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Hunger Pains from Trucker Shortage

The ongoing driver shortage is nothing new in the U.S. freight industry. As more and more drivers approach the age of retirement, younger generations are less inclined to take up truck driving as a profession. As the driver shortage increases, so too does the cost of freight which is putting the squeeze on a number of industries.

One of the biggest industries to be hit by the shortage? Food, perhaps the most important of all consumer items. Everything from restaurants and fast food chains, to grocery stores and even wineries, are going to start feeling the pain of the higher transportation costs.

Shortage By the Numbers 

According to statistics from the American Trucking Associates, 2017 saw one of the most significant driver shortages in history, approximately 50,000 drivers. That number could continue to grow to 174,000 unfilled positions by 2026.  

It’s not just shippers that are being hit with the higher costs.

“In addition to the sheer lack of drivers, fleets are also suffering from a lack of qualified drivers, which amplifies the effects of the shortage on carriers,” ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said. “This means that even as the shortage numbers fluctuate, it remains a serious concern for our industry, for the supply chain and for the economy at large.” Cass Information Systems shows that U.S. trucking and rail freight spending have increased by 17 percent over May this year, versus last year, and that figure continues to grow. And it’s not just shippers that are being hit with the higher costs. Shippers, Carriers, and brokers alike all expect trucking costs to increase by about 6.4 percent this year according to a poll conducted by Morgan Stanley.  

Shortage Hits the Shelves

Consumer packaged goods companies, agricultural consortiums, and vintners are already feeling the pressure of the shortage. Kellogg Co. has commented that freight is causing its most “acute cost pressures”. Restaurants are starting to feel the issue, but it’s their suppliers that are being hit the hardest. Tyson Foods’ CEO notes that higher freight costs have had a net impact of approximately 14 cents per share. “While we were climbing the hill, the grade steepened and now we are estimating the full-year impact to be roughly $250 million,” Tyson Foods’ CEO Thomas Hayes said, adding that the company “cannot subsidize the increased freight.” Given how closely most restaurants work with Tyson Foods, that price increase will more than likely be passed on to the consumers who frequent such restaurants.  

The industry is struggling to get good, qualified drivers.

“It is a crisis and there has been a perfect storm of consequences that has led us to where we are now. The industry is struggling to get good, qualified drivers. The industry only appeals to half the workforce to start – women account for only about 6% of drivers. Recently, the economy has picked up, so demand is higher than it’s been in a decade and that adds pressure on the supply side. And we have a regulation where 21 is the age limit to drive, but by the time someone turns 21, they’re likely involved in some other profession,” Jim Murabito, executive VP of supply chain at Michigan-based Hungry Howie’s Pizza, said he sees the freight-cost issue getting worse before it gets better. Murabito goes on to say that they’ve been seeing somewhere between a 10 to 20 percent increase from all of their suppliers over this course of this year to help cover the higher freight costs.   

“These are suppliers who haven’t had increases in three or four years. That underscores the issue this year,” he said. “There are some lanes that are seeing increases of 50 to 100%. (For example) We get supplies from Minnesota and there aren’t a lot of goods that come out of Minnesota so people don’t send their trucks there.” 

Added Complications  

In addition to the increase in freight costs, there’s also the increase in lead times for deliveries. The Electronic Logging Device mandate and the Hours of Service ruling are putting a hurt on a number of businesses, especially agricultural which has a more time sensitive delivery schedule than most companies. “Nationally, what used to take two days is now going to have two-and-a-half to three days to move product from one end of the country to the other,” Yvonne Sams, director of logistics at G3 Enterprises said. 

The logistics industry as a whole is going to have to buckle down to find a solution.

With some major companies like Walmart and Target tightening the delivery window, shippers and carriers are having to become significantly more coordinated if they want to avoid the sting of chargebacks and penalties accrued by late or incomplete deliveries. As the driver shortage continues, the logistics industry as a whole is going to have to buckle down to find a solution. There’s a long road ahead of us, and it will likely get worse before it gets better.

How Can Your Business Adapt? 

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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Landed Cost & Vendor Compliance

Many shippers think that knowing freight cost as a percentage of goods is enough for decision making. While this may be a good jump off point, this measure does not take into account the details associated with a specific vendor or a specific product. This leaves them in the dark about how much money shipments are actually costing them, and whether or not those shipments are actually worth the cost of doing business.

