The Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) represents all major industries engaged in temperature-controlled logistics. Based in the US state of Virginia, it has offices or affiliates in Australia, Brazil, China, Europe, Guatemala, India, and the UK. The GCCA’s vision is to forge a universally strong cold chain where every product retains quality and safety through each link. Here GCCA president and CEO Corey Rosenbusch speaks about major trends for the industry and the inaugural Global Cold Chain Expo, taking place June 20-22 in Chicago.
What are the main issues the alliance is working on?
We recently did some research on our market and there were some very clear results that shaped our new strategic plan, with two priorities centred around growing the industry and leading the cold chain.
Where do you see potential for growth?
We see a huge opportunity to play a role in cost savings and assistance with compliance. If there’s one trend that you hear about all over world, it’s that regulations are becoming more and more burdensome for our member companies. If we as an industry can help deflect or assume some of that compliance role for produce companies, that’s a huge value-add.
Another opportunity is in facilitating trade. Overall, looking at opportunities where our industry can serve the food industry in places and ways we haven’t in the past is a major theme. In our study, 64% of our members said exports are a growing part of their business. Some are investing in strategic locations and port-centric hubs in order to be able to offer end-to-end supply chain networks.
What are some of the issues facing the industry?
It’s more and more of a challenge to recruit and retain talent and with the aging workforce we hear about this increasingly. We have to recreate an employer brand where we’re not simply asking someone to drive a forklift in a freezer but tell a story of helping protect the quality and safety of food so families can enjoy their meals and feel confident they are safe; or one of feeding the world, ensuring there is plenty of food to eat. That’s the kind of company a young person wants to build a career around. It’s about creating career paths, best practices and employer brands, and helping members recruit associates. They are having a very hard time finding labour, particularly in technical areas such as refrigeration – it’s harder and harder to find people to fill those roles.
Also with the pressure today to keep the cost of consumer goods at stable prices, food companies often look to our space to find opportunities for saving. We need to really protect ourselves against being commoditised. We’re not just big buildings where you can rent pallet storage space, there are value-added services that make us partners with the food industry in delivering produce to the consumer. It’s about telling that story and doing that is really new for us.
Where do you see unmet needs in terms of perishables?
A lot of the issues which drove the recent creation of a lot of new food safety regulations really centred around the fruit and vegetables industry. Fresh produce is far more challenging than a frozen product so I think what’s going to be critical to how that segment grows in future is the ability from a technical standpoint to comply with the regulations and ensure the safety of food, particularly as more moves from all over world.
We are also looking at how we can contribute to the lengthening of shelf life and reduction of waste in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, for example loads that are rejected at retail because the quality of product is not there. Major retailers have become very stringent not just on the safety and quality of produce but even right down to appearance. We have a role to play there in helping the fresh fruit and vegetable industry ensure compliance with regulations and in controlling temperatures to ensure they can distribute as much produce as they can and it does not go to waste.
How much of the produce you handle is frozen?
Historically for the third party cold chain industry, frozen goods have been our core, with about 80% of the products going through our assets being frozen but fresh is definitely a growing area. These days one of the fastest growing services that a lot of members are doing for customers is tempering – basically defrosting food that is later sold and marketed as a fresh product. The biggest area of growth for this is bakery, particularly breads.
What’s happening in the area of food safety during shipping?
Food safety always been a core competency of ours and is one that is now in the spotlight with the rewriting of our food safety laws here in the US and some transformation of of food safety laws in Europe due to the horse meat issues a few years ago. Consumers have more and more focus on this so it’s a huge opportunity for us because our core concept is to ensure that food is kept at the right temperature. Perishables are a number one topic from a food safety standpoint. We invested millions in the mid-90s to really understand all of the food commodities, their shelf life and what is an optimal storage temperature, even developing software. Today we can take a product that might have been out of temperature range and predict the impact on its quality and shelf life.
Traceability is the key area where most of our transportation members are able to contribute to the overall protection of the safety of food. Constant temperature monitoring has become more advanced with real time monitoring of temperatures possible anywhere in world and data uploaded via satellite. More and more tracking and tracing devices are included in cargo to ensure it is kept within the proper temperature range. From that standpoint, our industry plays an important role.
What does the growth of e-retail imply for temperature-controlled logistics?
This was a big focus at our 19th European Cold Chain conference, held in Amsterdam in March. China, for example, is going to leapfrog the rest of the world in that more and more it’s not going to build brick and mortar stores but just go straight to home delivery. With JD.com, for instance, you can literally order just two bananas and they’ll deliver them to your home. At the conference we looked at how a shift in the supply chain from traditional brick and mortar to home delivery will redefine our business, for instance what kind of special vehicles will be required for delivery. We need to think about this and how to build our assets and capacity to serve accordingly.
There are also opportunities for companies in each-picking for frozen goods. A frozen item can be selected, put in a freezer box and left on your door stop in a frozen state and all this process is fully automated, with the product only touched when someone takes it out of the delivery truck.
What will be some of the highlights of the Global Cold Chain Expo in June?
It will where everyone finally comes together in one place to talk about the cold chain no matter the sector. The Global Cold Chain Expo is co-located with our partner, United Fresh Produce Association, and the Food Marketing Institute, so growers, distributors and buyers of produce will all be there. We’re bringing all the third party cold chain providers and a big group of processors who have not historically been there. Over 25,000 sq ft we’ll have all the components needed to really chart the future, to talk about efficient collaboration and solve problems – and that’s what really gets me excited.