Cold storage facility depends on temperature-controlled carriers

March 1, 2009
Newport-St Paul Cold Storage is a locally owned and operated business specializing in serving the frozen and refrigerated food industries throughout the

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage is a locally owned and operated business specializing in serving the frozen and refrigerated food industries throughout the Twin Cities/Upper Midwest market. Established in 1958 in Newport, Minnesota, it has grown to 4 million cubic feet of flexible cold storage space, with a temperature range of -30°F to +65°F. More than 50% of the storage facility is convertible to freezer or refrigerated space.

There are 26 refrigerated truck docks, as well as a temperature-controlled, enclosed rail dock with three rail car sidings.

The company offers a range of services, including blast freezing — a process that reduces the temperature from 40°F to below 0°F in 48 to 72 hours, and sharp freezing, a process using forced air circulation of low temperatures to freeze product.

Newport, a river community with a population of less than 4,000, stretches along the picturesque banks of the Mississippi River within a 15-minute commute to St Paul and Minneapolis.

Conveniently near Interstate Highway 494 and US 61, Newport-St Paul Cold Storage lies at the epicenter of an ongoing major state infrastructure highway project. It is expected to bring in more businesses by creating an accessible commercial corridor.

Regional focus

A third-generation family business, Newport-St Paul Cold Storage had been involved in a lot of exporting, with customers shipping worldwide. Considerable freight used to come in and go out by rail car.

It previously handled a lot of transloading — transferring product from rail cars and containers into semitrailers for delivery.

Now, the basis of the business is servicing food producers and others within a 150-mile radius, says company president Andrew Greenberg. “Our regional focus has really helped us grow over the few years.

“The frozen and refrigerated food industries use our services in a number of ways,” he says, “including for distribution to their customers, consignment programs, overflow and excess storage, and raw materials replenishment program needed for production facilities.

“Our business mix is about 70% frozen and 30% refrigerated,” Greenberg notes, “but we have a lot more activity in our refrigerated business.”

Transportation offerings

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage doesn't operate a fleet. Rather, it has solid relationships with a wide range of refrigerated and frozen carriers that can handle less-than-truckload and truckload shipments, consolidation, and local cartage. By not tying itself to one carrier, says Greenberg, it gives the company greater flexibility and frequency to handle shipments for customers.

“We work very closely with customers and carriers, offering them the most options to balance services versus cost,” he explains. “We help our customers get their goods moved and help our carriers get better utilization of their fleet.”

These relationships have evolved and strengthened because the company takes a user-friendly approach to business.

“All appointments are scheduled,” says Newport-St Paul Cold Storage director of operations Randy Lewis. “This allows customers and carriers to better plan their operations, and it enables us to better manage our resources.”

The majority of its 40-person workforce are involved in warehousing. They are assigned to certain areas and tasks, he says. By doing the same type of work each day, they become better at it, making the job easier for them, and making them more productive.

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage is open nearly 24 hours Monday through Friday, and typically eight hours on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the workload. It also provides emergency services. “We're always here for our customers,” Lewis says.

To assure the safety of the products it stores, the company has a central monitoring system for security, fire, ammonia detection, critical equipment, and refrigeration systems. Interior and exterior digital video surveillance system operates 24 hours every day.

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage moved to the current location in 1958, setting up shop in what was then a multi-story meat packing plant. Part of the building was demolished and rebuilt.

In the mid-1990s, the company participated in a major business facilities development project with the city of Newport, says Greenberg. Its old building was torn down and “a custom facility, designed for flexibility, service, sanitation, and safety, was built.”

Warehousing changes

As the business grew, this facility underwent expansions in 2001 and 2003, and “we are looking to expand again.”

To better manage operations, about three years ago the company decided to upgrade to a warehouse management system (WMS) from a manual paperwork system.

“We took a very proactive approach in looking at various systems and setups to improve our efficiency and reduce operational and management costs,” Greenberg says. “It took us a good year and a half to develop a system that would allow us to get greater productivity and accuracy improvement from our current workforce.”

The company chose a WMS from Accellos that incorporates RF (radio frequency) and barcoding technology.

It provides more exact inventory accuracy by directing warehouse activity and recording inventory movements as they occur, Lewis says. At the same time, it integrated into the WMS Psion Teklogix frost-free hand-held and vehicle-mount mobile computers for easier wireless data collection and management.

Function automation

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage has been focusing on automating the more mundane and routine administrative type paperwork that needs to be done for customers, says Lewis. “This allows us to be more efficient, so we're able to spend more time on more important things.”

Toward that end, the company created NCS (Newport Cold Storage) Clik-It — an online web-based, business-to-business portal where customers can access information about their account and shipments.

“When we created it about three years ago, we were concerned about the rate of usage,” Lewis remembers. “It has been very well accepted, and we're in the process of enhancing it and adding additional features and services.”

