The transportation of fresh produce and other perishables continues to evolve in the face of new challenges as well as emerging opportunities. Here are three ways that supply chain professionals can rethink produce transportation:
Rethinking Urban Delivery
Making commercial deliveries in cities has long been a challenge, and the rise of e-commerce and home delivery is exasperating the problem for many cities. Truck drivers can find themselves forced to park illegally or dangerously in order to get products to their destination. A new University of Washington research center is looking to identify and test high impact, low cost solutions to the problem.
UW’s Urban Freight Lab is a collaborative initiative including the City of Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and business to better understand and address the “final 50 feet” of deliveries. Initial corporate participants include Costco, UPS and Nordstrom. The project is still in the data collection stage as graduate students map the existing infrastructure, including private docks and curb availability. Eventually the team intends to develop an “Urban Freight Score” (similar in concept to Walk Score used to assess walkability) for various locations in the city. The group intends to trial potential solutions on the streets of Seattle. Possible approaches include centralized drop-off lockers, as well as better management of curb space and docks. Approaches that can reduce loading or unloading time also may prove to be helpful. For example, small footprint pallets for deliveries into small format retailers or more stable unit loads can also help promote efficient deliveries.
Rethinking Best Practices and Collaboration
The importance of industry collaboration in produce transportation has been underscored by such efforts as the best practices published by the North American Produce Transportation Working Group (NAPTWG). The initiative includes downloadable checklists for shippers, receivers and carriers. The lists itemize a number of basic best practices such as trailer inspection and pre-cooling prior to loading, verification of load seal numbers, and the reading of load temperature recorders before unloading.
One fresh example of collaboration aimed at enhancing produce transportation is the new ocean-to-air trans-shipment hub at Miami International Airport (MIA). Already the busiest port of entry in America for international air freight, MIA soon will also receive freight by sea. Perishables arriving at PortMiami or Port Everglades from Latin America will be transported to MIA, where they will be shipped by air to destinations in Europe and Asia. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has granted first-ever approval for expedited processing of these ocean shipments to increase the efficiency of hub operations.
Improved technologies are enabling sea trade to play an important role in produce transportation. The latest reefer technologies on sea containers control not only temperature but other environmental factors critical to product quality such as humidity and atmospheric oxygen content. These features allow sea containers to successfully hold produce for longer periods, thus making ocean freight an increasingly attractive alternative to air freight in some applications.
Case in point, Seatrade, the world's largest specialized reefer carrier, recently announced that it has expanded its reefer container fleet with the addition of 4,000 new Star Cool Integrated reefers from Maersk Container Industry, equipped with the latest technology to protect perishable cargo during long-distance transportation while keeping energy consumption at a minimum. A portion of the containers will be manufactured at the Maersk facility in Chile, in anticipation of the upcoming Chilean fruit season.
Other technologies promote effective temperature compliance and product protection during transport. For example, CHEP-TRAC recently released a new pallet label that can be interrogated with a handheld reader by the receiver to determine if each pallet has remained within the acceptable temperature range programmed by the shipper. This is a more granular approach than the common practice of a single temperature recorder capturing the average temperature for an entire trailer, a tactic that can fail to identify specific pallets which may have fallen out of temperature range in transit, and which as a result may have a reduced shelf life.
When it comes to technology, also consider the design of RPCs, which facilitate better ventilation during the journey while offering superior product protection, thus contributing to the extended shelf life of perishables and a reduction of food waste.
New technologies, collaborative best practices and fresh approaches to challenges such as urban delivery are giving supply chain professionals pause to rethink produce transportation. Anticipate more changes in the near future as opportunities such as Big Data and the Internet of Things begin to increasingly make their presence felt in supply chains.