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Americold Serves Key Role in Global Food Distribution Network

By Colin McEvoy on May 12, 2020

A forklift operator with Americold, the world’s largest publicly traded cold storage company focused on the operation and development of temperature-controlled warehouses. (photo courtesy Americold)

As the nation grapples with quarantines and millions of employees are telecommuting during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lehigh Valley has a high percentage of essential jobs that cannot be done from home. Each week, we’re recognizing some of our Economic Heroes, the companies and organizations that are continuing to work during these difficult times, helping keep the regional economy strong and doing their part to help fight against the coronavirus.

With strains placed upon food supply chains due to the coronavirus pandemic, the strength of the global food distribution network is as important now as ever before. One company that plays an essential part in preserving that network is hard at work right here in Lehigh Valley.

Americold is the world’s largest publicly traded cold storage company focused on the ownership, operation, acquisition and development of temperature-controlled warehouses.

More than 250 employees work at Americold’s facility in Upper Macungie Township, and all of them have been working throughout the COVID-19 crisis, doing critical work to help ensure food is safely preserved and shipped throughout the country.

Robert Mason, general manager of Americold’s Lehigh Valley campus, said the facility’s employees had nearly perfect attendance throughout March and April, during which they shipped more than 140 million pounds of temperature-controlled food for store shelves across the nation.

“It’s easy to drive by a warehouse with no windows and forget the people inside,” Mason said. “Our team members, day after day, have chosen to come to work and fill their essential roles in our community. I am extremely proud of each one of them.”

Americold helps put food on tables around the world by providing the infrastructure and solutions that connect food producers, processors, distributors and retailers to consumers.

“Because we are an integral part of the food supply chain, our services ultimately benefit everyone by ensuring that food is available in grocery stores,” Mason said.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on the food supply chain, Mason said.

Food consumption is normally served through a balance of food service (at places like restaurants, schools, hotels, hospitals and sporting events) and retail locations like grocery, big box, and convenience stores. The pandemic has resulted in an unexpected and very rapid shift in general consumption from food service to retail, creating disruption.

“The supply chain was tugged, first with a consumer rush to retail as everyone stocked up,” Mason said. “… Because food service outlets remain closed, those products are now staying in our facilities, being preserved. Product for retail is flowing through at a higher rate than normal.

Analysts from the commercial real estate research organization CoStar have said Lehigh Valley’s industrial market is well-positioned to weather the economic downturn expected to result from the pandemic, in part due to projected growth in e-commerce and cold storage as more people become accustomed to shopping online during the COVID-19 crisis

CoStar Market Analyst Ben Atwood said Lehigh Valley will be poised to take advantage of those economic trends due the region’s central location, access to markets, and existing hub of e-commerce activity.

Americold expects strong growth in e-commerce, but Mason said it may not necessarily translate to outsized demand in the infrastructure to support it. He noted that e-commerce does not drive additional demand, but is simply another acquisition point for consumers.

“Temperature-controlled product that is purchased online by end consumers to be delivered to their homes is mostly serviced out of individual grocery stores,” he said. “… The supply chain and infrastructure requirements to get products to these stores remains unchanged.”

Americold has been taking precautionary measures and following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure the workers’ safety during the pandemic. This includes cleaning high-use areas, providing sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, staggering shifts, postponing large-scale meetings, and other measures.

“The entire Americold team in Allentown is proud of the role we have played during the COVID-19 crisis,” Mason said.”

Americold has 183 facilities in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Argentina. Nine of their facilities are located in Pennsylvania, including its Upper Macungie Township campus.

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