In order to gain a better understanding of the breakdown of your company’s bottom line, it is crucial to know what the unit cost of inbound shipments is from vendor-to-vendor. In our recent webinar, Landed Cost & Vendor Compliance, we posed some prudent questions for companies to review with their operations teams, listed below.

  • What is the true landed cost of freight in terms of inbound shipments?
  • What is the cost of doing business with a vendor?
  • Is the cost worth it?
  • How can you improve efficiency and visibility when controlling costs?

In the following sections, we will break down why it is important to understand true cost and how BlueGrace helps businesses understand their own.

How businesses normally measure cost

Most firms measure performance on a macro or aggregate level by taking the total cost of purchased goods and diving that by transportation spend. “That’s great if you’re just trying to gather some overall business data,” Brian Blalock, Senior Manager of Sourcing at BlueGrace Logistics, says. But somewhat insufficient if “you’re trying to price your products for sale or accurately select vendors.”

“If we don’t understand how the vendor is impacting our cost, then we can’t truly understand what the landed cost of our product is going to be when we deliver it to our customer,” he continues.

On the front end, business intelligence can be formed from data gathered from a transportation management system (TMS), a logistics platform that enables users to manage and optimize the daily operations of their fleets. Many different companies make TMS systems, including BlueGrace. From a back-end perspective, an operations manager can identify industry trends and patterns and use their insight to decide which vendors are the most lucrative business partners and from there, improve inventory management processes.

Once the product is in your hands, you are paying inventory costs.

For example, if you have an agreement with a vendor to move product into one of your warehouses, and the associated cost per product upon delivery is 10 cents per unit, “we don’t want to be at the mercy of their inventory,” Blalock says, meaning that once the product is in your hands, you are paying inventory costs.

Blalock explains that the same reason you may get chargebacks when you deliver your product early to the next member of the supply chain is the same reason you don’t want product arriving early from vendors, “because there is a cost for handling those goods,” he says. At the same time, receiving product late is not an option for obvious reasons. Striking the balance between minimizing the time product is in your storage facilities to avoid extra storage cost and ensuring that it gets to its final destination on time is the plight middle-members of the supply chain is aware of, but achieving that optimal scheduling is easier said than done. Having a firm grasp on your company’s data, or having “business intelligence,” enables you to optimize operations at a higher level than was previously an option, by coming as close to striking that balance as possible.

The key to turning information into profitability is defining goals and measuring performance.

The goal of business rules is to prevent vendors shipping product that will “cost you more money than what you originally allocated,” Blalock explains. “Once you’ve gained an understanding of that landed cost, then you can track your vendor performance and hold them to the established rules.”Knowing exactly what it costs to land the freight on the shelf is essential. So, how do you get there? “You can’t expect to improve in anything you don’t measure,” Blalock says. The key to turning information into profitability is defining goals and measuring performance.

Measuring performance

BlueGrace’s platform allows users to easily calculate the above-described metrics, for instance, cost of carrier per pound and true cost per product SKU. Users can navigate with a map of their network to see the origins of products and their destinations.

Then, you can click on a specific vendor, which allows you to see each shipment to “drill in to find out whether the inventory that belongs to your supplier is affecting the cost of transportation that you’ve agreed to a set cost with them on,” Blalock says. Referring to the earlier described inventory receiving optimization scenario, he reiterated, “We don’t need to fall victim to their inventory issues.”

Having a dashboard that encompasses all of your shipments and their data enables you to make smarter, faster decisions without the headache of calculating these figures on a case-by-case basis.

In the BlueGrace dashboard, users are able to navigate by tabs which include shipment, schedule, and tracking, to view route maps and shipment details in one place. There, users can access data like real-time transport status, port-to-port time, and carrier information. Having a dashboard that encompasses all of your shipments and their data enables you to make smarter, faster decisions without the headache of calculating these figures on a case-by-case basis.

Knowing the true cost means a better ability to set pricing, based on the “right day, right time, right carrier,” Blalock says. From there, the creation and implementation of business rules are what takes your business to the next level. The goal is to make business plans that drive profitability and provide better information to stakeholders.

CLICK HERE to view our webinar and learn more about how BlueGrace can benefit your company. If you would like to speak to one of our freight experts, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

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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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