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Special Feature: Keep it cold, keep it moving

Strict controls, certifications keep seafood cold during transit

Cold storage providers also offer inventory, packaging and logistics services.  - Image courtesy of Photodisk
By Melissa Wood
October 01, 2013

Don’t open the box. That’s one of the rules Skuna Bay establishes with distributors as it launches its craft-raised salmon into new markets across North America. The company’s other cold-chain rules include keeping shipments on the ground (because air transportation means more hands touching the box); making sure distributors can service chefs twice a week; and sealing boxes with tamper-proof tape to ensure nobody opens the package until it reaches the chef. So far none of the shipments have ever been messed with.

“We’ve never gotten that call,” says company President Dave Mergle. “I don’t think it’s because distributors think they’re going to get in trouble, we’re just working with the right distributors.” 

For Skuna Bay, controlling the cold chain is a critical part of maintaining the high standard of salmon it raises off British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. It carefully expands its reach to fine-dining restaurants and boutique retailers across North America by doing all it can to ensure quality. Before they’re packed, the salmon are immersed in brine to eliminate bacteria. In the boxes, flaked ice fills their gills and belly cavities. 

“We think about details, and we think about every little detail that we can control,” says Mergle, which means those boxes only go to carefully vetted distributors. The company sets up in one new market at a time, forging relationships with distributors by first meeting them, touring their facilities and sending samples with temperature probes that typically give a reading every 20 minutes to ensure product stays cold on every leg of its journey to markets in 35 states with its expansion into New England this summer. Mergle says the next targeted markets are Texas and the Southeast.

“Our focus is to deliver to the best chefs in North America the best salmon they can get,” he says. “Every single time they get their shipments of salmon that they’re going to put on the plate and put their name behind, we want it to always look like it just came out of the water.”

For seafood shipments large and small, the key to a successful cold chain is control. On a larger scale, for Americold, an Atlanta company providing temperature-controlled warehousing and transportation, that means moving toward offering a whole-chain solution so customers don’t have to spend time looking for different sites. At the same time, it has been expanding into different regions like Australia, China and Argentina, and expanding existing locations in the United States and Canada. 

That growth is driven by customer demand, which is also behind the addition of processing services to some of its warehouses, says Ivan Svasand, business development director. For example, the company added seafood-processing capabilities to a Northwest location that previously was primarily used for fruit storage.

“The customer wanted to do some value-added processing, which is great for them because the product comes into the cold storage so he can process what he needs,” says Svasand. “They can do it right there at the facility instead of having to truck their product into a different area, which saves on that cost as well.”

Technology is also playing a role in providing greater control. Americold’s online inventory monitoring system, called i-3PL, allows its customers to move their own inventory around by pointing and clicking instead of calling. Svasand says the service is so popular the company has had customers switch to Americold for their warehousing needs because of it.

Growth is also on the agenda for U.S. Cold Storage (USCS), based in Voorhees, N.J., which has more than 35 warehouses nationwide. The company provides a full array of logistics services, including transportation, special packaging or “whatever someone might need,” says Mark Lorion, VP of business development and marketing. “We’re a support system that people turn to. USCS is the expert behind the scenes taking great care to ensure all the bases are covered, offering warehouse management systems, transportation management systems, logistics expertise, order selection, delivery to the customer and any other detailed requirements in support of each customer’s need.”

Though it’s already one of the largest cold-chain companies in the United States, USCS is expanding, says Lorion. The growth, both in logistics and facility expansions, is a reaction to growth within the food industry, particularly seafood, which is seeing continued annual increases in imported product.

As volumes increase, certification is a key way of ensuring product quality from boat to box. Lorion says USCS is implementing Global Food Safety Initiative-recognized standards (GSFI does not certify but developed a global food-safety standard followed by the Global Aquaculture Alliance, GlobalG.A.P. and others).

“We’re one of the first warehouse companies doing that. Our goal is to have all of our facilities certified, and we hope that becomes a new standard in the industry,” he says. “Becoming certified is a very extensive process. Seafood companies with safety concerns will know USCS is following the latest processes and procedures.”

Email Assistant Editor Melissa Wood at mwood@divcom.com 

  September 2013 - SeaFood Business 

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