"Marina Mayer, editor-in-chief ofRefrigerated & Frozen Foods, braved the New Orleans heat to attend the Food Logistics Forum, a three-day conference designed to provide solutions and connections to navigate today’s increasingly complex cold chain.

New Orleans in June. Enough said, right?

It’s hurricane season, which means the streets are packed with “entertainers,” the humidity is close to 90% and everyone is offering “free” air conditioning.


Although I spent most of my time indoors soaking up that “free” air conditioning, I did get blown away by an outstanding conference that is the Food Logistics Forum.

Co-hosted by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) and the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), the Food Logistics Forum is a three-day conference designed to provide solutions and connections to navigate today’s increasingly complex cold chain. The event, which took place June 3-5 in New Orleans, brought together a variety of frozen food industry leaders, from production and foodservice to retail and 3PL providers.

The show kicked off June 4 with an opening session by Kraig Naasz, president and CEO of AFFI, and Bill Hudson, president and CEO of GCCA, followed by keynote speaker John Phillips, senior vice president of customer supply chain and logistics for PepsiCo. Phillips showcased findings from the Consumer Goods Forum Future Value Chain 2020 Initiative, a study based on input and insights gathered from more than 200 senior retail and consumer packaged goods leaders worldwide. He also discussed 12 global mega-trends through the use of videos. “If Facebook were a country, it would be third largest in between India and the United States,” he says.  

Jeff Brady, senior transportation manager for Jack in the Box, provided an outlook into the trucking industry, discussing the number of issues significantly impacting capacity and forecasting the industry for the next several years.

Andrew Cafcalas, vice president of supply chain sales for Sysco, touched on innovative supply chain strategies for foodservice distribution centers, while Barbara Pratt, director of refrigerated services and technical operations for Maersk Inc., talked about the capacity outlook for reefer containers. Topics included slow steaming, high cost of bunkers, growth prospects for trade and market conditions for 2013-2014.

During the networking lunch, Paul Kramer, director of logistics for Johnsonville Sausage Co., received the International Refrigerated Transportation Association’s (IRTA) Executive of the Year award. IRTA is a core partner of GCCA, representing all major industries engaged in temperature-controlled logistics. This annual award recognizes an individual in the refrigerated transportation industry who has made a significant contribution by fostering innovation, resolving industry issues or improving the industry's image and efficiency.

Scott Campbell, director of logistics, and Kevin Carty, regional operations manager for Dole Packaged Foods, discussed the consolidation of its frozen supply chain sector, and how key words such as green, fresh and local are driving the market.

Then, Mark Blanchard gave a heart-wrenching presentation of pictures and stories of its storage facility before and after Hurricane Katrina. Blanchard is the president and CEO of New Orleans Cold Storage, with two locations in New Orleans and one in LaPorte, Texas, and Charleston, S.C. The New Orleans site was severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina, forcing the company to rebuild from the ground up. Blanchard offered lessons learned from being caught in a disaster and how distribution managers should prepare for the unthinkable.

On June 5, I presentedRefrigerated & Frozen Foods’ Sustainable Supply Chain of the Year award to Fresh Express and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. To read more about these winners and their sustainable accomplishments, check out our May 2012 issue.

Then, Donna Garren, vice president of regulatory affairs for AFFI, and Lowell Randel, director of government affairs for GCCA, partnered to provide updates on various regulations impacting the frozen food supply chain. From the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to the OSHA National Emphasis Program, the upcoming election paves the way for how much (or little) food manufacturers need to adjust in order to keep up with ever-changing rules and regulations. Industry leaders suggest keeping in-depth documents of everything, as there are more than 4,200 regulations in the pipeline.

Lastly, J.H. Campbell, president and CEO of Associated Growers, Inc., talked about the impact of consumer grocery trends, including more mobile, flexible and diverse consumers with limited disposable incomes and more health-conscious eating behaviors. Other trends include more advanced technology, more on-the-go eating options and a consumer that wants it all, all the time.

Free air conditioning or not, the Food Logistics Forum is by far one of the most educational forums out there for the frozen foods industry, and I thank the folks at AFFI and GCCA for including me in this year’s event.

To register for next year’s event, which takes place June 2-4, 2013 in Lake Las Vegas, or to learn more about AFFI and GCCA, go to www.affi.org and www.gcca.org, respectively.