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Transporting Perishable Goods? Some Important Factors to Consider.

Transporting perishable goods and fresh produce is fraught with higher risks than regular dry cargo. There’s a risk of spoilage and loss of freshness and quality.

Perishable goods need a specialized mode of transportation, refrigerated trailers, or reefers. It enables the movement of goods like fruits, vegetables, seafood, some medicine and other pharma products, dairy and bakery products, meat, and flowers and plants. Refrigerated trucking helps connect farmers, bakers, meat production plants, pharma companies with markets and ensures end customers even at remote locations get fresh and quality products.

While reefers are in use all year round, its demand increases during the fresh produce season.

While reefers are in use all year round, its demand increases during the fresh produce season. Given that the season is now in full swing, let’s take a look at what factors should be considered by both shippers and transporters while transporting fresh produce and perishable goods.

What important factors should shippers keep in mind while transporting fresh produce?

Each fresh produce or perishable product has a specific shipping requirement, like the mode of transportation to be used, type of container, temperature settings, and the transit time it can tolerate.

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption

If even one of the transport requirements of perishables is not met, the goods can become unfit for consumption or further processing. To ensure that this does not happen, here are a few points that shippers must keep in mind while transporting their fresh produce:

Complete Product Knowledge: This is non-negotiable. For safe and smooth transport of their perishable products or fresh produce, it is necessary for shippers to have complete knowledge about their product. Some important things that shippers and their teams should know about the fresh/perishable product they deal in are:

  • Packaging requirements of the product.
  • The best method and transport mode to ship it.
  • What is the coolant required for it – gel packs, dry ice, dry ice pellets?
  • The temperature needs of the product while in transit.
  • How long it remains fresh and fit for consumption.
  • Tolerable transit time for the product.
  • The documents/formalities required in both the importing and exporting state/country.

Conduct a Market Study: It’s important to find the right market for fresh produce, especially for those products that spoil easily.  It’s financially beneficial for the shipper if this product reaches the market quickly and in good condition. It’s also beneficial for the buyers as they get better quality and fresh products. So before you decide on a specific market, conduct a study to find out:

  1. Where all your product is in demand
  2. The rate at which you can sell the product there
  3. The transit time is taken to reach the destination
  4. Any specific customs formalities/documents required by the importing state for this product

Once you have this information ready, you can pick the best possible combination of market, rate, and transport requirements.

Choose the Right Transporter: If fresh produce is not managed correctly during transit, the quality and shelf life can be negatively affected. Thus, the choice of the transporter can make a huge difference in how your product is shipped. So, when you’re searching for a transporter, you must check the following:

  1. The track record of the transporter in trucking perishable goods.
  2. Do they have the requisite experience?
  3. Do they have the required vehicles and containers?
  4. Is the equipment well-maintained, cleaned, and serviced regularly?
  5. Are the drivers trained to manage the special equipment and carry perishable or fresh produce?
  6. Do they have tie-ups with service centers en route, in case the equipment or vehicle needs emergency servicing?
  7. Can they replace the container or the carrier in case of a breakdown?
  8. What is the transit time being offered?

In case you need multimodal transportation to ship your cargo, carry out this exercise for all the transporters in the chain.

Provide Clear Instructions: Once you’ve selected the transporter(s), it is important to communicate instructions specific to your product clearly to them. Make sure they know how the product is to be handled, the temperature to be maintained throughout the transit, and if it is an LTL shipment, then which products/goods can it not be carried with or kept close to. In the case of multimodal transportation, provide a set of instructions to each transporter and make sure each transporter knows who to hand over the cargo and onward shipping instructions to.

Communication with the Buyer: It’s often observed that while the goods reach the destination safely, they get spoiled at the buyer’s facility for lack of proper instructions on how to manage/store the goods. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that proper instructions have also been communicated to the buyer.

Get Adequate Insurance Coverage: Transporting perishables and fresh produce is expensive. There is also a risk of spoilage on the way. This is why insurance is critical in such cases. So before you put your cargo in transit, make sure you have the right insurance coverage for the cargo. This will ensure that you have financial support in case the cargo does not reach the destination in the best condition.

