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Kansas City's underground connection a big link in USA frozen food chain.

Situated near the geographic center of the United States, cave warehouse facilities offer distributors easy access to key markets. And subterranean cost advantages can add up.

Kansas City: home of legendary jazzman Charlie Parker, Arthur Bryant's famous barbecue ribs, Hallmark greeting cards, the Chiefs football club, the high-flying Royals baseball team. And the largest conglomeration of underground cold storage facilities in the world. That's right -- there are at least seven major subterranean warehouses carved out of old and new mines in the greater metropolitan area that are serving the frozen food industry and other clients.

The biggest of the operators, Americold, last month held a ceremony to officially mark the reopening of its four-million cubic-foot facility -- part of which had been sidelined by a serious fire in December of 1991. Currently 60% of the space is devoted to frozen foods, with the remainder equally divided between refrigerated and dry goods. Among the key customers on site are Ore-Ida, Sara Lee, the USDA, Tony's Pizza and King & Prince Seafood.

The facility began its existence 80 years ago as a limestone mine. During the 1950s visionary-thinking Leonard Strauss saw his idea of using the excavated area for public warehousing begin to hit paydirt. Today's storage sites lie 180 feet below the surface, occupying a single level with a ceiling height of 12 to 14 feet throughout.

A "natural wonder of the world" was the way Ron Dykehouse, chairman and CEO of Portland, Ore.-headquartered Americold, described the cavernous food cache that stretches for 92 acres. "We average over 130,000 big trucks a year in our facility and more than 20 rail cars per day," he said. "This is a key logistical center. More than a billion pounds of product are handled per year just in the public warehouse space, not including our lease tenants."

Freezer space temperatures range from between zero degrees Fahrenheit and -15 |degrees~ F. The freezer, cooler and dry areas are divided into rooms, with the largest encompassing a full eight acres and the smallest taking up less than one acre. The average room size is about six acres.

Rail service is provided by Santa Fe reciprocal switching which runs underground with a network spanning more than a mile. Up to 82 cars can be spotted on the track. Furthermore, 14 receiving and loading docks can facilitate 137 trucks at a time.

In addition to the public storage and distribution, several other business enterprises use the facility. Fifteen tenants occupy about 25% of the site with office and storage space.

Americold also runs an active limestone quarry in a curtained-off sector adjacent to the warehouse. The rock is mined, crushed and sold for use in making asphalt, concrete and roofing materials. The company owns 1,830 acres of rock and estimates the mining capabilities will last over 15 years. Of the available resource, about 750 acres have thus far been exploited. Over three million tons of crushed rock have been extracted during the past five years -- enough to produce asphalt for 1,260 miles of roadway.


While Americold can rightly boast that its Kansas City, Kansas, operation is the world's largest cold storage warehouse under one roof, the Hunt Midwest Sub Tropolis across the state line in Kansas City, Missouri, claims to be the largest underground business complex on the planet. Over 750 acres, or 10-million square feet of space, have been developed thus far -- enough to accommodate the entire downtown business district plus the large Harry S. Truman Sports Complex. Among the 55 companies holding leases in the subterranean industrial park are Pillsbury, General Foods and Safeway.

Street level access just off the interchange of Interstate 435 and Highway 210 lead to the hillside tunnel entrance of the facility. Colorful flags of many nations fly overhead, heralding the on-site Foreign Trade Zone status that allows for deferred duty payments on imported goods until they actually enter the marketplace.

In addition to being situated near the geographic center of the United States--with direct links to truck, rail, air and barge transportation--Hunt Midwest lists a number of other advantages for those renting space at Sub Tropolis. Namely: utility costs are considerably lower than those incurred at topside facilities; rental and insurance rates are cheaper; protected and covered loading docks allow rail cars and trucks to be loaded and unloaded out of the elements; pleasant, year-round ambient temperatures ranging from 65 |degrees~ to 72 |degrees~ F tend to boost productivity among non-freezer area workers as they do not have to deal with the stress of extreme heat or cold.

