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For all their unique features, refrigerated warehouses face an equally unique set of challenges.

Especially right now during the pandemic, when food and grocery delivery is perhaps more crucial than ever, refrigerated warehouses need better management of their supply chain and distribution network in order to succeed. Product shortages, missed deliveries, vendor issues, and other problems with the supply chain can be a bigger problem for food storage and refrigerated warehouses than they can for other businesses, and if these problems arise too often they can start to affect your relationship with customers.

If you’re reading this, you likely run your own public refrigerated warehouse (or PRW) that serves a chain of grocery stores, or works as a distribution hub for a specific food manufacturer. During the pandemic, or even during peak times of the year, you’ve likely encountered a few of these common supply chain issues and struggled with resolving them.

 

Refrigerated Warehouse Supply Chain Issues

 

The Need for Flexibility

Most smaller, family-owned PRWs have tended to operate under shorter-term “handshake” agreements with their clients, such as grocery stores or frozen food producers, that tend to change rapidly and without warning. These changes can include alterations in quantity (either up or down), foods that need to be stored at different temperatures, and differently-sized pallets of items.

Accordingly, your PRW needs to be able to look into the future and try to prepare for any request the client may have. Try to offer a range of different storage options, including pallet racks for larger orders of dry goods, rust proof shelving for expanded refrigeration/freezer storage, and sanitary wire shelving for storage of most other perishable items. While you can’t always predict how much (or how little) of an item a client will send you, keeping the right amount of shelving handy will go a long way.

 

Space Demands

A recent study done by CBRE explored the real estate demands experienced by refrigerated warehouses and food storage warehouses during the pandemic, and found that up to 100 million additional square feet of cooler/freezer storage will be needed in the next five years, thanks to the demands of online grocery sales. Accordingly, you’ll need to start checking your space demands and seeing what could be done to make your warehouse more efficient – are you already packed to capacity, or can you fit more shelving and/or cold storage in an unused area? Would you be prepared to expand into a second location, or renovate your current one to accommodate additional products as needed? The possibility that your warehouse will look drastically different in the near future is one you should plan any of your changes or remodels around.

 

Varying Client Demand

Finally, one of the biggest roadblocks a PRW can face is perhaps the one you’ll have the least control over – the flow of products from your client. While reviewing your staffing levels and sales figures from the past 6-to-12 months can give you a good idea of what to expect, these days you need to be prepared for anything – especially given the effect the pandemic has on product availability. Get ready to staff up or down on short notice if you know a big order is suddenly coming in, or if a previous order has been drastically reduced at the last minute, particularly if you’ve been having a tough time retaining talent (as has been the case for a lot of PRWs lately).

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