By Kathy Bergren Smith
Photography Courtesy of MTC
In the late 1920s, thanks to technological advances in refrigeration, Americans began to savor the convenience of frozen foods. Clarence Birdseye introduced flash freezing, and fruits, vegetables, meats and fish became available year-round. In Baltimore, Harry Hoffberger and his brothers were busy with their family startup, delivering ice and coal to families in the city. As frozen foods became more common, the family created Merchants Terminal Corporation and began storing and delivering products to local merchants as well. The original terminal was an 11-story building equipped with three elevators and multiple cooling lockers.
In the middle of the 20th century, Merchants evolved into a logistics provider. Palletization and containerization resulted in more products for transport, requiring further innovation by the family. Merchants remained on the cutting edge of new refrigeration technologies and built one of the nation’s first large single-story refrigerated warehouse facilities. The company served the new “super” markets that were springing up, such as Giant Foods, and their providers, including General Foods.
Today, Harry Hoffberger’s great-grandson, Harry Halpert, serves as chairman of the company, now known as MTC Logistics. He represents the fifth generation to serve this company and community. As MTC Logistics prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary this year, much has changed in cold storage and the cold chain. However, the business has kept on the cutting edge and grown to be one of the country’s top cold storage and logistics providers.
MTC Logistics operates three facilities. Jessup, Md., is a hub for food service suppliers off the East Coast’s major north-south artery, Interstate 95. Here, MTC Logistics handles products both inbound and outbound, working with companies serving Washington, DC and southern Maryland. The Wilmington, Del. facility serves the ports of Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia. MTC Logistics’ headquarters is a sprawling distribution center adjacent to Seagirt Marine Terminal in the Port of Baltimore. Together, these warehouses have a staggering 25.2 million cubic feet of capacity.
“The Port of Baltimore is very important to us,” said Brooks Royster, President of MTC Logistics. “Roughly 65% of our business is international. We import seafood, pork and frozen fruits and vegetables from around the world and have a robust export market consisting mainly of poultry going worldwide.”
Cold-chain management, keeping a product at its proper temperature as it moves from its source location, is warehoused and then ultimately delivered to a customer or an ocean carrier, is a complex chain to maintain. Compromise along the chain can be dangerous and is not tolerated.
“We are dealing with food that is going to be on people’s dining room tables, so we take security of these products very seriously,” said Royster. “The product must never be allowed out of its specified safe temperature range while in our custody.”
To maintain these strict standards, MTC Logistics has employed technology and a workforce of more than 100 well-trained individuals. With millions of pounds of products to keep track of at any given moment, MTC Logistics utilizes a real-time sophisticated warehouse management system. The company’s proprietary web portal and data warehouse, MVision®, allows customers a window into the chain for their convenience and instant access from the MTC Logistics side should the need arise.
“We stage mock recalls regularly,” said Royster. “This trains our employees and tests our ability to track products and stop them from making their way to the consumer if need be.”
MTC Logistics maintains internally developed best-of-kind practices, but they are audited and certified by the British Retail Consortium to the Global Food Service Initiative standard. This global standard requires outside auditing for certification, and the standards are reviewed weekly by staff.
So, how cold is cold enough to meet these requirements? Ernie Ferguson, VP of Sales, a 15-year veteran of MTC Logistics and developer of the company’s trucking branch, MLogistics®, said there are three storage options. “Refrigerated” storage is 34-36 degrees Fahrenheit, “frozen” is a base of -18 degrees Celsius or 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and “ultra-low temperature” (ULT) maintains -70 degrees Fahrenheit or -60 degrees Celsius.
“We are developing the ULT market currently,” said Ferguson. Sushi-grade tuna, some pharmaceutical products and yogurt cultures must be maintained in this environment, according to Ferguson. “Workers must don special protective gear to work in the ultra-cold area and, even then, they can only be in that temperature for seven minutes.”
To maintain these temperatures, MTC Logistics leverages a suite of energy-management measures. The Baltimore distribution center has more than 128,000 square feet of solar panels on the rooftop, which generate approximately two megawatts of energy annually, allowing the warehouse to go totally off the PJM grid on a cool, sunny day. There is also a monitoring system that allows the company to reduce usage at peak times. Energy futures are another tool that MTC employs to control energy costs.
For nine decades, MTC Logistics has remained true to its roots as a customer-centric innovator in the cold chain, providing quality service and needed logistical support to its customers.
MTC Logistics At A Glance
Chairman: Harry Halpert
Employees: More than 100