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Chilled Supply Chains

While most supply chains operate on the assumption that if the freight is frozen, something has gone terribly awry. However, some goods need to be kept on ice in order to maintain freshness and comply with food safety regulations.  

Much the same as any other supply chain, however, cold and frozen supply chains are also subject to the laws of demand. For example, there are roughly 2.5 billion pounds of beef stockpiled in U.S. cold storage facilities as a result of trade regulations and tariffs set forth by the Trump administration.  

Here are some interesting cold storage stats provided by Quartz 

49 million: Pounds of butter in US cold storage in July 1918 

310 million: Pounds of butter in cold storage in July 2018 

3.6 billion: Cubic feet of cold storage space in the United States 

36 million: Temperature-controlled square feet at 2800 Polar Way in Richmond, Washington, the largest cold storage warehouse in North America 

$28 billion: The projected value of China’s cold chain market in 2025 

25%: The growth rate of India’s cold chain industry 

$24 million: The cost of two refrigerators for Air Force One, which must carry 3000 meals in case of an emergency. 

A Brief History of Cold Supply Chains 

Refrigeration was brought about in the United States in the late 1800s. Originally it was thought that warehouse owners were using cold storage to scam consumers by stockpiling fruits in order to control pricing. However, that notion was quickly set to the side and by the mid-20th century, refrigerated transportation had changed the nature of the supply chain and access to proteins and rarer produce to the average consumer.

As the middle class continues to grow in developing countries, the demand for reefer transport is rising.

Refrigerated shipping containers, “reefer units” were originally invented in the 1950’s and are still used to haul approximately 90 percent of the world’s food trade. As the middle class continues to grow in developing countries, the demand for reefer transport is rising. Anything from food to pharmaceuticals relies on reefer units as these goods make their way around the world.   

How a Cold Chain Works 

There are a number of different goods that utilize chilled transport: meats, produce, flowers, pharmaceuticals, even transplant organs. While the exact practice varies from product to product the general practice remains the same. Quartz details the step by step for produce.    

  • The first step is pre-cooling: Getting the harvest from the field to on-site cold storage. A one-hour delay in hot weather means one day less of shelf life at the store. There are a lot of methods, from the simple (shade, spraying water) to the sophisticated (vacuum cooling). 
  • Then it’s into the reefer. An automated system can fill a truck in 10–15 minutes. 
  • Next, it moves to a cold storage facility, which is just a giant warehouse with lots of metal shelves. Here’s what an automated one looks like. 
  • After that, it’s back to the reefer and to the store, where fresh fruit and vegetables are taking up an increasing amount of space. 
  • Finally, it’s moved out to the display case, where fresh-cut produce has to be maintained between 32℉ and 41℉, a tricky physics problem. 

Of course, with more stringent requirements from the FDA, containers have to get smarter as well as the supply chain. One such adaptation is reefer containers that can monitor temperature data in real time. This allows suppliers to monitor and prove that their produce or other temperature sensitive goods have been within acceptable thresholds for the duration of the trip.   

Blockchain is expected to play a big role in the future for preventing expired or mishandled food from reaching customers.

Another advancement links that container to data systems, specifically blockchain data, which provides a more or less permanent snapshot into the entire life cycle of the product. There are a number of major players in the food industry including Walmart and Nestle that have had a bad rap for bad food. Blockchain is expected to play a big role in the future for preventing expired or mishandled food from reaching customers. “You’re capturing real-time data at every point, on every single food product,” says Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart, which leads the effort. “It’s the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” 

One of the biggest advantages to using blockchain for food item supply chains is that the data can’t be faked, changed, or altered. Once the data is in, it’s in for good since blockchain databases work peer to peer instead of being housed on a single server. Additionally, because of the shared nature of the data, it can actually help to cut down on operation costs, by eliminating the need for data silos and processing.  Should a food issue arise, the process of tracking down not only the spoiled goods, but the location and other goods that might have been contaminated from the same source can be tracked down in minutes, rather than weeks, which helps protect not only the consumers but the retailer selling the products.  

How Can I Simplify My Freight Needs? 

