On a mid-winter Sunday in New York City, a family ducks into their neighborhood cafe and orders their favorite breakfast: avocado toast. Naturally, being in New York, the avocado toast has far more than just avocado; it’s loaded with arugula, tomatoes and mozzarella.
The journey of avocado toast is far from simple and involves many characters working behind the scenes, especially logistics companies. From cross-border logistics to cold chain shipping, logistics companies work around the clock so that consumers can have the foods they want, when they want them, no questions asked.
From Mexican farms to the U.S. border
Thousands of miles from New York City in Michoacan, Mexico, temperatures are warm enough to grow avocados year-round. There, farmers pick avocados and place them in bins to be transported to a packing house. At the packing house, avocados are run through a hydro-cooler to remove residual field heat.
From here until final delivery, maintaining proper temperature is imperative to slow ripening. Avocados are then sorted for quality, and consumer-grade avocados are washed, polished and dried before being boxed for shipment in refrigerated trucks.
While consumers find avocados unrefrigerated in supermarkets—or smeared on toast—they require specialized refrigerated shipment. By keeping avocados cold throughout their supply chain journey, ripening slows and customers receive them at peak ripeness.
Unlike consumer refrigerators, which are generally set to one temperature for all refrigerated goods, temperature-controlled shipping requires precise temperature control and adjustment for individual perishable foods. For guidance, shippers follow the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines for perishable food shipping temperatures.
In the case of avocados, these guidelines dictate that avocados must be shipped between 40-55℉ at a humidity of 85-90%. As if that is not specific enough, not all types of avocados have the same cold-tolerance. For hass avocados from Michoacan, guidelines specify that temperatures should be kept within an even smaller window -- 40-45℉.
After preparation for shipment, the next major step in cold chain logistics for avocado consumption is crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In order to cross the border, the shipment will have to go through U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Paperwork will need to be filed in advance, and to navigate the complexities of cross-border logistics, many companies turn to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider.
3PLs with cross-border expertise will have long-lasting relationships with customs brokers, access to a large network of trusted carrier partners, dedicated bilingual teams for easy communications, know the CBP and USDA requirements and can guide companies through the necessary paperwork.
From the border to the restaurant
Once shipments have crossed the border, they continue their journey to regional distribution centers. Maintaining proper temperatures throughout the process is key to cold chain logistics, including all stops, transfers and consolidations. If temperatures drop too low, avocados will go gray with chilling marks. If temperatures rise, ripening will accelerate, causing fruit to be overripe by the time it reaches end customers.
From regional distribution centers, food either goes to retail distribution centers, which are the last stop before grocery stores or to foodservice distribution centers, from which restaurants get their food supplies. For the New Yorker’s avocados, they’ll be transferred from distribution centers to food service distribution centers.
While the avocados may have been shipped in dedicated trucks thus far—after all, over 3 billion pounds of avocados were consumed in the United States in 2021 alone—from the distribution center on, they will likely be shipped with other temperature-sensitive products in less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments. This consolidation for shipments as they near the end destination requires vast amounts of planning, once again displaying how 3PLs play their role behind the scenes, helping to deliver fresh products on time, every time.
More than avocados
Cold chain logistics reveals its complexities as combining perishable foods is far less simple than one may assume. Remembering that avocados require precise temperatures and humidities, so too, do all perishable foods. In fact, each ingredient of this avocado toast—bread, tomatoes, arugula, and mozzarella cheese—all have unique shipping requirements.
The tomatoes on this toast are likely grown in Florida where temperatures permit winter harvesting, and must be transported at 55-70℉ with humidity of 90-95%, too warm to be combined with avocados. The arugula, which is likely grown in Arizona or California, must be shipped at 32℉ with humidity of 95-100%, too cold and too humid to combine with avocados.
The ingredient with the closest shipping temperature to avocados is the mozzarella cheese, which must be shipped at 40℉. Likely originating from different regions, their first chance for combined shipping is from the regional distribution center to the food service distribution center. As for the bread, given that this customer is likely paying $15 for their avocado toast, hopefully it’s coming from a local bakery down the street.
In the final step of the journey, the restaurant receives a shipment from the food service distribution center containing a variety of ingredients. Only at this stage can perishable foods with differing temperature needs be grouped together because of the short distance and duration between shipment and consumption.
Navigating the intricacies of cold chain logistics with a 3PL
Rather than magically appearing on plates and in grocery aisles, food undergoes a complex journey to reach consumers. With obstacles such as strict temperature regulations, cross-border logistics, multi-modal shipping and numerous transfers along the way, businesses turn to 3PLs with cold chain expertise to manage the process.
With the right cold chain logistics partner, businesses can gain greater visibility over shipments, manage recalls and have confidence that consumers will get what they need, when they need it. Best of all, with the right partner, businesses will ensure that operations run so efficiently that consumers never have to worry about how their food got there. It’s simply there, almost like magic–almost.