Call it a hunger for fast, convenient food: the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry in the U.S. is projected to surpass $223 billion in the next two years. Part of that success is driven — in most cases, quite literally — by robust logistical networks that tie far-flung franchises to their distributors through ever-evolving methods.

With large chains like Wendy's and Chipotle touting their fresh, never-frozen fare, cold chain technology and accountability are more important than ever. Freezers are no longer a one-size-fits-all solution.

Logistics has had to widen its "menu" the same way their food and beverage clients have as consumer demands for innovation have increased.

Where is my lunch?

The threat of PR disaster lurks in every box, bag, or container of perishable food, so it's absolutely crucial for QSRs to know the provenance of their shipments at a glance. That's where RFID technology, those little passive tags revolutionizing warehousing, come in very handy.

As food- and beverage-containing products pass through the distributor's hands and into the transportation aspect of the supply chain, clients can track the whereabouts, the estimated arrival time, and in some cases even the holding temperature of a given pallet as it makes its way to each individual location or franchise.

This technology not only minimizes the amount of time a shipment spends out of cold holding for load up and load out, it also flags potential food safety issues waiting to happen.

Fresh, fast, and financially rewarding

QSR establishments have seized on the concept of a spotlight ingredient determining seasonal menus. One only needs to take a glance at the sudden popularity of items like avocado, specialty bacon, or blackberries to see the trends.

Because QSR chains tend to follow suit after one another, it becomes a race to see who can serve up the freshest, most consistent supply of these ingredients — which, not coincidentally, tend to be extremely finicky to transport.

A steady temperature, careful handling, and cushioning during transport are vital to preserving these foods' desirable characteristics. This phenomena places equal emphasis on logistics service providers and QSR counter employees when it comes to serving up the best food products to customers.

Where supply chains were once tasked with simply moving boxes and cartons from point A to point B, they are now an indelible part of the extended food preparation process. Predictably, the providers that are ready and willing to step into that role are getting the biggest slice of the demand pie.

The price war angle

Beyond the freshness and integrity of food, there's also the never-ending appetite for volume to contend with. With most of the major QSR players touting some form of low-cost, multi-item combination, it's more important than ever for QSRs to have complete, timely shipments.

If a restaurant in question is selling 4-for-$4 combinations hand over fist, running out of even one of those components can tank sales and damage brand perception.

Likewise, with those "specialty" ingredients — if a premium (read: comparatively expensive) sandwich or salad relies on that ingredient as its spotlight inclusion, serving it without that ingredient in place isn't an option. Partial shipments won't cut the proverbial mustard, so supply chains find themselves needing to buckle down and embrace an all-or-nothing style philosophy.

With a wealth of important changes in play, 3PLs and supply chain partners need to stay attentive to the needs of QSRs if they operate in the food and beverage sphere.

Consumer demand cycles are growing aggressive and rapid, largely driven by social media, advertising, and innovation behind the QSR counter, and the logistics providers that can't keep up will find themselves eating dust, rather than healthy profits.