On the Road

The 1,600-Mile Sandwich: an Ode to the Supply Chain

January 31, 2011

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Consider for a moment the logistics of getting a packaged but fresh deli-sandwich from Eden Prairie, Minn, to a roadside gas bar in the middle of the Arizona desert that's not even on most maps. It's a logistics triumph.


While in Las Vegas recently for Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week, I decided to extend my stay in the area and go "crop touring" as we call it back east. Except, there are no crops in Nevada to speak of, or southwestern Utah or northern Arizona for that matter -- just rocks. Which was perfect for my purpose: I needed a little road time and I have wanted -- for years -- to get up close and personal with some of the magnificent geology of the Southwest.

I started with a day at Zion Canyon in the Zion National Park in Utah, and well after dark, made my way down to Kanab, Utah. The next day, I followed U.S. Route 89 all the way from Kanab to Flagstaff, through the Kaibib National Forest and its 8,000-ft pass. It's amazing to pass through an arid scrub-brush desert valley before climbing some 5,000 feet to an entirely different landscape of towering pines and several feet of snow in less than an hour.

After you drop down off the pass to the valley floor continuing south and east, it's a couple of hours over to Marble Canyon and the site of the historic Navajo Bridge. It's the only crossing of the Colorado River in some 600 miles. And it's a great place to view the rare California Condor. I saw four birds that day, perched under the bridge no doubt savoring the moderate 60-degree temperatures.

From there, it was a couple of hours further to a little wayside called The Gap. Hardly a town, but it's on some maps. And it's very much in the middle of nowhere. Located somewhere between Bitter Creek and Tuba City -- there's an exaggeration -- The Gap is where I bought my 1,600-mile sandwich.

Feeling a little hungry after a day of desert driving, I figured I'd stop and grab a candy bar or something to tide me over until I got to Flagstaff. Inside, I found a cooler full of these fresh deli sandwiches from Deli-Express in Eden Prairie, Minn. The best-before date checked out, so I grabbed a ham and swiss on rye, and the darned thing was as fresh as the day it was made -- and that's what has me wondering.

Google Maps makes it 1,546 miles from Eden Prairie to Flagstaff, which is a minimum two-and-a-half-day drive. Give it a day or so in a distribution center in Flagstaff before getting delivered to the store at The Gap, and that means my sandwich had to have been in transit for at least three days.

The sandwich maker, Deli-Express by the E.A. Sween Co., notes on its website that it uses a sophisticated packaging process called MAP, or Modified Atmosphere Packaging. I figure that's just a few drops of liquid nitrogen squirted into the package at something like minus 290 degrees just before it's sealed up.

The nitrogen expands as it boils off, displacing the "air" in the package, which contains about 20 percent oxygen. It's oxygen that causes bread to go stale if you leave it on the kitchen counter top for a day. After at least three days in transit, my ham 'n swiss was perfectly edible.

From Eden Prairie, no point in the U.S. would be any farther than three days distant, meaning they can deliver "fresh" sandwiches to market practically anywhere in the lower 48 states.

It's certainly a well conceived distribution model, and the MAP process keeps the product fresh long enough to keep customers coming back. It works for the time being, but the company may have to rethink the process after the new HOS and EOBR rules kick in -- or use more nitrogen.


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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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