The deep, guttural sound of a delivery truck grows exponentially louder as it hurries its way towards you. Its pending arrival evokes high levels of anticipation and giddiness. A beat later, eight tons of vehicle come to a screeching halt. It has arrived. Your life line. One of the top reasons to get off the couch today has materialized at your doorstep. You quickly use your fingers as a makeshift comb to fix your hair, then yank open the door. The sight of a masked delivery person comes into focus – flanked by a small mountain of packages. Your food has arrived.

For many of us, piloting a wobbly grocery cart through a dizzying sea of people and a predictable grid of aisles are a distant memory. Today, during coronavirus times, a seemingly inconsequential task has very quickly become a potential safety risk. Grocery stores, meal kit deliveries, specialty food shipments, and other food-related services (i.e. chocolates, baked goods, etc.) are on the rise for that very reason. According to Earnest Research firm, online grocery is up more than 150% in year-over-year sales through the end of April, while restaurant/food deliveries have increased over 100%, respectively. And the success of these businesses hinge upon a temperature-controlled network, known as cold chain, to ensure they arrive to a destination with their quality and freshness intact. In order to accomplish this goal, insulated packaging is vital.

Packaging Forms and Materials

While insulated packaging can be many things, it’s primarily made up of shippers/coolers, box liners, bags, pouches and panels. These packaging components range from polyurethane, and starch foam, to paper corrugate and PET fiber (polyester). In addition to those items, metallized bubble cushioning is widely known as effective insulated packaging.

Applications and Packing Strategy

Aside from material composition, applications and packaging strategy play a key role in regulating the temperature of perishables during the shipping/delivery cycle. In most cases a corrugated box is the foundation for a cold chain package. From there, roll stock, gusseted bags, pouches or box panels are used in concert, or exclusively, to create a barrier of thermal protection from the varying ambient temperatures of warehouses and trucks. To supplement the pack out, coolants are regularly used to further safeguard products from temperature fluctuations. Ice, gel packs and other refrigerants are placed on the top, bottom and/or sides of the box to provide a cold compress during shipping/delivery. Void fill and block & brace pack techniques may also be used to keep contents securely in place so items such as fruits and vegetables arrive unbruised or breakables free of damage.

Shipping Models

Like many industries, the cold chain shipping and delivery process varies significantly depending on the product, geography and supply chain infrastructure. For meal kit and specialty food shipments, the logistics cycle is generally composed of distribution (sometimes refrigerated), temperature-controlled warehouses, delivery trucks, and doorstep time (period between delivery & consumer pick up). All said and done, the shipping cycle typically averages 48 hours. This information is imperative as each stage of the parcel ship cycle additionally informs the way a business should tailor their insulated packaging solutions and applications.

Looking Ahead

As the world continues to traverse the tumultuous effects of a global pandemic, the cold chain market – among other essential industries – will remain at the mercy of shifting demand. Whatever that demand might be, businesses must take the time to analyze their supply chain strategy, labor practices and packaging materials to ensure they are fully optimized to weather a challenging future.

Mike Purgatorio is brand marketing manager at Pregis LLC. For more information on insulated packaging solutions, visit here.