(Note: this editor's letter appeared in the May 2020 issue of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods magazine.)

I attended one of the last tradeshows in the country in early March, and I could sense something had changed when I walked into the convention center the first day. Usually there’s an energy when the doors open to a big show—this one anticipated 60,000 attendees—but there was no buzz because attendance was so noticeably low.

In the days leading up to the show, a handful of exhibitors dropped out while other companies decided not to send their staffs, which led to a relatively quiet floor pocked with empty booths. I was greeted at every stop with elbow bumps instead of handshakes, and when I returned home three days later, the entire country started shutting down because of COVID-19.

In the wake of those shutdowns, the public stockpiled retail goods, emptying store shelves. Refrigerated and frozen foods sales skyrocketed—an increase of 57.8% and 78.8%, respectively—compared to March 2019. In addition to record demand, restaurants and hotels were shuttered, so roughly one-third of the country’s food supply destined for foodservice had to be redirected to replenish retail inventory.

Those frontline workers along the cold chain have been heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each is doing their part—under tough conditions—to ensure affordable and nutritious foods make it to store shelves and cold cases, so people can continue feeding their families during this difficult time.

While store shelves were still sparse, we spoke with Lowell Randel from the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) for a podcast about how the cold chain was handling unprecedented logistical challenges. In an excerpt from that podcast on P. 6, you’ll see what efficiencies were improvised to move product faster and keep workers safe in those crucial early days of the crisis.

Because of demands created by COVID-19, efficiency is more important than ever for cold foods processors. In this issue, we highlight efficiencies in energy, equipment, operations, packaging, fuel, movement of inventory, labor and logistics—all the elements that keep a cold chain functioning—in our stories about sustainable processing (P. 10); lift truck technology (P. 22); cold storage doors (P. 16); and our feature with frozen pizza innovators, Palermo Villa (P. 14). As an aside, frozen pizza sales were up 117.2% at the height of panic buying.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods has been covering COVID-19’s impact on the cold chain since the day I returned from that tradeshow, and we’ve posted dozens of coronavirus-related stories since then, which have been collected in one easy-to-access link HERE. We update that page daily, so feel free to check it often for the latest news or to read through the archives.