This is just one example of the diverse nature of the supply chain and highlights the need for agility, visibility, and flexibility to make it all work. At BlueGrace, we help our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we can help simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today! 

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Tight Capacity Ahead

It’s a good time to be a carrier. With markets running hot, carriers have ample opportunities to pick up freight and can be choosy about which ones they take. From the most profitable lanes to the highest price loads, carriers have been running the game and raking in some serious revenue, as much as high single or double-digit percentages. According to the latest earning reports from FTL carriers, shippers haven’t secured peak season capacity on notice. As it stands, there is no indication of freight demand slowing or contractual truck capacity lightening up any time soon. As a result, many carriers are noticing a markedly improved performance from that over previous years.

Reinvesting in the Fleet Can Have Downsides 

Given the fact that many carriers are increasing their profits, they’re looking to reinvest in their company, replacing older trucks with newer, more efficient models. According to the Journal of Commerce, one such company, Covenant Transport, brought on 400 new trucks, while getting rid of 465. In total, the company plans on bringing in 880 new trucks while removing 940 aged trucks from the fleet.“Covenant’s truckload revenue increased by $16.1 million year-over-year in the quarter, a 17.4 percent gain attributed to a 14.2 percent increase in average freight revenue per truck. The carrier increased that revenue with fewer team drivers, fewer average team miles per truck, and an increase in the number of trucks that lacked drivers — 5.2 percent of its fleet,” says the JOC.  

While more revenue is being generated from shippers being willing to pay for capacity, the overall capacity is being diminished.

The problem here is twofold. While more revenue is being generated from shippers being willing to pay for capacity, the overall capacity is being diminished. Conversely, the driver shortage is beginning to exacerbate the problem considerably. “From a capacity perspective, attracting and retaining highly qualified, over the road professional truck drivers remains our largest challenge,” Richard B. Cribbs, executive vice president, and chief financial officer, said in a statement Wednesday. “Low unemployment, alternative careers, and an aging driver population are creating an increasingly competitive environment.” Which means in order to fix the current problem, carriers are going to have to do something to draw in some fresh blood to take up the wheel and keep freight moving.  

Raising the Pay Grade 

So how much is enough of a pay incentive to bring in younger drivers? According to DCVelocity, the pay is going to have to increase to about $75,000 annually if there’s any hope of not only attracting but keeping qualified drivers on the roster for the long haul. Typically speaking, drivers get paid by the mile. However, when you factor in delays for shipping and receiving (miles not being driven) a lot of drivers are having a hard time making a solid living from hauling freight.  

“As of May 2017, the median truckload driver wage was slightly more than $42,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10 percent of earners pulled down more than $64,000, according to BLS data. Since then, an increasing number of fleets have substantially increased driver wages. Many salaries have risen by double-digit amounts during the past year or so,” according to the DCVelocity Team 

A Continuing Problem  

According to Driver iQ, a company that produces background screening products and other services for the trucking industry, larger fleets are having a harder time keeping personnel than smaller companies.  “While about two-thirds of recruiters at larger companies said their drivers were retiring at their expected times, about the same percentage of executives at smaller carriers indicated their drivers were staying longer,” according to the survey.  

As for shippers, capacity is already tight, and it’s only going to get tighter as the driver shortage continues.  

In their second-quarter forecast on driver recruitment and retention trends, Driver iQ predicted that approximately 45 percent of fleet recruiters are expecting a rise in driver turnover rates, even more so than the already high levels from the previous quarter. The turnover ratio is double what it was in the fourth quarter of 2017, meaning trucking companies are steadily losing more drivers. While carriers are making out well now given that they can cherry-pick freight due to the high demand, losing more of their driving force is going to put them in a tight spot down the road. As for shippers, capacity is already tight, and it’s only going to get tighter as the driver shortage continues.  

Strengthen Your Supply Chain

BlueGrace partners with an extensive list of carriers, providing you with the resources needed to ease the affects of the tight capacity crunch.  If you would like more information on how BlueGrace can help simplify your supply chain and reduce transportation costs, fill out the form below or contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING to speak to one of our freight experts today!