What Important Factors Should the Transporters Keep in Mind When Transporting Fresh Produce?

The transporter is responsible for the fresh produce while the goods are in transit. Hence, it is necessary for transporters to also have a checklist for perishable goods and fresh produce. Here are some important points that they should keep in mind when accepting fresh produce goods for transportation:

  1. Communicate Clearly with the Shipper: Transporting perishable goods is a serious business. Make sure you share the correct information regarding transit time, the route to be taken, contingency plans, documentation requirements, and payment terms with the shipper at the time of inquiry. This not only helps the shipper make an informed decision but also makes your business look professional and trustworthy. And, it’s great for building long term business relationships in the industry.
  2. Get All Required Details from the Shipper: The transporter should double-check if the shipper has supplied all the required information or not. In case any crucial detail regarding the product is missing, he should proactively ask for it from the shipper.
  3. Discuss Packaging Requirements: Check with the shipper how the goods will be packed and labeled. In case there are any specific requirements for packaging and labeling at your end, communicate the same to the shipper. It is important to get the packaging and labeling right in case of perishable goods as they need to be handled with care and can spoil easily.
  4. Understand Handling and Temperature Instructions: For perishable goods, the transporter needs to understand how the goods are to be handled and what temperature is to be maintained while the goods are in transit. Also, check if there are any specific guidelines on how the temperature is to be managed while the cargo is being loaded/unloaded.
  5. Assist the Shipper with Documentation: Fresh produce and perishable goods often have more documentation needs than regular cargo. Sometimes shippers, especially those new to the trade, are not aware of the cross-border documentation. In such cases, it becomes the transporter’s duty to make sure the shipper completes all documentation requirements in the right format. This not only helps complete the shipment formalities but also helps the trucker while crossing the state borders.
  6. Service the Refeers Before Allotting: The transporter should make sure the reefer is properly serviced, cleaned, and checked before it is allotted to the shipper. He should also check if the temperature required for the fresh produce being transferred can be maintained in the reefer throughout the transit.
  7. Train Your Drivers to Handle Perishable Goods: For transporting perishable cargo safely, it is essential to have experienced and trained drivers on board. The driver should understand the handling instructions of the fresh produce and be able to manage temperature settings of the reefer container.
  8. Update the Shipper Timely: Share regular status updates with the shipper while the goods are in transit. In case there are any issues with the container or temperature monitor, inform the shipper immediately, and seek alternative solutions.
  9. Deliver On-Time: It’s a good practice for logistics and trucking service providers to deliver goods on time. In the case of perishable goods and fresh produce, on-time delivery is crucial as even a slight delay in transit can affect the quality of goods, spoil them or make them unfit for consumption. Hence, it is necessary to make sure that the entire team handling the cargo understands the importance of on-time delivery!

If you’re looking for a reliable partner to transport your fresh produce and perishable goods, get in touch with our team today! We not only take responsibility for delivering your goods on time but also ensure that you get access to an online platform powered with advanced technology to plan and monitor your shipments more effectively!

Vertical Farming: The Next Level of Produce

The overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) has seen a nominal increase of 0.1 percent for the 12 month period ending May 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this is an average across all measured goods and services, food is showing something completely different. According to the CPI, the total food index has increased by 4.0 percent while the food at home index has jumped up by 4.8 percent.

Month-over-month, there has been an increase in the cost of food, most notably a 3.7 percent increase for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Beef, in particular, has seen a massive up jump at 10.8 percent, the largest monthly increase ever.

Month-over-month, there has been an increase in the cost of food, most notably a 3.7 percent increase for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Beef, in particular, has seen a massive up jump at 10.8 percent, the largest monthly increase ever. This created an obvious concern for increasing prices in consumers and retailers alike, both of which are bracing themselves for further price increases as food production struggles with a myriad of issues, ranging from plant closures to the loss of farm labor.

While we can attribute at least some of the CPI increases due to more people dusting off their cookbooks during the quarantine period, there are other issues to consider as well. Arable land is subject to both inconsistent weather conditions as well as natural disasters. For example, an unexpected frost can wipe out an entire crop causing a significant delay in production and output. While that’s not great for farmers, it can also create shortages in the food market at both the consumer and commercial level. However, that might be an issue of the past before too much longer as indoor, vertical farms begin to take root.