A big reason that rents are low lies in the minimum construction costs associated with building in caves 90 to 200 feet beneath the surface. Concrete or asphalt floors are poured over rock foundations. Walls are made of concrete brick, and office quarters are built to specification. A fiber optics communications system runs through the underground network of corridors, water sprinklers abound, and fire hydrants are situated every 300 feet to enhance safety. Limestone walls, ceilings and pillars are painted white to brighten up the environment.

Safeway Terminal

At the moment, Safeway, Inc. is the only freezer operation on the Sub-Tropolis premises. It occupies a spacious site formerly used by Pillsbury. The terminal distribution center consolidates private label products from around the country and abroad for further distribution to six divisions of the large retail supermarket chain.

"We ship 41 million pounds annually out of here, which adds up to 82 million pounds of throughput," said Bill Schauber, manager. "Some 600 different items are carried, all but 125 of which are frozen. Inventory turns average 12 per year."

A tour through the coldstore found ample supplies of Bel-Air vegetables, Captain's Choice perch fillets and other seafoods, potatoes, orange juice concentrate, prepared foods, deli meats and ice cream ingredients such as strawberries and peaches. The temperature was a frigid -4 |degrees~ F.

"We generally have about 3.2 million pounds of frozen product on hand, but the inventory swells to 8.5 million pounds by October when the warehouse is full of turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday," explained Schauber.

While Safeway has been at SubTropolis for less than two years, it has been distributing frozen and dry products from Kansas City since the 1970s. Interestingly, though, its nearest outbound delivery point is 600 miles away in Denver. Other regions supplied are: Landover, Maryland; Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Wash.; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Tracy, Calif.

The Kansas City location was chosen to centralize distribution and take advantage of the cost benefits associated with receiving LTL shipments from all over the USA. "We figured we would consolidate product here and send it out in lesser loads," said the manager. "Previously each division would buy truckloads separately to realize lower prices, whether they needed the extra volume or not. But you can't make money on cases that are stacked up in the warehouse."

Safeway's KC Terminal prides itself on achieving a 97-98% on-time performance record. "The mission is to be a flexible supplier that maximizes efficiencies and thus helps stores avoid lost sales and enhance cash flow," said Schauber. "The job does not end until the orders are punched in at the receiving end -- not when the shipment leaves our dock."

The manager pointed out that while he is a Safeway employee, his role is personally viewed as that of a supplier to the retail chain. "We have to please. There may be 40 to 45 loads going out, most on pallets though some product may be on slip sheets. We keep in mind the fact that the burden is on the supplier, and not on the carrier. It is the supplier's job to see to it that shipments arrive on time."

After 15 years of developing Safeway's Kansas City distribution prowess, Schauber is being transferred from cave duty to a new topside job in sunny Sacramento, Calif. But he plans to take everything learned in the underground along with him to the coast. The next 15 years will be dedicated to refining integrated information services that will add even greater value to the distribution process.

Meanwhile, it is a good bet that the Kansas City connection will grow as an important link in the distribution chain of major frozen food marketers doing business in North America. Trucking from the convenient heartland location can mean next-day delivery to anywhere in the United States.

Napoleon's Bearcat Operation Completes First Expansion

Bearcat Cold Storage, a division of Napoleon Warehouse, Inc., was anticipating an August opening for the first phase of its expansion in Cincinnati as of press time.

The new facility, with nearly two million cubic feet of refrigerated space, is located at the junction of Interstate 75 and 275 north of the city. There will be two additions just as large in years to come, according to the parent company, headquartered in Napoleon, Ohio, USA.

Frigoscandia Cold Store Will Take Sara Lee Cakes

Frigoscandia Ltd. is getting ready to take the cake for Sara Lee Bakery, building a |pounds~5.5 million cold store next to the Sara Lee plant in Bridlington, England, that will enable the frozen bakery products manufacturer to cope with increased business while improving service to its customers.

