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The Ice Cream Supply Chain: More Than Meets the Eye

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The ice cream supply chain is hot! And it’s hot throughout.

In India, ice cream is not just a one-season commodity. It remains in demand throughout the different seasons and brings new excitement to ice cream lovers every month as vendors introduce new flavours with each season. Nowadays, with different flavours, there are even different varieties of ice cream (sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan) to suit every kind of consumer. 

The Indian ice cream industry is one of the fastest growing segments of the dairy or food processing industry. And to manage the supply chain of this growing market is not easy.

We analyse the complexities of the ice-cream supply chain and look at how technology is helping make the supply chain lean, efficient and smooth.

New Variations = Nuance through the supply chain 

Ice cream producers are continuously experimenting with the basic recipe and coming up with ever-evolving flavours to deliver something new and exciting to their customers every season. While this allows companies to meet the changing consumer preferences, it adds to the supply chain complexities. From taking up the cost to adding on to the complexity of ordering to predicting inventory and demand forecasting, each of these adds to the supply chain nuances with every added flavour. Moreover, the addition of flavours also adds to the complexities of manufacturing and distribution.  

Also, a small tweak in the basic recipe to give rise to a new one increases the complexities of maintaining temperature, as a small tweak can change the way a product reacts to changing temperatures (one might melt differently than the other in different temperatures).

Temperature ∝ 1/Ice-Cream quality

Transported in different forms like ice cream sandwiches, cakes, and bars, ice cream requires a specific temperature for transportation in different parts of the nation, which is a challenge. 

Any fluctuations in the temperature during the transportation results in spoilage of the commodity. When ice cream melts, the deterioration process begins, wherein the bacteria start to grow, after which even if you freeze it again the ice cream won’t retain its quality, flavour or taste. 

While many companies use dry ice for the transportation process, they face a challenge when it comes to last-mile deliveries, as there is no temperature maintenance done. This would mean that while the ice cream is being transported for home deliveries, the product might melt. This is also because of external factors such as weather change, traffic, and multiple openings of the vehicle. 

Covered under the umbrella of dairy, the transportation of ice cream needs to be done correctly. For secondary and tertiary distribution of ice cream, the ideal temperature needs to be below freezing, and for last mile distribution, it would be between 2-8 degrees Celcius. 

Delivering it Right with Technology

Companies have found the answer to avoid any spoilage and ease the complexities in the ice cream supply chain by leveraging technology.

Technology like temperature sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) plays a vital role in the proper transport of ice cream and frozen foods, as they can monitor the refrigeration unit’s operation. Let’s say the sensor notices a truck’s cooling mechanism generating higher than normal RPMs just to maintain proper performance. The driver will know the ice cream needs to move from the truck to the freezer as rapidly as possible once it arrives at the warehouse, as the cooling mechanism may not work for much longer.

In addition to this, ERP systems can be leveraged to track purchase orders to build a history that it can use – along with its knowledge of inventory levels, promotional activity, and lead times – to enhance demand planning.

Automated pallet storage, retrieval, and order picking help goods in and out of cold storage quickly and efficiently. It also helps avoid labour shortages and delays respectively.

Furthermore, Warehouse Management Systems are extremely beneficial for cold chain operations to optimize product storage, increase labour throughput, support daily warehouse planning, and even help allocate resources based on customer demand. 

Along with leveraging technology for maintaining a constant temperature at all points of tertiary, secondary, and last mile distribution, ensuring the right packaging is also a crucial part. The packaging should be leakproof, should ensure that it is not easily exposed to thermal heat, and must be tightly sealed. 

These steps can maintain temperature and quality and facilitate the ideal, efficient and easy movement of ice cream. 

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