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How to Winter-Proof Your Supply Chain

As winter weather sets in and shipping picks up for peak season, protecting freight from freeze is one factor brands should consider, though many often don’t.

And according to Randy Swart, COO of Northeast United States-based carrier A. Duie Pyle, frozen goods can cause major supply chain disruption, and brands without a plan in place could end up scrambling to find a carrier that can keep their goods warm.

“Last year, winter weather saw severe disruption through the supply chain,” Swart said. “Snow made trucks move slow, carriers who had heaters had a whole lot of customers, and ones that didn’t have heaters were refusing to take freight.”

Providing heat protection is far from standard for carriers—UPS and FedEx don’t offer the service, Swart said. The cost of adding heat to a trailer can be up to a 25 percent premium on the total cost of the trailer, and for something with such limited use during the year’s coldest months, many carriers just don’t invest in the added warmth.

But delays due to freeze can be manifold—and so can the costs. A brand could be waiting days for goods to thaw to, and for just-in-time or special orders, that time can’t be afforded. Barrels or containers that are completely full can rupture once frozen, as there’s little room for expansion, costing brands to replace both the container and the product.

Water-based dyes, for example, are particularly susceptible to freezing, and though they thaw, the colors may not appear the same and the dye may not perform the same. “Not knowing exactly what freezing does to your product, its hard for a supply chain to say, ‘Do I really want to use this product that was frozen not knowing what is going to do? If I am dying something and it doesn’t work, my customer is not going to pay for it, and can the company really absorb those kind of losses?’”

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Swart said one customer had to ship 5,000 to 6,000 pounds of a liquid, and put protect from freeze on their freight, and carriers would not pick the goods up. “It’s not so bad if it’s just one day,” Swart said. “But last year it [below freezing temperatures] went on for weeks and carriers who didn’t have heat couldn’t pick these up.”

Lack of preparation in advance of potential bad weather, and a last minute need to keep product heated posed a problem for companies last year as finding a heat-toting trailer on nearly no notice isn’t always easy.

“A lot of people that had water-based paints and dyes and inks really didn’t think of the freezable season and they didn’t know where to go,” Swart said. “Even small quantities can make a difference—two gallons of dye with some shirts can freeze,” Swart said. So the key he added, is “understanding in advance and finding a carrier that can offer protect from freeze services and keep the freight moving.”

Adding a protect from freeze notification to shipments is a nominal, roughly $50 fee, according to Swart, and it requires the carrier to keep the goods at warm enough temperatures with heated trailers and in heated warehouse locations, or otherwise be liable for the goods.

According to Swart, brands should take heed this year in particular. “The way the holidays are going to fall with Christmas on Thursday, they are going to be very long cold weekends potentially,” Swart said. “Brands should think twice before shipping any freezables on the week of Christmas or New Years. They’re going to be out there in a warehouse or trailer somewhere.”