While most of the United States is still in the winter season, it’s only fitting to talk about the chillier part of the supply chain. Often referred to as the cold chain, the cold supply chain is the component of the supply chain responsible for managing the movement of temperature-sensitive, perishable goods.
The cold supply chain is critical to ensuring that perishable products not only make it into the hands of consumers but are also safe to consume when they arrive. If perishable goods are exposed to excessive temperatures during transport or storage, they will degrade and may become unsafe to eat.
Cold chain vs. normal supply chain
Managing both the normal supply chain and the cold chain can be a difficult undertaking. Fortunately, both of these tasks can be streamlined by leveraging modern technologies, such as a transportation management system (TMS).
However, even when such a system is utilized, managing and optimizing the cold supply chain remains more complex than overseeing the traditional supply chain. This holds true for several reasons.
Planning out cold supply chain shipments involves many different moving parts. Shipping perishable goods internationally is particularly challenging; shippers must ensure that carriers and distributors have the equipment and space necessary to receive the deliverables.
Additionally, shippers must verify that the carriers they partnered with are transporting the goods in a manner consistent with relevant food and safety standards.
Coordinating the delivery of cold supply chain items is not the only heavy lift that shippers and carriers must orchestrate to ensure products make it to the intended destination. Carriers must also ensure they efficiently load and unload cold chain products at all transition points. When carriers are ready to move a shipment, they must act fast to prevent the temperature of the perishables from exceeding established limits.
The third major hurdle that cold shippers experience is cost. Shipping perishables is more expensive in every link of the cold chain when compared to the costs of transporting goods in the traditional supply chain.
Repercussions of poor cold supply chain management
When shippers, carriers and distributors fail to engage in effective cold supply chain management, the repercussions can be severe. Poor cold chain management can lead to the following.
Costly product losses. When perishable items are stored above safe temperature ranges, they will degrade. If these products are left in warm environments for more than a few minutes, they will be rendered unusable. This will lead to significant losses that will impact the shipper’s profitability and undermine long-term business growth.
Consumer illnesses. The biggest danger associated with poor cold supply chain management is the risk of illness outbreaks among consumers. If a shipment is not stored properly but still makes it into the hands of consumers, it could cause widespread illnesses.
For instance, suppose that a shipment of dairy products was exposed to warm temperatures for a prolonged period but later returned to a climate-controlled environment. Due to ineffective cold chain management practices, the heat exposure went unnoticed.
As a result, the shipment was delivered to a retailer and subsequently purchased by dozens of consumers. In this scenario, any customer that consumed the product could potentially be impacted.
Even if the effects of consuming the spoiled goods were minor, consumers would likely lose trust in that brand. Depending on the severity of the incident, the shipper could also face lawsuits or other civil repercussions that could threaten business continuity.
Damage to a brand’s image. Regardless of who is responsible for temperature-related product degradation, the brand that produces the perishables will bear the brunt of the repercussions. When consumers receive a perishable item that is damaged, unsafe, or otherwise unusable, their faith in that brand will be diminished, perhaps permanently.
Distributors and carriers will also experience damage to their brand image, especially if they develop a reputation for damaging shippers’ perishable goods.
Maintain the cold supply chain best practices
Therefore, every member of the cold supply chain must prioritize product safety by adhering to established best practices. Members of the cold chain can further promote product safety by investing in modern transportation management technology and partnering with an experienced third-party logistics provider (3PL).
Cumulatively, these efforts will enhance product safety, improve customer satisfaction, protect the reputation of the shipper and optimize profitability for all links in the cold chain.