Last winter’s mild temperatures and low snowfall totals most likely left distributors with a surplus of ice melt  in their warehouses.

“I feel it’s very safe to say that the majority of distributors exited the season with higher inventory levels than they either would have planned for, or preferred to have,” says Bob Harper, business director of consumer/industrial deicing at North American Salt in Overland Park, Kan.

But, distributors’ leftover ice melt stock from last year’s mild winter may not be as large as they expect. Shifting the product around the warehouse may have damaged packaging; even worse, if ice melt wasn’t stored properly, it could be ruined.  

“In a wild winter where people are going through product really quickly, they are less sensitive to the best quality packaging,” says Jackie Van Norden, product line manager for food processing and packaged deicing at Cargill Salt in Minneapolis.

However, in the case of this past season, product made in summer 2011 is now nearly a year old, and since many ice melt products are hygroscopic (attract moisture), quality can be an issue if products are not stored properly. Broken or poor quality bags introduce moisture, and cause clumping and caking, says Heather Stadler, product marketing specialist with Occidental Chemical Corp. (OxyChem) in Ludington, Mich.

“I think what happens in a lot of cases, is not an issue with the product itself, but how much room distributors have to store product,” says Mary Kay Warner, marketing manager with International Salt in Clarks Summit, Pa.

Limited storage, Warner adds, is one of the bigger issues seen in the industry today. This is a concern when seasonal items must be shifted around multiple times a year, to make room for the current products in demand.

When bringing the old ice melt out of storage, distributors should handle the product with care to avoid damaging the packaging and its contents.

Whether stored in double bags, plastic jugs or entire pallets shrink-wrapped, manufacturers are doing their best to ensure long-lasting quality of their products. They work with the distributor to help find the best individual storage solutions for de-icing products.  

When it comes to location, Stadler says that storing products in warehouses is “always more favorable than in the outside elements. However, it is not necessary.”

If ice melt is stored indoors, it should be kept in a climate-controlled environment, or protected in some way from extreme temperature changes. When it must be kept outdoors, the bags should be placed under a tarp and on a dry surface.

“We recommend to our customers some kind of paved surface, not bare ground or gravel where moisture can seep up,” says Harper.

Ice melt typically has a two-year shelf life if stored properly. Moisture is the biggest culprit in damaging these products. Excellent drainage is key to keeping ice melt dry; distributors do not want water pooling underneath the pallets.

It is important for distributors to follow manufacturer storage recommendations because the end user will know if a product isn’t up to quality standards. One bad experience negatively impacts an ice melt brand and a distributor’s reputation with customers, says Van Norden.

The outside appearance of the packaging also makes an impression. Many consumers may assume that if it’s a nicer bag without rips and tears, then there’s a better quality product inside, says Van Norden.

Jennifer Bradley is a freelancer based in East Troy, Wis.