Increased globalization and remote sourcing in the food industry have brought options and convenience closer to home for many consumers. Yet the boost in imports and exports of commodities has created new challenges for suppliers, shippers, and retailers. With the perishables industry constantly expanding, physical distances and shipping conditions are critical considerations in the supply chain.
The cold chain, a vital segment of the supply chain, involves an extremely vulnerable and sensitive combination of processes that have a key impact on the condition of the final product. Especially in extreme cases of temperature, distance, and multi-modal transportation, any weak link in the cold chain could mean extensive damage to product, brand name, or supplier-retailer relationships.
Ocean Beauty Seafoods recognized early on the importance of cold chain management and visibility. Founded in 1910 and based in Seattle, Wash., the company has processing, distribution, and sales outlets in Alaska, throughout the continental United States, and in Japan. A worldwide sourcing network, coupled with processing and distribution, enables Ocean Beauty to deliver a diverse line of premium products and value-added services virtually anywhere seafood is consumed. However, the extreme complexity of their supply chain necessitated an innovative approach to cold chain management.
The Challenge of Salmon
Most of Ocean Beauty’s salmon processing facilities are in remote or semi-remote coastal communities in Alaska. These remote areas have limited airlift capabilities during the peak salmon harvest period in July and August. For example, air shipments from Cordova, Alaska, which supply Copper River King and Sockeye salmon, occur only two times a day. These shipments travel to either Seattle or Anchorage with further connections to destinations in the lower 48 states.
As a second option, the company places ocean containers full of salmon on high-speed ferries and barges to Whittier, Alaska. Containers are then trucked to the company’s freight forwarder in Anchorage. Each shipment is parceled into smaller portions and tendered to a variety of air carriers for shipment to the final destination.
A complicated supply chain originating from a remote location, coupled with salmon values approaching $1,000 per carton, necessitates a comprehensive temperature management program to ensure product quality and, ultimately, customer satisfaction.
Jan Koslosky, director of supply chain management, is responsible for ensuring the quality of fresh seafood from the source to customers nationwide. Ocean Beauty’s complicated supply chain required his team to develop creative solutions to ensure the integrity of the company’s cold chain.
To tackle the issue, the company implemented several solutions. No individual component stands on its own, yet in aggregate, the solutions represent a comprehensive cold chain management program that effectively protects one of the most challenging supply chains in the world.
First, the company partnered with its airline carrier to develop better handling processes for air freight shipments. In the past, insulated shipments had waited on the tarmac until loading could occur. Product packaging was subjected to ambient air temperatures and outside weather conditions. As part of the new process, shipments are placed into chill rooms until they can be loaded.
Second, Ocean Beauty worked with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The company’s Cordova and Kodiak, Alaska plants are now TSA-certified shipper cargo screening facilities in Alaska. This program permits shipments to be pre-screened and eliminates the requirements for screening at the airport prior to flight. The result: Shipments move faster, and internal physical searches of carton contents are avoided.
The third element of the cold chain management program is a comprehensive temperature monitoring program.