The company also emphasizes the use of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), a standard format for exchanging business data, which allows the automating of certain transactions, such as generation of purchase orders and advance shipping notices, he says. “We'd much rather focus on being product movement specialists.

“Our objective is to be a seamless extension of our customers' businesses. We try to take advantage of any processes, procedures, and controls to make things more efficient.”

Efficiency push

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage also is becoming more efficient in its use of electricity.

“As you can imagine, we consume a lot of electricity,” says Greenberg. “We've made several types of worthwhile investments that have produced real cost savings for us by reducing our electricity use.”

One investment is a Hench Energy Management System that uses computer-based controllers and systems to monitor and control power use. “Last year we appreciably reduced our kilowatt-hours (kWh),” says Newport-St Paul Cold Storage facilities and refrigeration manager Steve Hall. Kilowatt-hour is a measure used by an electric utility to charge for electricity use.

“We're on track to reduce our electricity usage even more this year.”

Hall points out that Newport-St Paul Cold Storage is continually tweaking the system. It also continues to invest in more efficient refrigeration and freezer equipment.

“We've added high-efficiency lighting and motion sensor lights that go on automatically when they are needed, and off after a period of time if there is no one in the area,” Hall says.

“The new lights run cooler, which helps lower the load on our refrigeration systems. And with the motion sensors, the lights are on 50% less.”

Another way Newport-St Paul Cold Storage is saving on electricity is by switching from traditional battery charging to opportunity charging technology for 16 electric forklifts and eight pallet jacks.

Under normal circumstances, a conventional electric industrial battery takes eight to 10 hours to charge, and then needs to cool down (rest) for eight hours, says Lewis. Because of the time it takes to swap out batteries, productivity is lost.

With opportunity charging, there is no need to swap out batteries. Batteries get a fast charge whenever the opportunity arises, for example during an operator's break or between shifts. Thus, a single battery per truck can be used, eliminating the need for additional batteries.

Resource management

“Our facility handles in excess of 600 million pounds of activity a year,” says Greenberg. “We keep adding volume by better managing our resources to handle growth. We do it through handling efficiency and space utilization.”

The company's 4 million-cu-ft storage configuration, which can accommodate 18,181 pallets, includes various pallet heights and rack densities, along with push-back rack systems for storing more product in less space.

Basically, a push-back rack system fills the storage cube with product, not aisles. Instead of single pallet-deep selective racks, the system enables the storing of pallets two to five deep while retaining easy access to products on different levels or lanes.

In the past 18 months, it re-racked 40% of its facility, converting dense storage racking to one-, two-, and three-deep racking. “Doing so,” Greenberg says, “enabled us to reduce the number of pallets in the facility, while significantly improving our productivity, facility utilization, and product accessibility, and reducing product damage.”

Newport-St Paul Cold Storage has 2.3 million cubic feet of freezer storage, 1.6 million cubic feet of convertible storage, and 100,000 cubic feet of dry storage. The 18,500 square feet of refrigerated dock space is maintained at 40°F.

Service improvement

“Our business is always changing, and because we have a great, extremely experienced management team and dedicated employees, we're able to remain very flexible,” says Greenberg.

“Because we are a family-owned business, there is not a lot of the bureaucracy like that found in larger operations,” Lewis adds. “Managers can make decisions and get things done without having to go through a long chain of command.

Greenberg adds: “We are always looking for ways to do things better. As a member of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW), which is a part of the Global Cold Chain Alliance (an organization that facilitates communication, networking, and education for the perishable food industry), we take advantage of the many services, resources, and support that these organizations make available to their members.”

Greenberg believes a key reason for his company's growth is that “we are never really satisfied with our business, and we constantly challenge ourselves to do better. We're always making improvements and continually investing in our operations for greater efficiency.”

Entrepreneurial spirit

A man who had this same way of thinking was S David Greenberg, founder of Newport-St Paul Cold Storage.

“He was my grandfather, and he was in the salvage and scrap business,” says Andrew Greenberg. “In the 1950s he traveled to Sioux City, Iowa, and bought an old meat packing plant in the middle of a stockyard. He planned to dismantle it and sell the surplus materials and scrap.”

Greenberg says his grandfather, always the entrepreneur, decided it made more sense to get into the cold storage business. He remodeled the packing plant into a public refrigerated warehouse and started operating as Sioux City Cold Storage.

That business went so well that Greenberg's grandfather bought another packing plant in Newport, and founded Newport-St Paul Cold Storage. After S David's premature death, his son Dean took over leadership in the business and now serves as CEO. Sioux City Cold Storage was sold in the 1980s

Andrew Greenberg intends to keep on growing the company by continuing “to take advantage of any and all technology that will make us more of a value-added, cost-effective resource to our customers, and by continuing to invest in our people, who truly makes Newport-St Paul Cold Storage stand out from our competition.”

About the Author

David Kolman

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