Growing UP with the Fifth Season

For the uninitiated, vertical farming (as we are discussing) is the concept of growing consumables in a stacked and modular fashion which drastically increases crop yield per acre than traditional farming.

Vertical farming is actually a rather old idea. Indigenous peoples used vertically layered growing techniques like the rice terraces of East Asia. The term vertical farming was coined by American geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey in 1915. In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor at New York’s Columbia University, popularized the modern idea of vertical farming, building upon the idea together with his students,”

Not only is the indoor farming movement growing, it’s thriving.

“It is the inefficiencies across the supply chain from farm to truck to packer to supermarket and foodservice that has fueled the burgeoning indoor farming industry, which in 2017 accounted for $106.6 billion and expected to reach $171.12 billion by 2026 growing at a CAGR of 5.4 percent during this period, according to the Worldwide Indoor Farming Market Report,” according to a recent article from Forbes.

Fifth Season is an indoor farming company, based just outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, combines vertical farming concepts with proprietary robotics and artificial intelligence.

While neither indoor nor vertical farming is anything new, after all greenhouses have been around since the 1800s, Fifth Season is taking vertical farming to a whole new level. Fifth Season is an indoor farming company, based just outside of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, combines vertical farming concepts with proprietary robotics and artificial intelligence. CEO and co-founder of Fifth Season, Austin Webb, is looking to disrupt the nation’s produce market by creating a completely new category of “hyper-local” fresh produce. Currently, two of Fifth Seasons’ biggest clients are the Giant Eagle supermarket chain and Whole Foods.

At 25,000 sq.-ft growing space, Webb’s company is seeing double the yield of traditional vertical farms, almost 500,000 lbs of produce in the first full year of operation. What’s even more impressive is the produce is grown using 95 percent less water and 97 percent less land than conventional farming. All of which is grown without the need for pesticides and has an average shelf life that lasts for weeks instead of a few days that is normal for shipped produce.

A New Future for Farming Supply Chain

Unfortunately for produce, the supply chain just isn’t nearly efficient enough for large scale distribution. Produce is typically harvested, then loaded onto a truck to be shipped for packing or processing. From there it’s loaded onto another truck before it reaches its final destination. That leads to a higher risk of spoilage and shrink.  Fifth Seasons use of machine learning, AI, and computer vision gives them the ability to track and trace down to an individual tray within their farm. Webb says this gives his company and its customers a whole new level of transparency that wasn’t previously available. The technology creates information from “seed, to harvest, to package, to a doorstep, to a table (or store shelf).”

This is about more than just fresh vegetables, however. This level of vertical farming has some interesting implications for the supply chain as a whole.

This is about more than just fresh vegetables, however. This level of vertical farming has some interesting implications for the supply chain as a whole. For starters, it drastically cuts down on the total mileage that fresh produces need to travel which, in turn, lowers overall food costs and transportation costs for customers. Moreover, hyper localization of production could lead to an interesting shift in logistics and food production in general.

A Cool Move for BlueGrace

Produce, like many perishables, requires the use of refrigerated trucks to keep goods fresh as they travel across the country. With vertical farms like Fifth Season boasting such a prodigious level of production, the need for reefer units will be that much greater. That is why we are proud to announce our newest acquisition, Anthym Logistics which has significantly bolstered our refrigerated truckload capacity for our customers. To learn more about Anthym and BlueGrace or to see how we can help your operations, visit us here.

Call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below to set up a consultation with one of our supply chain experts who can help you springboard your agricultural logistics operation into 2020 and beyond.

Why Are Heavy Duty Truck Orders So Low In North America?

The ongoing slump that had begun in October 2018 had started to affect the Class 8 truck market in early 2019. While there were a few months during the year where orders for heavy-duty trucks peaked – although not as high as the previous two years, it was all in all a slow year for the industry.  

How bad is the situation? 

