Food and beverage ecommerce had a record year in 2020, growing a staggering 50%. The growth was fueled both by stay-at-home orders caused by the pandemic, and by the onslaught of innovations that allowed retailers to successfully fulfill perishable orders. For retailers looking to step into the sector, shipping is often one of the biggest challenges.

Shipping perishables is a high stakes business. While retailers understand they’re entering a time-sensitive market, most find it well worth. Customers are eager to buy products from these retailers, because it means they don’t have to leave the house for essential – or just luxurious – food and beverages.

To better understand the industry, let’s imagine a mid-sized meal kit retailer, Tony’s Tacos. Tony’s ships authentic, ready-to-assemble taco kits to hungry customers across the U.S. With varied ingredients in the kits – temperature-sensitive foods like meat and cheese – accurate fulfillment is essential for its success.

In the past, Tony’s has had a few bad experiences with shipping. From refrigeration failures, to inclement weather affecting deliveries so significantly that they’ve experienced spoilage and staleness after delivery. Both of which, make for very unhappy customers.

Despite constant monitoring for factors like humidity levels and extreme temperature fluctuations, Tony’s was simply not equipped to react and correct these issues. 

Had Tony’s had a strong shipping strategy in place, they could have mitigated the damage. How exactly? By leveraging additional carriers and distribution centers to prevent delays, and giving customers a more clear idea of when to expect their deliveries with accurate delivery dates.

Let’s explore how Tony’s Tacos, or perishable retailers in general, can improve their strategy with a checkout experience that adheres to industry requirements and best practices.

Essential Steps for Shipping Perishables and Frozen Foods Safely

1.Select the right packaging 

The right packaging materials will depend heavily on what exactly you’re shipping. 

Common lightweight perishable packaging types include styrofoam boxes, custom styrofoam cut sheets, insulated liners, air-filled insulation liners, and insulated pads. Heavier duty packaging options include glass and insulated containers. 

Be sure to consider whether you need to add additional packaging like padding, insulation, watertight plastic bags, or wrapping, all of which protect products from temperature changes. 

2. Choose the proper cold storage materials

The type and the level of cold storage materials you’ll need will depend on the packaging you choose. With styrofoam, the thicker the packaging, the less ice or coolant you’ll need. So while using very thick styrofoam might seem appealing, the packaging will come at a higher cost and take up more room in a package.

You’ll need to find an optimal compromise between cost and space to decide how to keep items cold. Ice packs and gel coolants are more affordable, and work well for items that should be refrigerated, but not frozen.

Dry ice, however, can keep items frozen and will keep much longer. But shipping with dry ice also means your shipment may be treated as hazardous material, increasing costs and red tape. To avoid the hazardous material headache – and ensure that your shipment can travel by air – keep dry ice contents per package less than the maximum weight of 5.5 lbs. No matter the amount, any package containing dry ice needs to be clearly marked on the outside. And remember, do not place dry ice in boxes with an airtight seal, as gases need to be able to escape. 

3. Pick the right carrier

There is no easy answer as to which carrier is best for shipping perishables. The answer depends on what you’re shipping, where, and how quickly it needs to get there. For perishable shipments, carriers recommend allowing no longer than 30 hours in transit.  

Essentially, the right carrier is the one who can get shipments to your customers fastest. This may mean using different carriers for different shipping zones. If you choose a regional carrier, be sure to select one experienced in shipping food and beverage products.

Explore ShipperHQ’s 50+ Carrier Integrations

4. Streamline fulfillment 

If you’re aiming to stay within the 30-hour shipping window that UPS suggests, you’ll need to have your fulfillment schedule down to a science. To do this, determine shipping lead times, production cutoffs and identify any blackout dates that might affect delivery dates. You can even include cutoff times on your product pages. That way your customers are 100% clear about what to expect.

To help optimize things on the retailer’s end, rely on features like ShipperHQ’s Enhanced Checkout, available for Magento 2. This powerful solution provides comprehensive details about every order, including packing specifications, shipping rates and methods, and dispatch dates. With this information at a glance, fulfillment is smoother and faster for your team.

5. Ensure delivery is error-free

To make sure your shipments arrive to the right place at the right time, leverage tools that automate the process. Start by verifying address types so deliveries aren’t attempted after business hours for commercial shipments. Better yet, use Enhanced Checkout to allow customers to choose a delivery time slot for even more predictability. 

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Perishables? 