Scheduled for completion in September, the 2.25 million cubic foot facility will have room to store 12 million Sara Lee cakes at a time. The operation will allow for product to be moved directly from the factory line into cold storage, thus cutting down on transport. Distribution flexibility will be further enhanced by a mobile racking system, in which product movement will be controlled by a computerized warehouse management system.

Frigoscandia will operate the cold store for Sara Lee, which will also continue to use Frigoscandia's refrigerated transport services to make deliveries from the new cold store to the regional distribution centers of major grocery multiples throughout the UK.

Fresh Engineering Approach Offers Services Globally

It began advising the Dutch frozen and refrigerated industry 20 years ago, but today it has clients as far off as Egypt and Gambia. They all have one thing in common, though -- they want their food to come out of storage as perfect as it went in.

That's the mission of Fresh (which stands for: Frozen, Refrigerated, Engineering, Storage, Handling) Engineering Emmeloord b.v., said J.M. Veenstra, managing director. "Exactly like our clients want to see it," is how he puts it, and that means each product must also be in the right condition for its intended use -- whether immediate consumption or further processing.

Veenstra's company offers its expertise in the entire area of storage, preservation and logistics of agricultural, horticultural and tropical products. Fresh works on each product storage challenge from design to execution, relying on the expertise of a world-wide team of specialists. They do feasibility studies, design facilities, write specifications, and implement training and follow-up programs.

Control of humidity and carbon dioxide levels is a key element in storage strategies for frozen and refrigerated products, and Fresh can create computer models of new systems with its in-house CAD-CAM capability. Recent projects include storage of tropical fruit in Gambia, potatoes and onions in Algeria, and construction of a refrigerated warehouse in Egypt by a Dutch firm.

US Cold Storage Appoints Tim Bridgman President & COO

Tim Bridgman, a 25-year veteran of the Swire Group, has been named president and chief operating officer of United States Cold Storage, Inc., Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA, one of the Group's companies.

Bridgman succeeds David F. Beauchamp, who has assumed responsibility for the Swire Group's Taiwan operations. Bridgman himself earned his spurs in the Pacific Rim, with assignment in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Papua-New Guinea and Japan. For the past six years, he had been president of John Swire & Sons in Japan.

James Styer Named to Head Rosenberger Cold Storage Co.

James B. Styer has been named president of Rosenberger Cold Storage Companies, Hatfield, Pennsylvania, USA. Founder and former president Henry L. Rosenberger was made chairman and chief executive officer.

Styer was previously vice president and chief operating officer of the company, which has three cold stores in Hatfield and one each in York, Pa., and Wilmington, Del. Yet another is under construction in Lancaster, Pa. He has been with the company since 1985, and is also treasurer of The Refrigeration Research Foundation.

Further Ammonia Regulation Firmly Opposed by AFFI

The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) has urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reevaluate a proposal that would further regulate such chemicals as ammonia in cases of accidental release.

According to AFFI, the proposal is unnecessary and threatens the industry's "last great hope" that Americans can purchase quality foods at relatively inexpensive prices, particularly since the number of refrigerants available for use by the food industry has declined over the past several years.

"AFFI member companies use ammonia as a refrigerant in closed loop refrigeration systems. These systems are vital to preserve and protect the quality and safety of food," said AFFI President Steven C. Anderson in comments to EPA.

Anderson also pointed out that existing regulations under the Process Safety Management standard promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and EPA's Community Right-to-Know standards sufficiently cover this area.

"Further regulation concerning prevention and detection of accidental releases is unnecessary for many chemicals, especially chemicals such as ammonia which have a low odor threshold and disperse rather easily," said Anderson.

If after EPA reviews comments and assesses the proposal's financial impact on industry it insists on promulgating a rule, AFFI suggests that the threshold quantity for ammonia be set at a level consistent with similar standards (10,000 pounds).

"The 1,000 pound threshold will implicate many facilities too small to have any impact on public health and safety should a leak occur," said Anderson.
COPYRIGHT 1993 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Kansas City, Kansas
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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