An article in Wolf Street shared numbers released by the FTR Transportation Intelligence for 2019. According to the report: during the year there were 179,000 orders for Class 8 trucks. This was a drastic reduction of 64% when compared to the 497,000 orders during 2018. The difference in the orders in just the span of a year is telling of the difficulties that the trucking manufacturing industry is set to face until the freight market stabilizes. 

More recently, on February 19, 2020, in a write up on the issue Freight Waves shared: “The ratio of retails sales of Class 8 trucks to inventory in January 2020 ranked second-highest in the industry history, trailing only the worst month of the Great Recession a decade ago”, signaling that the heavy-duty vehicle market may continue to experience a downward trend for some more time. 

What’s the cause?

The cause of the current turmoil faced by the Class 8 truck manufacturing industry can be broadly bifurcated into two parts. 

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks.

The first reason stems from the slowdown in the manufacturing sector. It has a direct impact on the orders fleets place for new trucks. If the sector is doing well, there is a demand to increase the fleet size, hence more orders for new trucks. On the other hand, when it is experiencing a slowdown, trucking companies hold back on increasing their fleet size – exactly what is happening now. 

The current economic and political scenario in the country has put a strain on the manufacturing industry. The US and China trade war which began in 2018 and the tariffs imposed by the two countries on each other has been detrimental for business and allied service providers, including truck manufacturers. If we are to consider the disruption that the Coronavirus is causing in global trade, we can presume that it will be a while before the freight business picks up again. 

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction.

The other reason industry experts are giving for the drop in Class 8 orders is a market correction. Monitor Daily quotes Act Research’s President and senior analyst, Kenny Vieth explaining the downturn: “After peak sales and build in 2019, significant declines are ahead in 2020, as heavy-duty sales and build follow the net orders trend down. But if our forecast of ongoing (but slower) economic expansion holds in 2020, the drop will be a correction (along the lines of 2015 and 2016), not a devastating recession (as in 2008 and 2009).”  

What’s the impact? 

The declining order book for Class 8 trucks has already started to show its impact. According to reports, quite a few truck makers including larger manufacturers like Volvo, Mack Trucks, Daimler, and Navistar have already gone through a round off layoffs or are considering cutting their workforce and reducing their production plans. For example, Cummins, the engine maker is reported to have planned laying off around 2000 workers in early 2020 and Navistar has already gone through two rounds of layoffs last year. When the bigger companies are taking such drastic measures, it will be difficult for the smaller manufacturers to tide over this recessionary phase. 

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with.

The cost of maintaining and managing the excess inventory will be another issue that the truck manufacturers will have to deal with. According to reports, the inventory to sales ratio was 3.9 months in January, which is much higher than the industry’s normal average of 2 to 2.5 months. Till this excess inventory is not sold off, the truck makers may have to further cut production plans and bear an additional burden of their operating funds. 

This problem doesn’t end at the manufacturers. Even the dealers who may have taken additional inventory of Class 8 trucks when the market was good, will now have to either hold the inventory till there are buyers in the market or sell their inventory at a discount. Either way, it will have a negative impact on their bottom line. 

Till the freight business does not pick up, it will be a rough ride for all the stakeholders in the ecosystem be it – shippers, carriers or truck manufacturers. 

However, companies that have built-in diversity in their supply chain – keeping in mind the cyclical and uncertain nature of trade and keep a rigorous check on it, have a better chance of surviving such downturns. If you want to know what are the weak points of your supply and how you can strengthen it, get in touch with our team for a supply chain analysis today! 

Commercial Trucking: The Battle of the VMT Tax

Our highways and transit infrastructure are mainly funded through the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which in turn is primarily funded by the federal motor fuel tax. Since 2001 the HTF has consistently spent more than it generates through highway and transit programs. The shortfall has been covered mainly by the $144 billion it’s received from the Treasury’s general fund. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the HTF will hit bottom by 2022. 

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso and Finance Committee member John Cornynhave proposed the S. 2302 bill which would impose a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax on commercial truckers. The bill is part of a three-prong approach, Barrasso and Cornyn are also looking to tax electric vehicles as well as index the motor fuels tax.

