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Guarding Canada's Food Supply Chain

Why and How VersaCold Built the Country’s Largest Temperature-Sensitive Warehouse Facility


Whenever you walk down the frozen and refrigerated food aisle at the grocery store, chances are, you come across a product VersaCold has meticulously ensured would arrive safe, fresh and of the highest quality to its rightful spot inside the freezer or cooler. From fresh produce, to frozen treats, to imported meat and seafood, VersaCold has a hand in a large portion of the food items people serve on their tables every day.  

 As Canada’s largest temperature-sensitive supply chain solutions company, VersaCold partners with producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of temperature-controlled food products, and provides a full suite of capabilities including warehousing, transportation, processing, packaging and other logistics services – all so consumers can enjoy their favourite foods along with the peace of mind that their meals are guaranteed fresh and safe to eat.


cold storage

“It’s the heart of what we do; it’s our DNA,” said Mark Dienesch, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer of VersaCold. “While other companies talk about what they do and how they do it, we focus on why we do what we do – and that is to ensure the safety, quality and freshness of the food families eat.”

Your food matters. VersaCold’s mantra emanates throughout the organization, from its front line staff, to its administration team, all the way to every shipment, pallet and case as it methodically moves within the supply chain. “It’s important,” said Dienesch. “The work we do serves a greater purpose. Safety is always top of mind.”

Safety is so paramount, that VersaCold has significantly invested in its Cold Chain Quality Assurance team, consisting of food safety and chemistry experts who see to it every food item the company stores, processes, transports and delivers is handled in accordance with the highest national and global industry standards. VersaCold’s laser focus on implementing the most efficient and reliable methods to handle product, stems from changing market requirements and consumer preferences, as well as an evolving industry. “There are increased laws, requirements, and we’re seeing a shift in consumers’ taste,” said Douglas Harrison, President & CEO of VersaCold. “They’re looking for more high-end product that requires different handling. Supply chains have also become more global, necessitating a different degree of handling during transport. So we’re investing in key areas to ensure we’re the premier provider in Canada, delivering great service, capability and continuous improvement to our customers, while working in close partnership with them.”


versacold facility

VersaCold is also investing in the future. To say the company has ambitious growth plans is an understatement. According to Harrison, while the industry annually grows at a low-single-digit pace, VersaCold is aiming to achieve 15% growth a year. To help reach this goal and further enhance its service capabilities and market position, VersaCold invested in new buildings, which opened across Canada in the last several years. 

VersaCold’s Milton facility at 2701 High Point Drive stands out – measuring 572,192 square feet on 38.72 acres, it will be the largest building of its kind in Canada once construction of its last phase completes, slated for late 2018/early 2019. It was designed for ultimate workflow and efficiency: With state-of-the-art features such as Insulated Metal Panel (IMP) construction, various temperature cells and settings (from 4 degrees Celsius down to -30 degrees Celsius) in different parts of the building, customized floors able to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations, a vast dock and numerous doors (allowing for more effective product handling, trailer staging and order fulfilment), and advanced material handling equipment and capabilities (for safety and quality assurance), the facility enables VersaCold to readily fulfill customers’ specific requirements while ensuring the products’ superior quality. 

Sustainability was another key factor in the building design. “We spend a lot of time ensuring our operations are as energy-efficient as possible, so our energy consumption is a big part of our structure,” said Harrison. “And it’s not just about cost – it’s about greenhouse gas emissions and how to do our part to ensure we’re providing services that are as green as can be.”

Putting its environmental considerations into practice, VersaCold made numerous adjustments to the facility, including changing all lighting from fluorescent to motion sensor LED, refitting all loading docks with airtight seals to lower heat gain and energy costs, and opting to use reclaimed waste heat from the refrigeration system, versus fuel or electricity, to prevent frost heave on floors.

The benefits don’t end there. Thanks to its record size, the building easily accommodates three of VersaCold’s five business lines, namely its Warehousing Operations, Transportation Management and Transportation Solutions teams. Having all three expert groups under one roof, according to Harrison, “allows for a high degree of synergy and efficiency among key elements of the business”, adding up to “highly coordinated customer service”. 

