Cold Chain Council Offers Fresh Perspective on Industrywide Challenges, Opportunities

The industry's most influential gathered in June to discuss trends impacting the global cold chain.

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Carrie Konopacki

From best practices to technological advances and the challenges and opportunities in between, the third annual Cold Chain Council covered it all. The educational forum, held June 25 in Chicago, featured fresh perspective from some of the food and beverage sector’s most influential.

Among them was Mary Holcomb, professor of supply chain management at the University of Tennessee, who kicked off the council’s first session, “Refrigerated Transportation in a Global Economy.” Holcomb’s presentation focused on the challenges and trends impacting the transportation industry and offered strategies to navigating the new digital economy.

Her assessment of the current state of the industry identified a number of complexities shaping today’s supply chain, including changing customer requirements, as well as demand uncertainty, citing the recent tariffs, and cost to serve.

“Everything that we are involved in, in terms of the consumer, is showing up on our doorstep. We like this idea of ordering things. It’s a click away in terms of how I determine what I want, when I want it and in the quantity in which I want it delivered to me. And if you think about that, it really is changing the face of the industry,” she says.

“In this industry in particular, we’re seeing a lot of business to consumer, and that changes a lot of what's happening. That creates a lot of uncertainty in terms of the demand,” she says.

Holcomb also addressed the need for collaboration among each mode of transportation as capacity continues to tighten, eluding to the idea that technology won’t be the solution.   

“I've heard people say there's about 20 percent to 30 percent of space on equipment that's moving over the road that could be used. Now that's like an optimized space that's there, and we would not be able to tap into all of that, but there's something about all these dynamics…that perhaps we can bring our talents together to help solve some of them,” she says.

The professor adds: “It has been a long, long time since we've had a national transportation policy that looked across all the modes to determine what we need. And I would suggest to you that it's time that we do that.”

Session 2, “Forecast Is 20/20: How Technology Is Being Used to Quantify Risk & Guide Accurate Transportation Decisions,” discussed how technology is empowering transportation professionals to identify the right method of temperature protection. Guest speakers included: Brandon Clark, manager of global transportation, Amway; Andrew Sylling, manager of ambient transportation, Unilever; Jon Davis, chief meteorologist, Riskpulse, and Matt Wensing, CEO, Riskpulse.

Jon Davis, chief meteorologist for Riskpulse, outlines the impacts of weather trends.Jon Davis, chief meteorologist for Riskpulse, outlines the impacts of weather trends.Carrie Konopacki

In the council’s third session, foodservice distribution professionals discussed best practices for positive impacts on the bottom line. John Sommavilla, CEO of Shoreline Fruit, discussed the increasing need for good food safety practices, while Eric Kruse, inbound freight manager at Kwik Trip Inc., discussed the Midwest convenience store’s strategy for securing drivers amidst a growing labor shortage. Terrence Bro, director of sales, for-hire cartage at Spartan Nash Co., presented an overview of the grocery distributor’s supply chain re-organization.

Ensuring food safety is also good for the bottom line, according to John Sommavilla, CEO of Shoreline Fruit, shown right.Ensuring food safety is also good for the bottom line, according to John Sommavilla, CEO of Shoreline Fruit, shown right.Carrie Konopacki

A focus on food safety rounded out the day, with presentations from Don Durm, vice president of customer solutions, PLM Trailer Leasing; Melanie Nuce, senior vice president, corporate development, GS1 US; and Sherea Dillon, acting director of compliance, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The industry experts offered a candid conversation on the current state of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and how blockchain will play a key role in boosting cold chain integrity and compliance.

GS1’s Nuce emphasizes that blockchain for food and beverage is about solving the industry’s data sharing problem.

“We've been working in the blockchain space for almost two years now with some of the big providers like IBM, Microsoft, FoodLogiQ around the notion that legacy centralized systems for data sharing haven't really gotten us to the level of traceability and supply chain stability that we want,” she explains.

Melanie Nuce of GS1 US says blockchain for food and beverage is about solving the industry’s data-sharing problem.Melanie Nuce of GS1 US says blockchain for food and beverage is about solving the industry’s data-sharing problem.Carrie Konopacki

Acting as a secure record of events, blockchain could be the missing link in the search for supply chain transparency, but Nuce notes the technology will not fix all of your problems.

“Bad data is bad data. Missing data is missing data. Blockchain isn't going to fix all of that,” she says. “In fact, it's probably going to expose any problems you have in data quality or data inconsistency. It's also not really designed around moving massive amounts of data.

“What we're uncovering is that if your basic business process around traceability isn't there, blockchain is just going to make it clearer that you have a problem,” she adds. “So we've got to adapt what we're doing as a business and...work collectively as an industry to instill consumer confidence.”

To GS1, that means identifying things at the right level, capturing data in the way that machines can read it, and then it sharing that data across company lines.

“At the end of the day what we're hoping to gain is transparency,” Nuce says. “We want to deliver on the promise to the consumer who says I want to know all the information about this, I want to buy it where, when and how I choose. And so we have to deliver on that promise, and we want to build trust with them because that's also what's going to help us gain some efficiency.”

Nuce assured attendees, however, that if they had not yet invested in blockchain technology, they are not behind the curve.

“Now is the time to get educated, to understand what it offers and partner with other industry members, so that we can actually get to the point where we're delivering transparency and trust,” she says.  

QProducts & Services launched the Cold Chain Council in 2016, as an annual industry event comprised of various stakeholders—manufacturers, retailers, distributors, logistics providers, academics and others—to discuss challenges and best practices related to the cold chain. It hosts two separate councils a year—one for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries and another for the combined food and beverage industry. 

Food Logistics has partnered with QProducts for the food and beverage event since its inception.

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