Take a look at five major trends shaping the cold chain industry and changing the way companies process, store, ship and sell food.
Food around the world is changing—driven by consumer demands and innovations in transportation and storage. From the quality of ingredients to how food is imported and exported, consumers expect more than ever before. While healthy eating is great, this trend is pushing the limits of the current cold chain technologies.
What is a cold chain? A cold chain is a temperature controlled supply chain that allows for an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities that maintain a given temperature based on needs. In other words, it keeps food safe for consumption from warehouse to store.
Over the past two years, cold chain warehouses have grown 20 percent globally, according to Foodlogistics.com, and they continue to evolve. Here’s a look at five major trends shaping the cold chain industry and changing the way companies process, store, ship and sell food.
1. Food quality demands rise in the U.S.
There is an increase in the food quality that people demand and eat. In the U.S., for instance, sales of organic food and organic non-food products broke a record in 2014, totaling $39 billion, up 11 percent from the previous year. Organic sales now near a milestone five percent share of the total food market, according to the Organic Trade Association, in Washington, DC. The organic dairy sector posted an almost 11 percent jump in sales in 2014 to $5.4 billion, the biggest percentage increase for that category in six years, according to the association. Organic and other healthy foods tend to be more perishable, require additional care and temperature precision during delivery and in store.
At the same time, the import and export of food is at an all-time high, which means delivery distances are longer, requiring solutions for air and boat shipping as well as the typical truck shipping. Because of these new challenges, temperature requirements for shipments have changed, going from 3 zones of temperatures per shipment to 5 zones of temperatures per shipment, reports Inboundlogistics.com. This means new technology to ensure that food arrives safely.
2. Emerging market consumers also demand quality
Consumers in countries such as China, India and Brazil are also demanding fresh foods, and they’re buying fresh produce both from within their own countries and imported from other parts of the world. With this shift in eating comes the need for new cold chain systems that match the distribution channels, transportation infrastructure, and buying patterns in each country. Already companies selling healthy foods in China and India face a challenge when it comes to refrigeration. Worldwide there is an estimated 552 million cubic meters of refrigerated warehouse space, and that’s up 20 percent versus 2012, according to Foodlogistics.com. However, refrigeration warehouse space in China and India—the world’s two most populous nations—represents a meager part of that number, less than one percent of total refrigerated warehouse space, according to a report by the International Trade Administration. There is work to be done if safe eating habits are to become the new normal in these countries.
3. Food regulations are on the rise
In the U.S., five years ago, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act. As part of that act, earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released rules that cover farmers who grow fresh produce, as well as food importers.
The Food Safety Modernization Act requires that every distributor, warehouse and store document every step of the food supply chain. This demands impeccable record keeping and quick access to data. Companies must be able to have travel times, temperatures, locations and hundreds of other pieces of information at the snap of a finger. Better technology is the only way to ensure that recall systems are reliable and efficient.
4. Cold chain grows in coverage
Cold chain technology is no longer just about getting products safely from warehouse store, it also now covers keeping them fresh in-store. In the U.S. alone, over 3,700 items are in the frozen food aisle. The perimeter of the store (produce, seafood, meat, bakery, dairy and deli) now accounts for more than half of grocery sales. Keeping these products fresh and safe for consumption is important not only for health reasons, but to keep the bottom line of the business healthy.
And finally, cost and energy efficiency continue to be a concern. Stores that aren’t energy efficient are expensive to operate. What’s more, eco-friendly consumers are looking to buy from companies that follow sustainable practices.
So what is being done to address these changes? Tons. Take new cold chain retail solutions that deliver comprehensive approaches rather than single products. This end-to-end approach helps stores manage the entire cold chain process rather than having to piece together machines to create their own chain and reporting systems.
New features like LED lighting, air conditioning and surveillance systems are being added to the chain. A complete chain features the following:
- CFC-free Freezer Systems – CFC-free freezer systems are equipped with technology that controls the delivery pressure of refrigerants. It’s lighter and more compact than before and will require less construction to install.
- Condensing Unit Showcases for Supermarkets – A new temperature control system, less vulnerable to atmospheric changes, keeps food at a level temperature. This enables food quality management by maintaining a proper temperature, and prevents the loss of energy by cover cooling. This technology, in part with a CO2 exclusive refrigerator, is another new way to help keep the cold chain efficient. Additionally, by equipping with LED lighting, improving cooling efficiency and eco-conscious glass doors, the showcases can generate a 30 percent savings in energy.
- A Store Controller – An innovative store controller can connect and centrally control a wide range of store equipment from showcases, freezers, air conditioning to lighting. New products will regulate store equipment. To help meet government requirements, all of these products will be hooked up to cloud data management, a service that will enable customers to remotely monitor and control the equipment, as well as download and share data.
- Remote Data Service for Stores. A sophisticated Remote Data Service provides functions necessary for store operation by connecting via the Internet to a cloud service to allow for data management and sharing. This saves energy by making temperature and energy consumption visible. It also quickly notifies customers of temperature or equipment anomalies and contributes to food safety and security.
All combined, these innovations make for a more efficient cold chain—with readily available data. The means more cost-effective for stores, and most importantly, healthier and safer for consumers. Learn more at From Farm to Table: Comprehensive Cold Chain Solutions at http://news.panasonic.com/global/stories/2015/43904.html
Credit-Yasuhiro Shibata is the assistant director, cold chain business division, Panasonic Corp. For more information, visit http://news.panasonic.com/global/stories/2015/43904.html.