As cars increasingly become more efficient, and the use of electric cars become more prolific, fuel tax revenues decline accordingly. The tax on electric vehicles looks to regain the lost revenue, and with automakers planning to launch up to 100 new electric vehicles by 2023, it’s a good idea. But it’s a small piece of a massive puzzle.

Commercial trucks do take a heavier toll on our highways than lighter vehicles. Therefore, the VMT imposes a tax on the miles traveled. The heavier the truck, the more damage it does to our roads, which is why a scaled tax structure based on a truck’s configuration and weight. It sounds like a fair deal, those who do the most damage pay the highest bill. 

However, the industry argues, that they already pay a steeper sum than other highway users through fees, an excise tax on tires, and a heavier gasoline bill, paying six cents-per-gallon more than other motorists. Then there’s the question if the industry can support the increase, given the number of trucking companies that closed its doors in 2019, it’s a fair question. And lastly, could the tax be implemented in a fair and trustworthy manner? 

The CBO Report

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released Issues and Options for a Tax on Vehicle Miles Traveled by Commercial Trucks. The report provides an analysis of the VMT tax, including the tax base, the rate structure, the revenue that would be generated, and the implementation methods.

Using data on 2017 truck traffic, the CBO estimated that a tax of 1 cent per mile on all roads would have raised approximately $2.6 billion if imposed on all commercial trucks. However, in order to cover $14.6 billion that truck owners paid in 2017, as well as their proportional share of the $13.5 billion deficit, the tax would need to be increased to 7.5 cents per mile, which would have generated a total of $19.4 billion. The CBO warns two behavioral responses would result: a reduction in overall freight shipments and a shift in some freight traffic from trucks to rail. 

Together, the gasoline and diesel taxes yielded close to 90 percent of the $40.9 billion in revenues credited to the trust fund in the fiscal year 2017. Of that amount, $25.9 billion (64 percent) came from gasoline taxes and $9.8 billion (24 percent) from diesel fuel taxes. The three taxes that apply to trucks and other large vehicles generated revenues totaling $5.2 billion.

Capital and Implementation Costs

Three methods of implementation are offered: 

  • Electronic logging devices (ELD) installed in cars (capital costs would depend on the set of trucks included in the tax base, intermediate enforcement costs)
  • Collection booths or RFID readers on road gantries (significant capital costs, low enforcement costs) 
  • Periodic odometer reporting (no capital costs, high enforcement costs)

Although costs are uncertain, capital and implementation costs would, of course, cannibalize a portion of the revenue.

The Battle

The American Trucking Associations wants to raise fuel taxes by 5 cents annually over four years, which would bring in $340 billion over ten years. Although it continues to lack Senate support, The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) advocates for both an increased motor fuel tax and the VMT tax.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association(OOIDA) members aren’t mincing their words. In a letter written on February 24th to Chairmen Grassley and Barrasso, the OOIDA says the ARTBAs support of the VMT tax is “shameless, and exposes the organization’s ignorance.” Chris Spear, President of the American Trucking Associations, and Sheila Foertsch of the Wyoming Trucking Association call the tax discriminatory

Trucking-aligned farm groupswant broad-based funding mechanisms and caution the VMT would place a disproportionate share of the burden on freight transportation and would leave U.S. agriculture at a competitive disadvantage against foreign competitors.

As the ARTBA pointed out in their letter, if a controversy-free solution existed, it would have been enacted years ago. But America’s infrastructure is failing, and transportation investment is coming up short by the tune of $1.1 trillion by 2025.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’failure to Act study, by 2025, the nation will have lost almost $800 billion in GDP and have 440,000 fewer jobs due to transportation system deficiencies. Time is of the essence.

Trucking Isn’t Going Away Any Time Soon

There is absolutely no doubt that we have entered into a new era of technology. As computing is getting more powerful, many technologies that were once science fiction are now either on the horizon or already here. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation are three of the biggest hot tech topics out there.