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Rising Concern Over Trucking Shortage and Tariffs

The potential trade war has been sparking considerable concern within the freight and logistics sector. With sanctioned countries threatening and even enacting their own forms of punitive retribution, many are wondering what the overall effects of the tariffs and trade restrictions will be on the industry as a whole.

The growing shortage in the trucking industry is also becoming a more significant problem.

Tariffs aren’t the only problem, however. The growing shortage in the trucking industry is also becoming a more significant problem. As a large portion of the trucking community is approaching retirement age, trucking companies are scrambling to find new bodies to take up the wheel. Despite these issues, the economy is enjoying a period of solid growth for the start of the third quarter, but according to a series of surveys conducted by the government, we might be looking at a hard cap on performance in the future.

“Responses from the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book and data from regional business surveys continue to point to an economy that is growing at a healthy pace, as a pickup in consumer spending and continued strength in business investment have sustained activity in the 2nd quarter. However, a, look at the details within the surveys suggest that demand in the economy is actually stronger, and the inability to find carriers to move the available freight has led to production delays and unfilled orders,” says FreightWaves.

Same Report from Around the Country 

The upshot is that the Beige Book shows a continual, albeit modest, growth in the economy across the country. However, there are a number of regional business centers that have concerns about the new tariffs and the trucking shortage. The surveys highlight that each of the 12 major business districts is seeing higher levels of consumer spending through June and early July. This has created a talent shortage, leaving many companies scrambling to find qualified workers to fill the required positions to sustain the growth.  

Among the top tariff concerns is the potential for escalation into an all-out trade war with China. The announcement of the tariffs and China’s response to them have increased the pressure for manufacturers over the past several weeks which are cutting into profit margins as companies have yet to start passing the bill to their customers. “Respondents in each district called attention to the tariffs, with one respondent from the Philadelphia district noting ‘that the effects of the steel tariffs have been chaotic to its supply chain—disrupting planned orders, increasing prices, and prompting some panic buying.’ Several districts noted that the tariffs had not had a material effect on demand or business activity, however, with respondents from Boston citing ‘concerns about tariffs but none cited trade issues as affecting demand or hiring and capital expenditure plans,’ FreightWaves explains.  

The Effect of Capacity on Performance  

Half of the Federal Reserve districts have cited the shortage of trucking capacity. Specifically, the shortage of commercial drivers has caused a disruption in supply chains and business in the past few weeks.  

Given how connected the supply chain is to all aspects of the commercial industry, the driver shortage is causing a cascade effect for a number of businesses.

Given how connected the supply chain is to all aspects of the commercial industry, the driver shortage is causing a cascade effect for a number of businesses. The Boston retail sector, for example, notes that due to their own labor shortages combined with higher freight costs caused a 10 percent increase in labor costs compared to the rates over the same time last year. “Results from all three districts also showed that manufacturers continue to struggle to fill orders in the sector. Data from the regional indexes showed that unfilled orders were rising in all three districts, with the Philadelphia district reporting almost a 14-point jump. This continues the recent trend of rising order backlogs and orders that cannot be processed and would suggest that growth in the economy would be even stronger if only companies could find the workers, supplies, and capacity to meet all of the existing demand,” FreightWaves concludes.  

Demand for freight is high, and the economy is continuing to grow which means a potential opportunity for the industry as a whole, so long as the can overcome the challenges ahead.  

Many firms in the trucking industry are looking for ways to help mitigate the hardships brought about by the driver shortage including higher wages for drivers. Until they can better tap into the younger generations for new drivers, the driver shortage will continue to grow as more drivers reach retirement age. As for the tariffs and the potential for a trade war with China, the best option is for manufacturers to begin sourcing other suppliers for materials or decide how best to negate the increased costs. While this all seems rather dire, there is a considerable upside to this. Demand for freight is high, and the economy is continuing to grow which means a potential opportunity for the industry as a whole, so long as it can overcome the challenges ahead.  

Preparing For Upcoming Challenges

BlueGrace helps our customers navigate through the constant changes the industry brings. No matter the situation, we are here to simplify your freight needs. If you have any questions about how a 3PL like BlueGrace can assist, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to speak with a representative today!

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