Comment: top three trends facing the cold chain industry

Atif Rafiq, co-founder of Qafila, looks at the innovations and trends poised to have the greatest impact on the food logistics sector in the next three to five years
Atif Rafiq co-founded Qafila to revolutionise the logistics and shipping industry and booking process.
Atif Rafiq co-founded Qafila to revolutionise the logistics and shipping industry and booking process.


In recent years, the food industry has faced a number of exciting and dramatic changes to its supply chain, fuelled mostly by shifting consumer demands.

Consumers are increasingly focused on the food retailer’s transparency which includes foods that generally require temperature-controlled storage through the supply chain.

From the deployment of automation and robotics in warehouses to innovative ways to manage energy, ideas that were once confined to brainstorming sessions and office whiteboards are now getting the significant investments they need to be deployed throughout the supply chain.

So, what innovations and trends are poised to have the greatest impact on our industry in the next three to five years?

Digital Twin - Where Data becomes insight

Cold chain is already greatly benefitting from the power of data analytics, artificial intelligence and deep learning, which quickly and accurately collects data from multiple sources and then converts that into actionable knowledge. Taking this a step further, leveraging the IOT revolution, one can get a complete view of operations and the extended logistics chain, enabling more precise control over the environment.

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For example, if your whole supply chain has a digital twin, we can now ensure and maintain a level of temperature control and efficiency that is unmatched in the industry. The user can analyse shipment conditions during transportation of perishable goods as well as any other commodities that are sensitive to temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions. While oceans voyages are fairly stable (when reefer containers are used), the other legs of the supply chain journey (the farm to the vessels, and once the commodity is off-loaded from the vessel to the importer’s warehouse or even the distributor) are the most vulnerable.

The “Amazon” effect

The market continues to demand faster velocity, better service and greater efficiency. Leading supply chain providers must deploy systems that can provide their clients with product visibility and control in near real time.

As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and this is especially appropriate in the supply chain industry. We must keep precise delivery windows within the chain: from our ocean carriers, freight forwarder, trucking partners, both inbound and outbound, and ensure we leave a customer’s product in the same condition we received it.

Ecommerce revolutions drive innovation upstream

Regional players like Carrefour, Spinneys and Union Co-operative have hopped on the e-commerce bandwagon with Souq Supermarket and some have established their own delivery channels especially in the grocery store and convenience store category.

This trend signals a change in consumer preference which has created a ripple effect in the retail supply chain.

For 3PLS, many are experiencing delivery requirements within hours instead of days or weeks.

This had led to a rise in retail standards around velocity and on-time movement of goods particularly in perishables where time is of the essence. 3PLS are also adapting their service offering whether it’s repacking larger cartons into smaller packages, offering promotional labelling etc.

As for warehouse and fulfilment design - proliferation in food and beverage for fresh food, gluten-free and farm-to-table preferences cascade into warehouse operations.

As the number of SKU’s increases, it affects the profile of orders and increases the number of lines. Greater precision is required in how the capacity inside the warehouse is used to manage an expanding product line.

Those fulfilment needs to translate into new requirements for technology in terms of visibility and traceability to handle the complexities.

Change is coming to supply chain. Old freight forwarders who have not evolved and still prefer doing things the old way will have to step aside and let themselves be disrupted by new players who understand the technology that brings speed and visibility to help develop Service Level Agreement and the ability to serve customers faster and better.

About the author:

Atif Rafiq co-founded Qafila with Jithin Manoharan to revolutionise the logistics and shipping industry and booking process. Atif Rafiq brings with him, tech-knowledge & technology, expertise and strategic relationships across shipping and logistics industry to transform supply chain, working across continents in Canada, UAE, Pakistan & Tanzania.

His experience has made him more familiar with the expectation of the industry regardless of its boundaries, helping him to create Qafila to fill the need for digitising and creating transparency in the shipping processes.

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