us, despite the seemingly unending pandemic-era challenges. Certainly, for many of us, the biggest thing to be thankful for is the progress made on the medical front across the world in the battle against COVID-19.

It’s easy to forget that last year at this time there was no viable vaccine, in contract to today as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is reporting that nearly 200 million Americans have been fully vaccinated. And worldwide, 2.9 billion people are fully vaccinated. That’s fabulous progress. So, while the global fight to keep people safe still continues in earnest – and much remains to be done for sure – what a positive difference a year has meant!

On the Home Front

Here at home in Miami, we’re also thankful, of course, for our dedicated clients who were able to hunker down, pivot, adapt, and take aggressive steps over the past year to keep their goods flowing and their customers happy, even in the midst of these anything-but-normal business times. The Prime Group family also has been appreciative of their patience and ability to “go with the flow,” as together we’ve faced unprecedented logistical and operational challenges – most beyond our collective control.

In addition, I’m deeply appreciative of our employees across all four corporate divisions whose can-do attitude has helped us assist our valued clients despite global shortages in shipping containers, limited air capacity, shortages in ground handling resources, and other challenges.

I’m proud to say that even under immense pressure, our operations, sales, and support teams have all performed admirably in achieving our prime task – creating strong customer satisfaction and keeping their everyday products and essential goods flowing.

Troubling Times for Turkey Day

It’s not been an easy time, finding and securing cargo space at affordable rates, due to the ongoing supply chain disruptions – and now it’s even started impacting core grocery items for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. As a result of the lack of availability, some of our down-line customers at the retail and wholesale level are already warning of rising out-of-stock rates and higher prices on big demand items like canned pumpkin, stuffing, liquid gravy, bakery pies, and even whipped cream… Now there’s a crisis!

But the beat goes on. This year our Prime Fresh Handling employees have succeeded in shipping everything from fresh produce, fish, fresh-cut flowers, and myriad other time-sensitive perishables, to handling COVID-19 supplies, masks, antigen test kits, vaccines, and a wide range of pharmaceutical products to customers all across the globe.

Bouncing Back Better

We’re also thankful that in spite of COVID 19-era pressures put upon the logistics industry that we were able to bounce back bigger and stronger in 2021. In fact, we are actually well on our way to reporting our highest ever volume of kilos of cargo in company history. This was also our biggest year ever for sales, and as a result we’ve expanded our employee group by 25 percent, to help us serve customers better and assure we are meeting and exceeding client expectations.

Nowhere else is this success better seen than in our LAX Station. It’s actually the youngest field operation in our worldwide system, but now our fastest growing. Granted, we’re also expanding our facilities at JFK, AMS, and MIA, but Los Angeles has emerged as the year’s biggest and busiest station.

So, as you sit down to the traditional Thanksgiving Day meal – albeit with perhaps a couple side dishes missing – to enjoy a day with family, friends, and football, let’s take time to examine the year, its challenges, and successes, as well as the opportunities yet-to-be-discovered ahead.

Please stay safe – and get stuffed!


~ Roger Paredes, CEO