Whether you’re a meat-eater, a Vegetarian, a Pescatarian, gluten-free, dairy-free, a vegan, a picky-eater, or you’ll try anything under the sun – we all have to eat. Food has to make its way from farms and factories to your table. Ever wonder what goes into the logistics of frozen food shipping? What about frozen, refrigerated, and dry food shipping in the same truck?
If you work for a grocery distributor, a chain grocery store, a small corner market, or you make your own organic snacks to sell at farmer’s markets, you know it’s not as simple as throwing your goods in the back of a truck and hoping your food arrives in good condition.
There’s a science to shipping frozen food and other groceries. There are rules about what foods can travel together. There are specific temperatures that the vehicle can’t dip below or above a specific range. There are shipper’s instructions that need to be followed as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act. There are trucks with refrigerated units to keep the contents cold during transit. There are specific shipping windows required so that food is received and stays at the right temperature.
The process differs between truckload and less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments. A truckload frozen or refrigerated shipment is picked up and delivered by the same driver in the same trailer. An LTL shipment will almost always be driven by multiple drivers and loaded from one trailer to another as it makes its trek from point A to point B.
A refrigerated LTL carrier has specific days that they pick up, depending on the region. Other temperature-controlled products traveling within that region in the same temperature range will be on that truck.
The LTL carrier will pick up all of these shipments within a specific window and deliver the following week. Businesses shipping smaller quantities, anything about 12 pallets or less, will rely on their refrigerated or frozen food shipments via Reefer LTL. Less-than-truckload frozen or refrigerated shipments tend to be shipped in smaller trailers called pup trailers, which are about 26-29 feet long.
Large shipments of dairy, frozen meats, boxes of bananas, lettuce and watermelons, cans of soup, ketchup, you name it can be shipped via truckload from distributors to grocery stores. Truckloads full of items leaving one location and all heading to the same destination, with the same temperature requirements, can be shipped together as long as it isn’t otherwise noted on the shipper’s instructions.
Frozen food shipping can have a temperature range of -10 to 0 degrees Fahrenheit while refrigerated food shipping can be around 33 to 39 degrees.
Since these trucks typically have one origin, one destination, and one driver, there aren’t necessarily specific days of the week that these are picked up. These shipments are received and inspected by the receiver before being unloaded and eventually making their way to the shelves, refrigerated, and freezer sections for shoppers to purchase.
A Reefer Truck is equipped with a cooling system designed to keep the contents of a truck at a certain temperature throughout transit. Typical reefer trucks are full-size 52-foot containers, while smaller box trucks can be used for LTL shipments.
The typical grocery store shipments are pretty cut and dry with the way that goods arrive at the loading docks. The waters get muddied up when it comes to new services designed to help busy people get groceries without ever stepping foot into a store.
We can buy everything else online, why not all of our food? Grocery delivery services like Peapod, Walmart Grocery Delivery, Instacart, Freshdirect, and Amazon Fresh have turned e-commerce into a giant food pantry for busy people. In a five-minute website visit, people can add their groceries to a virtual cart and have the goods arrive on their front step the next morning.
While grocery deliveries are extremely convenient and pretty competitive price-wise for the average consumer, it’s a rather complicated process with a small profit margin for shippers.
The reason these last-mile grocery shipments are so tricky is that there are very specific instructions and temperatures for the items within a single shipment. The companies have a window of around 20 hours to get groceries from the warehouse to their customer’s fridge. Any moment that the temperature dips below the requirement could zap away shelf life.
Certain produce can’t be packaged in the same bag, refrigerated items shouldn’t reach the frozen temperatures, frozen items can’t defrost during delivery, and some produce goods can’t drop below a certain temperature.
Some of these grocery delivery services have refrigerated trucks that carry the groceries from house to house while others do the temperature control within the grocery totes. That’s where insulated boxes and bags, giant ice packs, and dry ice come into play.
Drivers who deliver these shipments have to be more conscious about delivery windows to make sure that each food stays exactly how it is supposed to be during shipment, integrity remaining when the bags make their way from the front step into the kitchens of consumers worldwide.
These deliveries are calculated precisely before the groceries even leave the warehouse, down to how many minutes each delivery should take.
Meal Service Delivery Kits from providers like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, Green Chef, Sun Basket, and Plated are handled a little differently from grocery delivery service.
Shoppers who want pre-portioned ingredients to prepare two or three meals a week for their family will sign up for these services. Ultimately, the providers, like HelloFresh, will have a preselected menu for the week, allowing customers to choose between six or eight options.
In this case, the providers are the ones deciding what produce, grain, dairy, and what meat can be packaged together. These deliveries arrive at hungry customers’ homes in insulated cardboard boxes. Meats are typically at the bottom of the box covered by large ice packs, with produce and dry items packaged on top.
These deliveries are a little less complicated and don’t require immediate attention from the customer to stay fresh. While there are instructions to unpack in the fridge as soon as possible, food can stay cold with gel ice packs if customers are not home at the time of delivery.Typically, these items are kept at refrigerated temperatures, and don’t fall into the realm of frozen food shipping.
Multiple carriers still come into play to get food delivered from the meal service distribution centers to the doorsteps of hungry customers, many times parcel companies like UPS and FedEx complete the last leg of delivery.
The popularity of subscription boxes has made it into the food industry. Unlike the full grocery delivery services, these boxes differ as they often only offer a specific type of commodity. Examples of food subscription boxes are Butcherbox, Misfits Market, Jeni’s Pint Club, Carnivore Club, and Wine Down.
These categoried subscription boxes are even less complicated to package and deliver than the Meal Service Delivery kits. Since all items are in the same category and require similar packaging and temperature control, there is no need to make sure certain items are at the bottom with more sensitive items at the top of the box.
All items are packaged similar to the meal kits inside an insulated cardboard box covered by large ice packs and delivered the same way. Companies like ButcherBox have the opportunity to warehouse and deliver their boxes in one to two days with services like Direct 2 Consumer through our parent company, Burris Logistics.
Even with changing trends in the way food and groceries make their way into consumers’ cabinets and refrigerators, food still has to travel from distribution centers, warehouses, and farms around the world.
Whether you have a full truckload of refrigerated or frozen food to ship, or just a few pallets, you can work with a third-party logistics (3PL) company to help coordinate your shipments.
If you have just a few temperature-controlled pallets of goods to ship, you can leverage a 3PL’s volume. A 3PL can find you a truck with the right temperature that fits your delivery window. Instead of working with one company and working on their schedule, you can have access to more trucks with less stress, to make frozen food shipping a breeze.
Whether you’re shipping multiple trailer loads of food to grocery stores across the country a day, or you’re just starting to ship several pallets of your bakery goods to markets each week, a 3PL like Trinity Logistics can help save you time, money, and headaches.
Trinity ships food, produce, and frozen meat and seafood on a regular basis. We work with a vast array of carriers with reefer and frozen food equipment at the ready. Frozen food shipping arrangement has become a specialty of Trinity.
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