Meeting The Challenges Of Transporting Produce

Best practices are inexpensive to implement, yet result in greater efficiency throughout the supply chain.

As for improvements, experts say organizational transparency can go a long way. Ideally, the entire operation should be an open book, including a full explanation of all profits in place. Furthermore, the last six months of shipping information-by lane-should be readily available to assess opportunities as well as uncover new and different solutions. But as it stands, many organizations do not have sophisticated solutions that can extract knowledge from data.

Another weak point addressed by Floyd is that organizations are not well-rounded enough. Their systems may be good on one side because that's their true competency and what pays the bills from warehouse to store. But on the other side, getting a product from A to B, they might not have invested enough capital to upgrade their proficiencies.

Communication between customers is another area that must be strengthened, according to Floyd. There should be in place specific definitions on a customer basis of what is expected regarding delivery times.

"I'll ask a customer, ‘How do you define on time delivery?' They might say within 24 hours of the (expected) time. Another customer might define it plus or minus two hours, or plus or minus 30 minutes," he explains.

Inefficient Distribution Patterns

"Education begins with awareness," says Floyd. "Efficiency as it relates to fuel and local sourcing will be more in the forefront. Information should be readily available for our company to assess best methods of moving goods."

Terry Humfeld, vice president of volunteer leadership relations for PMA, sees LTL (less-than-trailer load) situations as a constant challenge. When drivers are being asked to visit three or four locations on the West Coast to get their trucks full before they start heading East, there is a significant amount of man hours wasted.

Taking produce as an example, the PMA task force suggested that the various category managers work together in creating visibility internally to consolidate loads throughout the operation. Having good software programs is the key to fulfilling this goal.

The "forward consolidation center" is a relatively new concept that is gaining popularity. With this system, full truck loads from California, for example, could be transported into a facility in Kansas City. Those loads are then cross-docked and sent off to their intended destinations. This is one way companies can alleviate inefficient distribution patterns.

Loading/Unloading Inefficiencies

Inefficiency problems in loading and un-loading come down to defects in process, notes Floyd of C.H. Robinson. This encompasses the time an order goes in, the lead time the order has, the metrics used in evaluation, and the necessity of having full visibility.

Understanding the appropriate lead times for each product and adhering to them is the goal. If you don't have the appropriate lead time but you set a truck in place and it arrives at the shipper's location, it might sit for five hours to wait for that product to be processed.

"Drivers are paid to drive and we need to keep them on the road," says Humfeld of PMA. "Fancy names like ‘dwell time' are sometimes used, but any time they are sitting in a parking lot it is wasted time."

Externally, experts suggest that there's a lack of understanding of real expenses in the supply chain. If a driver waits for three hours before the product can be unloaded, at a cost of $70 dollars per hour, that's $210 that someone in the supply chain must absorb. Not to mention the loss of the carrier who could have used those three hours elsewhere.

On the subject of rejected product, Humfeld says that "in most situations, it's not the driver's fault. There's no reason to unduly delay them on their way to the next assignment."

Unfortunately, this happens all too often.

"Coordinating with the field-to-market process is a major undertaking," explains Coonan of the Ryder Group. "Delay times at origin can be caused by weather and impact a grower's ability to get the produce harvested to meet orders. Produce trucks that are delayed at origin contribute to missing scheduling opportunities."

Proper Temperature

"We believe there are four steps to the safety of perishables: the product needs to be pre-cooled properly, the trailer needs to be pre-cooled properly, the trailer needs to be loaded properly and you need to maintain proper temperature during transit," says Elizabeth Darragh, director of supermarket and food strategic marketing for Sensitech Inc., a Beverly, MA-based provider of cold chain monitoring instruments, information and analysis.

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