Effective ice cream distribution requires reliable trucks with reliable refrigeration. Ice cream must be stored and delivered at -20° F or quality suffers.
Cold Front Distribution in Denver, Colorado, understands the importance of temperature control. To achieve its goal of becoming the dominant direct-store distributor in Colorado, it does not skimp on transportation or refrigeration equipment.
“We've made a big investment on the operations side because we have to if we want to continue building our business,” says Dave Roberts, president.
Cold Front started in 2000 with five refrigerated trucks serving a few convenience store chains. Today it runs 20 trucks to convenience stores and supermarkets along the Colorado front range. It counts all the major Denver supermarket chains as customers. Retail chains now account for 70% of the business, while convenience stores make up the remaining 30%.
In addition to growing its customer base, Cold Front also has increased its product line from a few suppliers to about 10 national brands. The company delivers packaged ice cream and novelties. Frozen pizza, the only non-ice cream item, represents about 5% of sales.
Cold Front operates from a leased 25,000-sq-ft freezer in Denver's historic Colorado Trade Center, a cluster of distribution centers near the junction of I-25 and I-70. It is a key shipping point with rail access for traffic in the Rocky Mountain region. Cold Front now uses about 12,500 square feet of freezer storage and rents the rest to other frozen food distributors.
“Years ago, Associated Grocers operated this building, and then Nash Finch, the food retail and distribution company, worked from here,” Roberts says. “We took over the freezer from Nash Finch and refurbished part of a dry warehouse into offices.
“Before we moved into this building, we had offices about six miles east, on the upper floor of the PacLease franchise, our truck supplier. At that time, we subleased a freezer across the highway. We shared three dock doors with two other companies. As our business grew, that became too crowded. We moved into our new offices on June 22, 2001, and started operating the new freezer on July 20.”
A lot of people want to know about the origin of the company's name, Roberts says. “My wife Nancy named it,” he says. “We wanted a name that portrayed Colorado but we didn't want some of the more widely used ones, like Centennial, Front Range, or Mile High. We were driving toward Colorado Springs when Nancy spotted whispery clouds around Pike's Peak and she said, ‘What about Cold Front?’ Everyone we mentioned that name to liked it, so we adopted it. It's a name that reflects winter in Colorado and it sticks in people's minds.”
Before founding Cold Front, Roberts worked for a national ice cream distributor as general manager for Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. More than 20 other employees of that company also joined Roberts. “We had worked together for over 10 years and had become like family,” he says. “Now we find ourselves in competition with our old employer.”
Many of Cold Front's original customers were convenience stores formerly served by Sinton Dairy Foods Company based in Colorado Springs. Sinton is the largest stockholder in Cold Front, a privately held limited liability corporation. “Sinton was one of the largest distributors to convenience stores in Colorado,” Roberts says. “The dairy continues ice cream delivery, but that's not its core business.”
Last December, Cold Front captured the Rocky Mountain region distribution rights for Blue Bunny, now its largest vendor. The distributor also represents Ben & Jerry's and Häagen Dazs. In December, Cold Front began direct-store delivery to supermarket chains, including Safeway, King Soopers, and Albertson's. The company runs seven convenience store routes and 14 retail routes per day, Monday through Friday.
“We run trucks on Saturday about three weekends out of the summer,” Roberts says. “The warehouse operates seven days a week, receiving about 15 trailer loads per week.”
Cold Front delivers throughout the Denver and Boulder metropolitan areas, and in other communities from Fort Collins to Pueblo. “Our routes go from the Wyoming border on the north to Pueblo on the south and west into the Rocky Mountain foothills,” he says. “For the rest of the region we use other distributors, including Meadow Gold and Sinton Dairies, who cover Colorado, Wyoming, northern New Mexico, parts of Utah, western Nebraska, and South Dakota.”
In August 2000, Cold Front put in service five new Kenworth T300 trucks. As the company grew, it added more T300s equipped with optional air suspension. About 10 of the 20 trucks are air-ride. Cold Front leases all its trucks from M H C Truck Leasing, the Denver PacLease franchise. PacLease provides full maintenance.
