The Changing Cold Storage industry

In our first News article on the APF Cold Storage & Logistics news page we asked Don House, founder of Athol Park Freezers, now APF Cold Storage & Logistics, for his recollections about the changing Cold Storage industry from his 34 years of experience.

APF, originally called Athol Park Freezers, opened for business in February 1983 at the time of the devastating Ash Wednesday bushfires. We were operating an ice-manufacturing business and required seasonal storage and started with a ”modest” premises. Australia had won the America Cup, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, SA was gripped with drought and the economy was in recession, showing that even businesses started during hard times can be a success.

Many South-East Asian migrants were settling into the north-western suburbs and were already importing frozen goods to Australia from Thailand and Cambodia. Over time the range of products we see imported and the countries they are from has greatly increased, with some products, such as giant (apple) snails not allowed to be imported any more.

We are now licensed to store goods under quarantine and regularly accommodate government-imported food inspections. This system is in part a result of the scandal in the early 80’s when kangaroo pet meat, and even horse meat, was substituted for beef exported to the US. This resulted in greater government controls and licensing in all levels of food processing, including cold storage and refrigerated transport. For a time after the roo-meat substitution scandal, we would receive pet meat with blue dye dripping from it and a government certificate had to accompany all transfers of meat.

Computing was in its infancy and warehouse management systems were a dream for the future. Our first warehouse management system was an old MS DOS based database called Foxpro, licensed and adapted for our use. It was on a computer with 128k RAM. We now use Carton Cloud, iPads, and work on computers with multiple screens to accommodate all of the data we need access to.

In the Sixties ‘Bulk Handling’ was the buzzword and most wholesale meat was sold to local butchers as carcasses. When I started Athol Park Freezers in ’83, there were still the remnants of the bulk-handling push of the sixties, when we tried to move everything with conveyer belts and hopper vehicles however, over time, packaging and palletization became the most common way of handling foodstuffs. By the Seventies, packaging had improved, and the government set up a national pallet-hire system.

In the seventies and eighties roads and trucks had improved to an extent that many small transport operations could start up. Road transport became very competitive with owner-drivers dominating the line haul routes. In the nineties and noughties many of these were rationalized and, in this decade, both transport and cold storage are mostly owned offshore, making APF’s family owned and run business very rare.

This kind of competition is good though, as Australia must find its place in the evolving world systems or suffer becoming irrelevant. I would like to see all companies embracing environmental protection, immigration and respect for worker safety and well-being, both in Australia and in the countries of our trading partners. I think we will see some benefits of our adoption of clean energy. I think immigration will continue to make Australia a vibrant and interesting place to live.


Related blogs

Electrifying the Freight: Navigating Sustainable Transport
3 Degrees of Change: Confronting Food Loss and Waste for a Sustainable Future