Facing obstacles ranging from labor shortages in the trucking industry to limited warehouse space, food manufacturers are increasingly turning to warehousing partners like Interstate Cold Storage to help them not just store products, but also fulfill orders. “Logistics are the biggest challenge for our customers,” says Nick Burnham, General Manager of Interstate’s warehouses in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Established in 1973, Interstate Cold Storage is a family-owned third-party logistics company, providing temporary, medium-term, and long-term storage and distribution services to the food industry. “Temporary storage could be as short as a day, while long-term could be a year or two,” Burnham describes. “Generally speaking, our customers store their products with us for around 20 to 40 days. We're like a food hotel.”
Interstate handles products ranging from meats, poultry, and dairy items to snack foods, desserts, and jams. Products are safely stored in temperature-controlled environments with security in the form of IP-based surveillance, trailer inspections, and limited warehouse access. In addition to storing products at static temperatures, Interstate offers both quick freezing (they can bring product temperatures from the 30s down to 0℉ in 72 hours or less) and tempering services. “Hams are a good example of tempering,” Burnham says. “We can take a whole room of hams, say 5,000 pallets, from 0℉ to 28℉ over a period of eight weeks.”
The company has five warehouses total: two in Fort Wayne; two in Columbus, Ohio; and one in Napoleon, Ohio. “We have 22,000,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space,” Burnham says. “And we have rail access at three of the five warehouses.”
Transforming warehouses into distribution and inspection centers
“Space is at a premium right now,” Burnham says. Not only is warehouse space limited, but transportation costs are high due to a labor shortage in the trucking industry that has been impacting food companies’ delivery costs and schedules for a couple of years now.
To compensate, many companies are trying to save money by cutting out logistical steps. For example, Interstate's customers are increasingly asking for order picking, where employees put pallets together to send directly to a retail store, rather than shipping the items to the retailers’ distribution center for order management.
Interstate also offers cross-docking services to restack, reorganize, re-shrink wrap, and re-ship pallets. This service is for deliveries that have been rejected due to transport damage like tipped pallets, as well as for moving pallets from one truck to another. “Let's say a manufacturer is an hour from us,” Burnham describes, “and they're going to have a truck here four times a day. Well, I can cross-dock product out of that truck into another carrier's truck, seal it, and send it with a Bill of Lading.”
To facilitate logistics for their meat and poultry customers, Interstate’s warehouses are also equipped for USDA services, including off-site freezing and grading, as well as documentation, stamping, and approvals for imports and exports. “Each location has facilities for USDA inspectors,” Burnham says, “including a meat inspection room, office, and storage for utensils. For example, we could take raw chicken, pack it into different packaging, and have USDA on site to stamp everything. Customers can also use us to get exports stamps for their products.”
Technology for temperature monitoring, inventory tracking, and more
Today’s warehouses aren’t like those of the past. They’re high-tech facilities that use sophisticated technologies to monitor temperatures, track inventory, and more.
To keep food safe and ensure product quality, products must be stored at the right temperature. Interstate uses a system developed by Logix for temperature monitoring and control in individual zones in the warehouse. “We can set the parameters and receive alerts if there are any discrepancies, give or take 2 degrees,” Burnham says. “So, if have it set for zero and it reaches 2℉, we’ll receive an alert and can tweak the system to get back to the desired temperature.” The Logix system also automatically generates trend logs so customers have easy access to their temperature data, which is required for food safety compliance.
Just as important as temperature monitoring is accurate inventory management. Interstate uses a few different technologies to track and report inventory in real time.
Radio frequency (RF) barcode scanners, which are linked with the warehouse management system, read the barcodes on incoming items and verify quantity information. Then, using both item and storage location barcodes, the scanners can collect information on where the items are in the warehouse. Finally, the RF devices scan the barcodes for outgoing items and recognize when the order or shipment has been fulfilled. This eliminates the mistakes associated with manual data entry and minimizes shipping, receiving, and storage errors.
To keep track of all this information in real time, Interstate offers Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). This is a secure method for sharing data digitally between warehouse facilities and customers, including inventory reports, shipping notices, and receipt confirmations.
For customers that don’t use EDI, Interstate offers an the online web portal as a way to view real-time inventory information at every step of the process. “They can pinpoint their inventories to the second, from when that truck hits the door and we scan that pallet for the first time, to when we process that outbound order,” Burnham explains. “They know exactly where it's been, where it's going, and what rack position it was in.”
Even though their systems are highly automated, Interstate still offers their customers a personal touch. “When you call our warehouses with a problem, you're going to talk to me,” Burnham says. “And I'm going to be the one who walks into the warehouse and says, ‘Okay, we've got to fix that.’ Or, ‘Hey, you guys are doing great.’ So, you're not going through a corporate ladder. You're talking to us individually and we're making it happen.”
That’s the kind of attitude Interstate will be bringing to PROCESS EXPO when the company returns as an exhibitor this fall. “We’ve had success at the show in the past,” Burnham says. “We’ve met new customers at the show and partnered with them. Chicago is just three hours from here, so many of the processors who attend will be in our lanes.”
For more information on cold storage and warehouse solutions, you can find Interstate at Booth #4071 at PROCESS EXPO.