Public refrigerated warehousing was the genesis of perishable food distribution. Prior to then, fresh or fresh frozen products were only available on a local basis. Because of the complexity of early refrigerated facilities, central major installations provided public needs with large efficient installations.

Although today perishable space is shared (nearly) equally between private and public operators, the application of materials handling systems has differed substantially, depending on whether the space is made for production or distribution purposes. Distribution facilities’ racks and/or fork trucks vary widely as a function of many parameters: size of lots, pallets, cost of pallet position, number of line items (SKUs), and cost of labor, to name a few. Generally, compromises are made between optimum retrieval times, cost of construction, operating cost, and maintenance of the refrigerated facility.

Obviously, larger lot sizes and a slower turnover lend themselves to deeper and higher rack slotting. Public warehouse facilities’ materials handling configurations are quite often dictated by the needs of the customers, whether it be cranberries in bulk, peas in Wisconsin, cherries in Michigan, distribution in the New York area, staging for export ships, or poultry freezing in Georgia. Seasonal turnover is also a big factor in fruit and vegetables.

Distribution facilities also vary depending on specific needs. Generally, because of the nature of distribution, higher turnovers are anticipated. With a variety of distribution needs (variable shelf life), flexibility becomes paramount in rack and materials handling systems. Available inventory and location control becomes increasingly complicated when compounded with such things as two-deep or more product storage. Picking of second pallets (in two-deep) can be time consuming and counter-productive in maintaining pallet positions. Attempts have been made at using a narrow and high stacking pallet storage system. Unless “real-estate” (pallet slot costs) becomes excessive, generally retrieval cost and time will favor the typical 10′ aisle and 1-deep picking to maintain service levels for small and large lot customers. We have seen some sad attempts with use of narrow aisle systems and limited access to pallet slots. Computer programs can be used to analyze product flow with help through associations such as retail grocery associations.

We can give you our opinions, or for further assistance, you can contact Gary Lester in Jacksonville, Florida at (904) 389-6700.