Frozen Food Fleets: The big chill

Carefully spec'd reefers, timely deliveries vital to frozen food haulers No one understands the challenges of distributing frozen foods better than America's oldest restaurant chain, Friendly Ice Cream Corp., which has been serving up frozen treats for over 65 years. There are currently 575 Friendly restaurants in 17 states covering the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, and as far west as Ohio.

Carefully spec'd reefers, timely deliveries vital to frozen food haulers



No one understands the challenges of distributing frozen foods better than America's oldest restaurant chain, Friendly Ice Cream Corp., which has been serving up frozen treats for over 65 years. There are currently 575 Friendly restaurants in 17 states covering the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, and as far west as Ohio.

Friendly restaurants receive their ice cream and other food products from one of two distribution facilities located in Chicopee, Mass., and a newer center just opened in 1999 in York, Pa.

“From 1988 until 1997,” says Michael St. Marie, director of distribution for the mid-Atlantic facility, “we were a company-owned chain. During the last three years, however, Friendly has been moving toward franchising its restaurants.”

The Friendly fleet is comprised of 45 tractors and 67 trailers. The trailers, notes Dan Weeks, operations manager at York, are set up for distribution as multi-temp compartments, with ice cream and other frozen foods stowed in the nose of the trailer, separated by a bulkhead from the dry and refrigerated product that takes up the remainder of the reefer.

“Frozen product is unloaded through one of the side doors via a conveyor that runs from the truck directly into the restaurant's freezer,” says Weeks. “Refrigerated and dry product is unloaded off the sides or back of the trailer.”

Most of the refrigeration equipment in Friendly's trucks comes from Thermo King SB II and SB III units, along with several top-of-the-line SB III Whisper Editions. More recently, however, the company has also been evaluating some Carrier Genesis units, which feature an advanced system that allows the rear evaporator to run independently from the front unit.

The fleet's trailers are a mix of Great Dane, Trailmobile and Dorsey units, 40 to 45 ft. in length, and 96 to 102 in. wide. All are spec'd with an extra 4 in. of insulation in the walls and ceilings to maintain cold temperatures, especially for the ice cream, which is kept at 15-18 deg. below zero. The trailer side doors are smaller than normal to help keep cold air in and warm air out during the summer.

To maximize vehicle utilization during the slower winter months, according to St. Marie, Friendly supplements its restaurant distribution services with additional retail deliveries of ice cream products to the grocery chains.

SERVICE-ORIENTED

Jim Palmer Trucking, Missoula, Mont., is also no stranger to frozen foods distribution, making the transition from a regional flatbed hauler for nearly two decades to a refrigerated truckload carrier in 1985. The company now does 100% refrigerated transportation, servicing all of the U.S. with the exception of the extreme Northeast.

Scott Palmer, president of the company, says the fleet hauls mainly deep frozen foods — everything from frozen fruits and vegetables to pizzas and ice cream — as well as refrigerated products. “Our niche is service,” he declares. “We're kind of the ‘FedEx’ of the refrigerated industry.”

Included in the Jim Palmer fleet are 400 power units, primarily Freightliners, and 550 trailers, consisting of Utility and Wabash models, the majority of which are spec'd with Thermo King SB III Whisper Edition refrigeration units.

All trailers, as well as tractors, are equipped with air-ride suspensions. In addition, trailers are ordered with high-cube and high airflow options, and spec'd to haul at least 46,000 lb. of product. Automatic dump valves are also featured.

According to Palmer, transportation services are primarily to warehousing facilities. “Our biggest challenges,” he points out, “are in getting good drivers and good customers. For the past few years we've been growing rapidly, but for 2001, we're going to slow growth down to 5-7%. We want to concentrate on hiring and retaining the best drivers, not just filling seats, and working with select customers for whom service is a top priority.”

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