Forget the Brioni suit. Forget the wine collection, the Maserati and the second home in St. Tropez.
The latest status symbol in some parts of the developing world is a Washington State apple, a frozen steak in the freezer or some U.S. red cherries filling a bowl.
Chalk it up to a worldwide surge in industrial cold storage capacity, allowing more perishable food, particularly dairy and meat, to make its way from farm to people’s plates around the globe.
A recent Wall Street Journal story took note of the trend. The cold food chain, as it is known, is increasing in China, most of all, but also in India, Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Turkey, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“People are now expecting to go into the store and get high quality, safe products, and willing to pay a premium price in that grocery as opposed to open air markets,” said Richard Tracy, vice president of international programs for the Global Cold Chain Alliance, which represents temperature-controlled logistics companies.
Cold storage, in other words, is one of those indispensible cogs in the wheel of becoming upwardly mobile.
“Take Washington State apples. Those are exotic import items in many countries, and are highly valued for their. . .celebration of wealth,” Tracy said. “In many emerging markets, you are putting it on your table and saying, ‘Look at this.’”
That’s also good for U.S. agribusiness.
“More cold storage in China allows for more mass market imports from America,” said Jeremy Haft of SafeSource Trading, which exports pork, cherries and cattle hides to China.
Haft also authored a book about American exports to China called, “Unmade in China: The Hidden Truth about China’s Economic Miracle”
“Cold storage in China means that America can move beyond the crops to higher value products like pork. Smithfield slaughters their hogs here in the U.S. and ships them cold to China in six-piece carcasses. They are going over refrigerated. China’s increase in cold storage capacity allows those exports to happen.”
American consumers have been buying distantly-produced beef, pork and dairy for 150 years, ever since Gustavus Swift launched the ice-cooled railroad car in the 19th century, enabling the meatpacker to ship inexpensive beef to all corners of the United States. Philip Armour followed and the rest is history.
The cold chain essentially is a thread of cold storage capacity that starts right at the harvest location, whether it’s a slaughterhouse, garden or orchard. It enables uninterrupted refrigeration from there until you pick up the prime rib, frozen shrimp or those ripening peaches at the grocery store.
“All you do with maintaining the cold chain is you slow down that process,” Tracy said, referring to ripening.”By keeping it cool, it doesn’t spoil that fast.”
Thanks to Swift, Armour, refrigerated railroads, trucks and jets, the U.S. has by far the world’s most sophisticated cold chain.
“The U.S. consumes a lot more processed food and the need for the cold chain is there,” Tracy said.
Europe also has a highly developed cold chain. But poorer nations are now just catching up, and it;s why they tend to eat less meat and poultry; keeping that chicken alive until just before you buy it at the open market down the street is far more expensive than shipping them frozen by the thousands to grocery stores.
“Developing markets go to the market every day because of a lack of refrigerators in the home,” Tracy said. “One informal indicator of which countries are growing fast is the increase of home refrigeration. The uptick in home refrigeration means a greater demand for the cold chain because people can complete the cold chain.”
Tracy said many of his members invested in Chinese refrigeration infrastructure after they saw an uptick in refrigerator sales. China’s 1.35 billion people are eating more pork, poultry and proteins.
Others are catching up.
The Journal said Uzbekistan’s cold chain tripled between 2014 and 2016, while Mexico’s grew by a third. Turkey has one of the highest cold chain growth rates in the world, with an increase of 36 percent.
“Turkey is exploding with regards to the cold chain,” Tracy said.