Best Practices for Shipping Food — Tips from Carlo’s Bakery
It’s tough enough to ship food items. When you’re part of a popular TV program, there’s even more pressure to do everything just right. Carlo’s Bakery, seen on the TLC series Cake Boss, launched its ecommerce site in November 2011, to complement its growing and extremely popular retail locations.
“Through a combination of technology and rigorous testing, our ecommerce business has grown consistently,” says John Carson, IT Manager of Carlo’s Bakery.
In fact, “our ecommerce store kept us afloat and able to pay employees during Hurricane Sandy, in October 2012,” says Carson. “We brought in generators for our Lackawanna facility and fulfilled ecommerce orders while the retail stores were closed for almost two weeks.”
Carlo’s Bakery uses Magento as its ecommerce platform to sell food items online, and ShipStation to help with shipping.
“We chose Magento because of its power and versatility,” says Carson. “Its open-source capability has led to a large community that utilizes Magento and creates add-ons and modules that we’ve been able to incorporate into our system.”
Magento allows the company to create shipping rules and ShipStation takes this even further.
“The ShipStation feature that has saved us the most time and money is tagging,” notes Carson. “We use 10 tags and 15 filters to organize our orders properly.”
Specific tags include:
- A filter to identify shipping method – overnight or 2-day
- A filter to determine if a product ordered requires dry ice, since this requires a specific dry ice label. FedEx requires that companies identify any box with dry ice for handling purposes.
- A filter identifying that certain products need to be split into individual boxes and labels
- A filter for bakeware products – these are fulfilled at another company, but Carlo’s Bakery needs to track the orders in its system
- A filter to determine type of shipping based on geography
Carlo’s Bakery does extensive shipping testing on every product before offering it for online ordering.
“One of the most important lessons we learned,” says Carson, “is to test a package by sending it to the furthest distribution facility and asking them to send it back. Not only are you then able to check the condition of the food, but you can see if there are areas of your packaging that need to be reinforced, due to the extensive handling involved.”
The company won’t launch a product online if it’s not 100% sure to get to the customer intact.
“We’ve been testing the shipping of specialty cakes for almost a year and a half,” notes Carson. “It’s especially difficult to ship cakes with items that stand up off a flat cake – such as sugar flowers and gum paste flowers.”
Once an item is approved for online ordering, the company has a specific fulfillment process in place for each product:
- Top-selling lobster tails and cannolis are sent in parts (shells and filling), and include instructions on how to put them together. The filling is placed in a piping bag and is frozen. The items are placed in separate small boxes, shrink-wrapped, and then placed in a branded Carlo’s Bakery box with dry ice, which goes into a shipping box, and sent overnight for next-day delivery.
- Pound cakes are shipped frozen, with dry ice, overnight, and thaw out upon delivery.
- Anything that can be stored at ambient temperature (such as the crumb cakes and pastries that can be stored on a counter top) is baked in the morning and cooled in the afternoon. Powdered sugar is added to the crumb cake, and the crumb cake and the other ambient products are put in microwave-safe cardboard containers, which are then shrink-wrapped, put in a branded Carlo’s Bakery box, then in a shipping box, and sent overnight or 2-day delivery. “We found that the ambient items are re-frozen when they are shipped via airplane,” says Carson. “Just a few seconds in the microwave makes them taste great.” The company includes instructions in the box for re-heating and offers support through the website for questions.
Shipping Charges and TimingCurrently, Carlo’s Bakery ships items within the continental United States. As the company ships food either overnight or 2-day, shipping carrier charges can get expensive. The company passes on its negotiated, zip-code specific FedEx rates to customers.
The company’s ecommerce sales jump when they offer discounts off total shopping cart prices, or on a specific product.
Even with all of the testing, problems occasionally occur. “Acts of God,” such as hurricanes, can’t be helped, but if planes get delayed or other problems prevent an important item getting to an event on time, the company will offer discounts on future orders and/or money back.
Final Thoughts for Other Ecommerce Companies
“The best advice I can give to online food sellers is to test, test, and test again, the shipping of your food,” says Carson. “It’ll make or break the success of your online food business.”