Ice Cream Shipping Guide

Everything you need to know about how to ship ice cream, and the insulated packaging solutions that make it easy

Given it’s volatility to temperature fluctuations, ice cream is a particularly difficult item to ship. In this article we explore how to ship cream, and the considerations you must make before doing so. So whether you’re shipping ice cream internationally, or shipping ice cream to another state, read on to find out all the best practices to follow to guarantee your product reaches its destination in perfect condition.

The Challenges of Shipping Ice Cream

People love ice cream, but they know the disappointment of experiencing a grainy texture or a flavor that isn’t quite right. As one of the most challenging consumer products to ship, great care must be made in making packaging and shipping choices. Being temperature-sensitive, ice cream is at risk of melting in transit. Different flavors may melt differently, and added treats like marshmallows or chocolate chips can further complicate refrigeration requirements. And if your ice cream shipment has been heated up and then refrozen, your customers may be disappointed by a product that feels icy or lumpy rather than the creamy texture you crave.

The Ice Cream Supply Chain

Ice cream being shipped inside an EcoLiner Insulated Pouch

There are several links in the ice cream distribution system, starting with manufacturing and packaging. Ice cream is then typically shipped by refrigerated transport truck set to freezing temperature. It arrives at a storage location such as a retailer distribution center, where it is kept in a freezer section of the facility. From there, store orders are assembled and shipped to retail stores. Ice cream may be delivered in a multi-temp freezer compartment of a trailer or a freezer box on a chilled perishable load to the store. These supply chain steps have been honed over decades to ensure that retail stores have delicious ice cream for their customers.

In recent years, however, interest has risen in the home delivery of ice cream. Given the sensitivity of this product to temperature fluctuations, new challenges have arisen to ensure the delivery of a great quality product.

5 Essential Tips for Ice Cream Shipping

1. Use effective insulated packaging to protect ice cream shipments against ambient heat

The first consideration when planning how to deliver ice cream to your customers is packaging. Packaging for ice cream should be thermally insulated, as well as equipped with sufficient refrigerants to continuously maintain product temperature of 0°F (-18 °C) or colder. Insulated shipping boxes are needed as they limit the exchange of heat between the environment and the inside of the package, thus delaying the time in which the temperature inside the package reaches equilibrium with the ambient temperature.

Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) shipping coolers have proven popular in the past as they are thermally insulating, relatively lightweight, and cheap. EPS coolers have considerable disadvantages, however, including mediocre thermal performance, high storage volume, and non- biodegradability, make its use economically unjustifiable.

Alternatively, IPC can provide alternative insulating solutions to EPS coolers with no tooling cost while providing 75% savings in shipping space and significant reduction (up to 33%) in required dry ice required for ice cream shipment.

2. Use dry ice to keep the ice cream frozen

Dry ice has long been a favored solution for shipping frozen foods, including ice cream. It is significantly lighter than regular ice, thus reducing shipping costs while eliminating concerns that melting ice could dampen product packaging. Be sure to include enough dry ice to cover the estimated in-transit period, as well as an additional 24 hours to guard against any delays in transit.

When handling dry ice, it is crucial to follow proper safety precautions, including personal protective equipment and allowing for venting, as well as special precautions for air freight, if applicable. Gloves and goggles are required for touching dry ice to prevent against burns. Place the dry ice and ice cream within a suitable polystyrene container and place it inside a corrugated cardboard box. Dry ice releases carbon dioxide, so it is important that the box is not sealed. By allowing the vapor to vent, the risk of explosion is negated.

3. Consider using gel packs for additional protection

Gel packs are more commonly used to keep food in the 0°C (32°F) to 15°C (60°F) range rather than for shipping frozen food products. For shipping ice cream, however, gel packs are used as a backup refrigerant. Since the gel packs lasts longer than dry ice, they can help prolong the life of dry ice, and serve as a refrigeration source after the dry ice dissipates.

4. Protect your shipment by limiting the transportation duration

Minimizing the duration of transportation will help reduce dry ice requirements and the risk of unsaleable product. The use of expedited delivery services will help ensure timely delivery. When shipping frozen foods products, that’s a great way of safeguarding quality and reducing the risk of refrigerant not lasting as long as required for delivery. Also, be mindful of any delays in the delivery cycle such as weekends or holidays that could result in ice cream shipments delayed in transit needlessly.

5. Always monitor your shipments to ensure they arrive on time

Product tracking is essential to determine your success in on-time deliveries, which equates directly to customer satisfaction, and increasing the certainty that ice cream arrives in great condition. Ensure that your carrier offers a sophisticated tracking service. As newer tracking technologies become affordable and widespread, there are even more exciting opportunities to monitor not only delivery, but also container conditions such as temperature and shock.

Ice cream being shipped inside an PopupLiner Insulated Box Liner

Case study: The best insulated packaging for reliable ice cream delivery

With the explosion of ecommerce and convenient home delivery, customers also wish to have ice cream delivered to their homes. For ice cream, temperatures above 0⁰C begin to have drastic effects on the consistency and flavor of the ice cream as the milk contained in the product begins to melt.

A grocery retailer approached IPC seeking a reliable insulated packaging solution for their ice cream distribution. They were looking for small, environmentally-friendly insulated pouches that could be used to maintain the frozen temperature of their ice cream throughout the duration of the transit duration to the final destination.

IPC recommended the EcoLiner Insulated Pouch, an eco-friendly insulating pouch that provides high performance insulation and can be custom designed to fit all sorts of ice cream containers. Ecoliner not only offers effective thermal protection for more than 48 hours, but it is also made of environmentally friendly materials and offers a space-saving design to reduce shipping and warehousing costs.

IPC was tasked with developing a test to prove efficacy of the EcoLiner pouch in the worst-case scenario – extreme summer conditions – to assess whether the ice cream stays below the 0⁰C threshold for the entire four hour transit duration. The retailer determined that the EcoLiner insulated pouches provided sufficient protection of their ice cream products for last-mile transport. Because these results were gathered from extreme summer temperatures, these pouches can be used in all other seasonal temperatures with assurance. The retailer now regularly uses EcoLiner pouchesfor their last mile transit solutions.

Read more information about the ice cream shipping case study here.

Ice Cream Insulated Delivery Testing

As shown in the graph, EcoLiner Insulated Pouches proved to be able to successfully keep the ice cream shipments frozen throughout the 4-hour shipment in summer conditions. 

IPC also performed a study comparing our PopupLiner insulation to EPS coolers for shiping ice cream. Our study found that our alternative provided a substantial 75% saving in shipping space amd significant reduction in the requirement for dry ice when compared to EPS coolers.

IPC can provide custom ice cream packaging solutions to all types of businesses that ship ice cream. Whether you are sending small packages to consumers, or bulk shipments to business customers, our experienced team helps you to do it efficiently and cheaply. Get in touch today for a custom quote.

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