As we enter the mid-point of 2021 in an increasingly post-pandemic cold chain, the industry destination on many minds is “The New Normal”. Are we there yet?

The short-term answer is no, and the long-term answer might be the same.

The ongoing labor crunch for truck drivers, warehouse personnel, port workers, and others employed along the cold chain is another unsettled area that some might say is a sort-of-new-normal, in that it will likely continue since there was a labor crisis even before the pandemic. No blanket solution currently exists, other than to wait until automation becomes advanced and affordable enough to replace those labor needs, particularly for logistics tasks.

The instability of the supply chain in 2021 is another area unexpectedly “not normal”, particularly after the lessons learned during a wild 2020. Delays and shortages last year could be blamed on panic purchasing by consumers during the pandemic and the inability to restock and replenish quickly. However, in 2021, surprise shortages of ingredients and commodities to make cold foods—particularly if they’re coming through a port—have already caused prices to rise and made availability unpredictable. In response, many cold storage facilities have set aside space for reserve products that can be distributed when the supply chain staggers.

Speaking of extra cold storage space, we ran the poll below last December on our website asking if cold warehouse operators were ready to store COVID-19 vaccines in anticipation of the nationwide inoculation program. Because so many operators foresaw the continued explosion of e-commerce, an overwhelming number (1022) said they were already planning to add extra square footage.

That’s perhaps the best example of where we are at the mid-point of 2021: gone are the days of steady, incremental changes that can be reliably marked on a calendar, and in its place is an industry frequently in flux. Anticipation, preparation, and strategic planning are the only way to stay ahead of today’s cold chain curveballs, and many of you are already taking the lead, ready for “The New Normal” whenever that might happen.