Achieving this supreme level of service was certainly a catalyst for establishing operations at 2701 High Point Drive. “We had a few customers formerly storing product in Montreal, multiple sites in the GTA, Winnipeg, even Calgary,” explained Dienesch. “This facility has allowed them to consolidate holdings into one area and reduce the number of shipments to their own retail customers, saving time and cost, and minimizing environmental impact – one customer said they’d taken 150 truckloads of product off the road.”


versacold sign 

Choosing a Milton-based facility is an advantage on its own, a decision VersaCold came to with the help of Dane Gilbert, Executive Vice President, Sales Representative with Colliers International Canada, who has a longstanding relationship with VersaCold. “Dane and his team provided us with market intelligence, helping us understand market conditions, what other industry players were doing and where they were locating, and the impact on our own strategies and location decisions,” said Harrison. “Once we decided on Milton and 2701 High Point Drive, Dane worked with the building owners and our legal, engineering and business teams to create a contractual relationship that made economic sense for all sides.”

VersaCold’s occupancy of 2701 High Point Drive represented the highest industrial lease transaction value ($88 million) and one of the largest lease transactions by square footage in the Greater Toronto Area for 2017.

According to Harrison, Milton is beneficial from a transportation and access perspective, with its close proximity to U.S. markets including New York and Michigan, as well as to the Toronto and Hamilton airports (an aspect particularly significant for products VersaCold is transporting via air freight and rail), and its established transportation infrastructure.

The town also boasts a deep talent pool, which VersaCold was able to tap into to fill key positions within its Milton facility. 

Locating in Milton and refitting 2701 High Point Drive was not an overnight process, to say the least. In fact, according to Harrison, he and his team of experts spent nine months in the planning stage alone. “We spent a lot of time with contractor and construction partners, and our own engineering team, who really looked at what we needed in our next building: They considered ceiling heights, racking configurations, material handing equipment requirements, how we use different parts of the building for different service elements. They also looked at how we could provide greater efficiencies in our operations and optimize the building itself from a cubic standpoint to ensure we’re meeting customers’ needs.”


versacold trucks 

The construction phase that followed involved customizing an existing building to make it “VersaCold-ready” – able to accommodate the very processes and equipment that make the company the best at what it does.  

“We’ve had to make a lot of upgrades,” explained Harrison. “We’ve changed the engineering systems, improved the boilers, along with other physical aspects of the building. We’ve torn down portions of the facility and rebuilt them. We’ve spent over a year in the construction phase.”

It was time very well-spent. The landmark facility is an industry benchmark for productivity, innovation and customer-centric design. 

“The layout is very efficient,” said Harrison. “Be it long-term storage, short-term flow-through, pick-pack operations or other value-add services such as assembling, labeling, aging and tempering product, we’re able to more effectively provide important services to our customers.”

VersaCold’s Milton facility can handle 51 million pounds of frozen meals annually, and approximately 30 inbound and 60 outbound loads per day. 

And the building will just keep getting better, with plenty of room to expand, further automate and implement enhanced processes. “We are planning five to ten years out,” said Dienesch. “We’re looking at customers’ future requirements and how they’re planning to grow – we’ll be their long-time partner in that we’ll help them develop and execute their business plan. Our Milton facility was never about a short-term solution; it’s about long-term partnership. And we can point to this building as an example of how we are able to promise customers a solution to both their business challenges and growth objectives, and deliver on that promise.”


versacold table 

As VersaCold looks forward, it has every reason to look back and be incredibly proud of the company’s journey the past few years. It is the mark of a great company to not only listen to customers’ needs, but build a strategy – not to mention Canada’s largest freezer facility by square footage – to fulfill them.

“I’m very proud of our organization,” said Harrison. “Every day is an opportunity to learn and improve; we have a great workforce that makes it happen for us and our customers day in and day out. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done in this building. We’ve had teams from all over the country come and help bring this building up. It’s the core of our culture – we’re a service company, and it all comes down to our more than 3,000 team members who put our culture into action and contribute to our success.”

“We look at ourselves as guardians of our customers’ brands,” said Dienesch. “Our customers entrust their products with us, and when they put food into a retail network or bring it into people’s homes, they can trust that when it’s gone through the VersaCold supply chain, it’s safe, high-quality and fresh. Our Milton facility helps us guarantee it.”

You may not contemplate much about how the food you savour every day makes its way to the grocery store and onto your table, safe and sound. However, you can rest assured VersaCold did its part in ensuring families across the country eat the freshest, highest-grade meals and treats, no matter how complex nor challenging the task. After all, Your food matters.