It depends on what you’re shipping, how far it needs to go, and how quickly it needs to get there. For goods that need to remain frozen in transit, providing enough coolant material to last the entire trip is essential. Plus, you’ll need to have it delivered as soon as possible. Both these factors will result in higher shipping costs.

Goods that can last a few days may be shipped with two-day shipping, but will require more cooling material. Either way, it’s a trade-off: the more ice or cooling gel in a package, the larger it will be, but the longer it will last. While it might take a bit of finessing, it’s important to find the sweet spot between packaging and delivery efficiency. 

When considering how much of the cost to pass on to customers, estimate what percentage of products will need to be sent overnight, versus those that can be sent via two-day or express services. If the vast majority of your shipments go to locations close to fulfillment centers, you may be able to eat the extra costs of the occasional cross-country shipment. 

To reduce sticker shock at checkout, consider adding some or all of the cost of shipping into the product’s price. It will come as no surprise to retailers that shipping perishables comes with a hefty price tag, but customers may not be expecting it. Some ecommerce retailers wrap a blanket surcharge into the price of perishable items, then add on shipping costs as required by location. This can make the high cost of the shipment more palatable. 

6 Best Practices for Shipping Perishables and Frozen Food

With ShipperHQ, you get access to a full suite of tools to help you ensure shipments – perishable or not – arrive on time, every time:

  • Create Shipping Rules tailored your store
    Get accurate rates and show the fastest delivery options possible by building behind-the-scenes rules into your checkout process. Create rules that account for maximum time in transit, product weight, origin, destination, and much more.
  • Use Dimensional Packing
    Instead of pulling shipping rates based on the actual weight of your packages, use dimensional packing to determine the dimensional weight of them for more accurate rates. Be sure to account for product and material weight for the most accurate dimensional weight measurement. Plus, utilize this feature to select the best fit box for every order and set up automated packing rules to streamline your fulfillment even further.
  • Show Delivery Date & Time
    Give customers the choice to select when their package gets delivered, right down to the hour of the day. With this feature, you can automatically account for factors like lead times and cutoff dates, showing customers accurate delivery dates to eliminate confusion. 
  • Offer In-Store Pickup
    For customers nearby, sidestep shipping altogether by offering local pickup, whether at a store or a fulfillment center. This offers the fastest turnaround possible and appeals to your most local customer base. 
  • Enable Multi-Origin Shipping 
    If you’ve got inventory in more than one location, it’s vital that you ship from the closest store, warehouse, fulfillment center or drop shipper from your customer. Automate the process to ensure that every order comes from the most efficient location possible, even if it requires split shipping
  • Use Address Validation 
    With address validation, you can verify that the type of address a customer has entered is correct. This is especially important for perishable shipments. Orders destined for business addresses may need to be held over a weekend. Plus, without verifying address type, you may charge a customer for a commercial delivery, but end up paying a residential delivery fee.

Customer Example: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Popular ice cream retailer Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams wanted to grow their ecommerce business, but knew shipping frozen foods would be a big undertaking. One big challenge was pulling and managing rates from its multiple fulfillment centers.

“ShipperHQ helped us enable multi-warehouse fulfillment logic for our BigCommerce store, which grew the business. This especially came in handy during a time of crisis when landslides in California prevented us from getting shipments out of one of our fulfillment centers.”

Without a plan in place to automate warehouse fulfillment, Jeni’s would have had a significant issue getting products into customers’ hands as the disaster progressed. But thanks to Multi-Origin Shipping and the ability to show clear Delivery Dates that updated in real time, the company avoided a major hiccup. 

“With ShipperHQ, it was as easy as changing some settings for us to fulfill orders out of our other warehouse. By doing this, we were able to keep our business up and running as this situation unfolded.”

Shipping Perishables with ShipperHQ 

With powerful tools, powered by real-world shipping logic, you can create a customized shipping experience at checkout that keeps customers happy, and cold stuff, cold. Give your customers clear, accurate shipping details on their time-sensitive orders with ShipperHQ‘s powerful Shipping Rate Management platform.

Download our Shipping Strategy Checklist for 2021 for more tips on building a strategy for your store.

Author

Amanda Laviana is a Senior Copywriter on the ShipperHQ marketing team. She brings nearly a decade of copywriting experience to the table, and has worked across many facets of the e-commerce and shipping tech landscape. Amanda enjoys blogging, traveling, cooking, and waiting on miniature dachshund hand and paw.