While there is certainly a potential for job loss as this technology reaches maturity, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

Of course, whenever new tech starts to hit the market, there is speculation as to what it means for the already existing framework of our reality. In this case, what do automated vehicles and AI mean for the truck driving industry? Currently, truckers move over 70 percent of all U.S. freight, by weight. The speculation is that we’ll see some 2-3 million jobs fall to the wayside as a result of emerging tech over the next few years. While there is certainly a potential for job loss as this technology reaches maturity, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

According to the study: Industrial and Labor Relations Review, there is always a measure of attrition in terms of job loss when a new technology is introduced to an industry. However, there are three key reasons why truck drivers won’t be going away any time soon.

There’s More to Trucking than Just Driving

While it might seem like a truck driver has a fairly simple job of driving the truck from point A to point B, there’s a lot more to it than just that. Truck drivers also perform a number of other tasks in their daily routine. Everything from checking the status and upkeep of their vehicle and securing cargo, maintaining logs and invoices, and perhaps most importantly, customer service. While some of these tasks such as logs and vehicle status might be automated in the future, the technology isn’t there yet and some of those tasks aren’t even close to being ready for automation. For example, a smart sensor in the truck might be able to detect an imbalanced load or a flat tire, but it falls to the driver to fix that issue before rolling on down the road.

Customer service is also an incredibly important task of the truck driver

Customer service is also an incredibly important task of the truck driver, especially when you consider that customer service is one of the key distinguishers between companies today. Service needs a face, a smile, and a friendly voice and it’s that human interaction between the driver and the company that provides those necessities.

Fully Autonomous Trucks are Still on the Horizon

Just looking at the task of driving itself we can see that there are still quite some ways to go before trucks no longer need a driver. The Society of Automotive Engineers has developed the current standard to define automated vehicles on a scale of 0 to 5 with 0 being no automation and 5 being a fully automated and capable self-driving vehicle. Obviously, the amount of necessary human interaction/control goes down the higher up you go in the scale.

In fact, there tends to be a bit of sensationalism when it comes to headlines for automated vehicles. What we end up seeing is the full level 5 tests being touted as broad-scale implementation. These tests are very rare and conducted under carefully controlled conditions. In actuality, what we will see is somewhere between levels 2 to 3 where a human driver’s capabilities are augmented by robotics and automation. For example, the autonomous drive feature could take over for highway driving but for rural or city driving, it would be under human control.

Assume for a moment that level 4 automation was target for the trucking industry, how many jobs would that actually affect?

“Most of this development is focused on automating the long-haul/interstate portion of a truck trip, not short haul or local truck moves. We estimated the proportion of trucks in the U.S. that are used for long hauls, using the Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), last updated in 2002,” says an article from HBR.

“According to our computations, roughly one-quarter of all heavy trucks are used in long hauls of 201 miles or more, compared to roughly half of all heavy trucks used in relatively short ranges of operation (50 miles or less). Given that truck automation is currently targeted at these longer hauls, we are looking at potential job losses for roughly one-quarter of heavy truck drivers, or about 450,000 drivers, as the technology becomes more sophisticated and reliable over time and as regulatory obstacles are overcome,” HBR adds.

That is still a fairly significant number, but it is far from the millions of jobs lost that is being predicted now.

There’s Actually Fewer Drivers than People Think

Many of the sensationalized articles that are proclaiming the untold job loss at the hands of automation are also exaggerating the actual amount of human truck drivers employed in the United States. Most of the articles put the number around 3 million drivers when, in fact, that number is quite a bit smaller, meaning there are less jobs that can be lost due to the “total automation” scenario.

The federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system has a category called “Drivers/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers”, which is then divided into three smaller groups: “driver/sales workers”, “light truck or delivery services drivers” and “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers.”

The total pool employed within the broad heading is where most of these articles are getting the 3 million driver figure from. However, many who fall under one of these employment categories aren’t actually drivers or, if they are drivers, don’t fall under the risk of job loss due to automation.

Truckers Will Stay on the Road

Even if the technology for consistent level four technology was here, there would still be a heavy amount of government regulation to get through in order for it to be fully adopted throughout the industry. As there are so many variables to consider, there would likely need to be a massive infrastructure change for trucks to reach a level of autonomy that would completely remove human drivers from the picture.

It is fair to say, however, that as the technology continues to develop, we’ll likely see the amount of human drivers start to change roles.

