In 2009, we were tasked with developing an ecommerce website for a local farmer. So we approached the project from the perspective of practical online consumers. First, we would want to see a website that offered wholesome food products that are raised with good husbandry. Second, we would want to see reasonable shipping costs.
The website design was time consuming, but relatively easy. The real challenge was engineering a packing process to ship perishable food in extended transit times. All of the online food suppliers were shipping via Overnight or Second Day Air……we wanted to ship using UPS Ground even in the hot summer months.
Using temperature data loggers, we conducted packaging tests using a wide variety of pre-manufactured insulated coolers and refrigerants. The complications with using the industry standard coolers and ice gel packs surfaced in short order. Besides the inferior structural and thermal integrity of the coolers, there was the problem of storage. In order to qualify for preferred pricing, the materials had to be purchased in truck-load quantities and even then, about half of the cost was attributed to shipping. In essence, we were paying for air (empty coolers) and water (gel packs) to be shipped to us. Realizing that there was no shortage of air and water at our location, we decided to construct the coolers on site and use a phase-change blanket refrigerant that could be acquired in dry form. By August of 2010, we were successfully shipping fresh and frozen meat in recorded temperatures above 90°F (+120°F inside the UPS trucks) from Pennsylvania to Florida via UPS Ground. Since that time, our Cold Chain Packing Process has evolved to where we can ship up to 5 days in the winter and 3 days in the summer. To date we’ve shipped over 15,000 packages via UPS Ground without a single instance of spoilage.
Our coolers, refrigerants, and packing process afforded our farmer the opportunity to upgrade his business model. Prior to our innovations, he was limited to supplying distributors in the Northeast, but now he ships directly to professional chefs and private consumers across America. Because he now ships direct to the consumer, his revenues are of a much higher quality instead of the low “commodity” prices paid by food distributors.
We presented our business plan to the USDA and they called Good Vittles “America’s next local food system”. So we filed patents and expanded our cooler manufacturing facility. Now we can supply the packing materials and cold chain process to any farmer or food supplier.