Grocery-related, temperature-controlled freight can be tricky to execute on a full truckload from point A to point B. In a scheduled service network like less-than-truckload, it’s a carve out only a few have conquered. However, all parties — shippers, carriers 3PLs and receivers — are trying to cash in on the growing vertical.
The addition of organic and whole foods providers, craft and micro food companies, and locally sourced options means more stock-keeping units (SKUs) are hitting store shelves. That results in a higher number of smaller shipments, according to Curtis Garrett, senior vice president at FreightPlus and founder and chief creative at Understand LTL.
Not many LTL carriers have found success hauling freight with a finite shelf life.
“How the current groceryscape in the LTL market looks is that one to two carriers do it really well, four to five do it mediocrely and the rest won’t engage at all, opting to utilize their operational resources elsewhere,” Garrett said.
Garrett advises shippers to better package items headed to grocery distribution centers (DCs) and for consignees to adhere to the routing guidelines. He suggests better planning and consolidation of shipments is key, versus “living one order at a time.”
“If possible, configure the shipment to how the receiver needs the product stored with carton stacking and the site footprint in mind,” Garrett said. “This will reduce labor on the delivery end, which often results in either lumper services, causing more admin/billing work to all involved, or the LTL driver to handle freight, which is a costly use of time.”
He said carriers need clear communication and better informational gatekeeping when picking up tendered freight to keep it from having to be returned or rescued by another carrier. They should also work with the grocery DC to make sure spot trailers are available when possible.
With all of the tech in place — electronic bills of lading and application programming interface tenders — “a carrier should ideally not see the destination information multiple times before it’s communicated that they can’t service the consignee,” Garrett said. “Open communications and a smooth working relationship between that local LTL terminal and the DC will be the lynchpin to a successful grocery LTL experience.”
Grocery DCs need to understand how LTL operates and know that drivers often have another 10 to 20 stops on their route, meaning they can’t wait long periods for a delivery door to open. Garrett suggests more fast-access doors for LTL deliveries and for DCs to allow drop trailers and trailer pooling.
“DCs should have variances to fines for LTL moves, especially when the product is in a trailer, dropped on their lot, and the DC doesn’t have the labor to unload and take possession of it quickly enough,” he said. “That shouldn’t be a late delivery that falls on the shipper and/or carrier.”
He said 3PLs need better integrations to understand shipper, receiver and carrier constraints. Also, they should be able to tie in preferred carriers, optimal routing and tech-driven visibility with shippers, DCs, appointment portals, etc.
“Overall, it’s a fascinating LTL vertical,” Garrett said. “A huge challenge to improve, but there is a lot of low-hanging fruit around tendering of freight, tracking/visibility, the flow of money, the verification of product, and the time/labor spent in servicing this vertical.”
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