Kenworth Hybrids Provide Fast Payback To Pioneering Organic Produce Distributor

Company's aerodynamic Kenworth T660s also delivers healthy fuel economy returns.

San Francisco: It's not every day you work with a distribution company as environmentally-focused as Veritable Vegetable. Not only do they distribute certified organic fresh fruits and vegetables, but they also maintain their commitment to sustainability in every part of their company, including their fleet of trucks. As the nation's oldest distributor of certified organic produce, Veritable Vegetable provides full service distribution to all of California and includes parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada.

With sales of $42 million a year, and annual growth rate of about 10 percent, the company works with close to 350 growers, while delivering the highest quality organic fresh fruits and vegetables to retailers, restaurants, schools, corporate campuses and wholesalers.

"VV believes that the best way to support farmers is by providing them with consistent distribution channels," says Tom Howard, Veritable Vegetable's transportation systems manager. "Back in 1974, VV took a burgeoning movement and put it into action. I think it's a testament to our owners that they had the vision and drive to develop a company that was simultaneously delivering healthy foods and also building opportunities for organic farmers throughout the region."

"Our transportation efforts are only one part of our environmental initiatives here at VV," says Bu Nygrens, one of three owners of the woman-owned company. "We want to maintain as small a carbon footprint as possible in every aspect of our work."

The Veritable Vegetable fleet consists of three modes of distribution. It has long-haul fleet tractors, many of which are aerodynamic Kenworth T660s, which distribute and backhaul produce to and from neighboring states. Its in-state tractors go down as far south as San Diego and as far north as the Oregon border, delivering produce and backhauling everything from bulk produce to micro-brews. "The name of the game is to keep our trailers full in both directions," says Howard.

The third arm of distribution is local deliveries within a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. The company uses a Kenworth T270 hybrid straight truck for the hilly confines of the Bay area, while three Kenworth T370 hybrid tractors make regional deliveries. The hybrids and T660s were purchased through NorCal Kenworth. The dealership will be delivering another T370 hybrid to Veritable Vegetable shortly.

While the Kenworth hybrids follow the Veritable Vegetable culture of reducing its carbon footprint, it's making a good economic case as well. The company received grant money for the hybrids through the California Hybrid Vehicle Incentive Program. The remaining premium difference is offset thanks to fuel improvement of 25 percent with its hybrid tractors and nearly 30 percent with its Kenworth T270 hybrid. "We run our straight trucks, on average, 50,000 miles a year and with fuel averaging about $4 per gallon, we're saving about $8,000 a year in fuel with the T270," says Howard. "That means the premium we paid is gone in two years. It will take longer on our Kenworth T370 hybrid tractors, since those average only 25,000 miles per year, but the payback is still very good."

Howard states Veritable Vegetable is also working hard to maximize fuel economy in its Class 8 trucks. "Our Kenworth T660s are averaging close to 7 mpg and we expect our new T660, with an SCR engine, to do better than that," he says. "Plus we're currently installing trailer side skirts on all our 48-foot trailers, which should give us around a 3 percent improvement in fuel economy. We're also in the process of adding hybrid reefer units for those trailers, which will help the environment while reducing our fuel consumption even more."

As Veritable Vegetable continues to grow, Howard said he and the company will keep an eye out for future developments that can save money while being environmentally conscious. "Natural gas vehicles in the long-haul segment could be the next big thing," he says. "If they build the infrastructure for fueling, we'll have our hand up with interest. And who knows, it might be sooner than we think. I look back to the early days of the food movement, and its roots in the Bay Area, and how it has grown into a national movement. Maybe the same will be said with alternative-fueled trucks."