“These are quality trucks chosen for durability and safety,” Roberts says. “They present a positive image both to our customers and drivers. We've gotten many favorable comments particularly on the air suspension trucks from satisfied drivers and from food suppliers.”
Fleets choose Kenworth T300s because they stand up to the tough duty of multiple-stop city delivery and they are driver-friendly, says Doug Harris, the Denver PacLease account manager. Drivers may complain at the end of the day about workload or hours, but not about truck performance, he says.
Driver-friendly features include a cab designed for easy and efficient operation of switches and controls and glare-free gauges with large, easy-to-read faces. The trucks have a large, wrap-around, post-free windshield, and steeply sloped hood. Mirrors are mounted on the cowl, not on the door, so that they stay adjusted longer, even with many door openings.
The T300 has good maneuverability with a sharp turning radius — about 30 feet for a full circle, Harris says. It has low-mounted door latches, well-placed grab handles, and wide, self-cleaning traction-grip steps for convenient cab access.
Cold Front trucks have a gross vehicle weight rating of 33,000 lb and are equipped with Caterpillar 3126 engines rated at 230 horsepower, Eaton Fuller six-speed transmissions, and Dana Spicer front axles rated at 12,000 lb and rear axles rated at 21,000 lb.
Hendrickson HAS210L air suspension provides a smooth ride and minimizes load shift for palletized loads delivered to supermarkets, he says.
Cold Front trucks have 22-ft bodies, mostly from Kidron. Trucks sent to supermarkets have Todco rear overhead doors for convenient dock delivery, Harris says. Trucks that deliver to convenience stores have three-panel rear doors and side doors with a retractable step. Stainless steel carts with preloaded stock are rolled into the trucks and are secured to E-tracks. Truck bodies have non-slip, ridged aluminum floors for convenience store work or duct flooring for the larger supermarket loads.
Truck bodies have five inches of insulation in the walls and six inches in the nose, roof, and floor. They are equipped with Carrier Transicold Supra 944 units. Convenience store trucks have electric stand-by, because some unsold inventory remains in the vehicles overnight.
“The Supra 944 units probably provide more cooling capacity than we need,” Roberts says. “But it's better to have too much capacity rather than not enough. They work fast for temperature recovery after a delivery stop door opening.”
PacLease performs preventive maintenance on trucks, including oil changes, at least four times a year, Harris says. Trucks are serviced every 8,000 miles or 90 days. Refrigeration units are serviced at the same time. Most work is done at night or on weekends to avoid any service interruptions. “Our view is that the trucks must be ready to roll 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so we have mechanics on call at all times,” he says. “Regular shop hours are 4 am to midnight every day.”
The trucks are leased for seven years and evaluated annually. If performance is not up to par, the vehicle is replaced. PacLease provides emergency road service with its two service vehicles or three other repair companies.
Two Route Systems
Cold Front has 20 drivers who work either convenience store routes or retail routes. Convenience store drivers are route salespeople with inventory in the trucks. They take and fill orders at each stop. Drivers for supermarkets are known as delivery agents. They deliver presold orders.
“We have advance people who handle orders,” Roberts says. “At each supermarket, we have a merchandiser who goes into the back room for product and stocks display cases and shelves. The delivery agent simply delivers palletized loads to the store's dock.”
Drivers, merchandisers, and advance sales people have a face-to-face relationship with customers — each playing an important role in the company. “They are the ones servicing stores and writing orders,” Robert says. “The rest of us including warehousemen and administrators are just support cast.”
Convenience store drivers use Norand handheld units for tracking orders and printing invoices at stops. Between runs, the units are plugged into a docking station that automatically downloads route data into a host computer. The data goes into Cold Front's accounting system.
Big investments in trucks and computers aside, Roberts stresses that Cold Front's growth in its first year of operation is mostly the result of good service. “Delivering ice cream is not rocket science. How we treat the customer makes the difference,” he says.