It is fair to say, however, that as the technology continues to develop, we’ll likely see the amount of human drivers start to change roles. Instead of being phased out entirely, we’ll likely begin to see re-skilling of drivers into a different role that will continue to support the trucking industry. In light of all the challenges the industry is already facing, this could be a turn for the better.

How the CFO Can be a Change Agent in the Supply Chain

Managing cash flow, planning the financial outlay, keeping the balance sheet in order, and ensuring all financial compliances are met are a CFO’s core job function. But this is not all that a CFO does. The CFO is also responsible for identifying opportunities to reduce operating costs without sacrificing the quality of the products and services offered by the company.

But is it a good strategy to wait for things to go wrong to ask the CFO to step in?

Supply chain and transportation are two of the biggest cost centers in an organization. The cost for these functions is measured as a percentage of sales and differs from industry to industry. However, according to this McKinsey study, most industries report supply chain and logistics cost in the range of 1.8% to 10%. When costs remain within the industry parameters, supply chain and logistics are usually given the leeway to make their financial decisions. The CFO steps in only when the cost rise above the set industry norms or in case any other financial abnormality is noticed. But is it a good strategy to wait for things to go wrong to ask the CFO to step in? Wouldn’t the supply chain and the organization as a whole benefit if the CFO is a part of the supply chain decision making?

What Does the Corporate World Think of CFO’s Involvement in the Supply Chain?

The necessity of CFOs involvement in supply chain is not a recent phenomenon. A 2013 study by Ernst & Young aptly highlighted the importance of CFO’s involvement in the supply chain. Ernst & Young surveyed 423 CFOs and heads of supply chain around the globe to understand their view of a CFO’s contribution to the supply chain.

According to the results of the survey, of all the respondents, “only 26% finance executives and 21% supply chain executives said that the CFO’s contribution to the supply chain is based around a business-partnering model”. But this trend seems to be gradually changing as “70% of CFOs and 63% of supply chain leaders responded that their relationship has become more collaborative over the past three years”.

Organizations that have a collaborative relationship between the CFO and supply chain also tend to perform better.

The survey also revealed that those organizations that have a collaborative relationship between the CFO and supply chain also tend to perform better. “Among survey respondents with an established business partner model in place, 48% report EBITDA growth increases of more than 5% in their company over the past year, compared with just 22% of those that have not yet adopted this approach.”

In the past five years, the demand for CFO’s involvement in the supply chain has only grown. Last year, an article in the European Financial Review spoke about the book What CFOs (and Future CFOs) Need to Know About Supply Chain Transactions by X. Paul Humbert, Esq. According to the article, the book showcases not only the necessity of a collaboration between the CFO and the supply chain but also demonstrates how the company’s finances and its books are impacted by the decisions taken by functions within the supply chain:

“an organization’s financial results are intertwined with the performance of the purchasing function. Purchasing and purchased inventory affect the balance sheet and capital allocation.”

Another article in Smart Industry Update published in 2018, speaks on behalf of the CFOs seeking answers to supply chain issues which the CFOs may not have first-hand knowledge of. For example, the article lists the following three critical questions that CFOs should ask of their supply chain to be able to make better decisions regarding their supply chain and create better business strategies:

  • How accurate is our supply-chain visibility?
  • How quickly can we identify and address challenges in response to disruption?
  • How well can we respond to changes in the industry?

The survey and the two articles leave no doubt of how crucial it is for CFOs to be involved in the supply chain function and work in collaboration with the head of supply chain. In fact, it is not only the supply chain that needs the CFO, the CFO also needs the supply chain.

How The CFO Can Be A Change Agent For The Supply Chain

An article titled How Brilliant CFOs Use the Supply Chain to Drive Business Value – Do you know the questions you should be asking in Innovation Enterprise targeted at CFOs lists down possible areas that can benefit from the CFO’s involvement.

Source: Innovation Enterprise

It says “If the answer to any of these questions highlights a potential issue then it is important to engage with the head of supply chain and agree a process to address the issue. It may also indicate that there is an opportunity to partner more closely with supply chain/operations to leverage the knowledge and skills of the finance team to enable better decision making in the business.”

The transportation offered also influences customer’s buying decisions

All the above areas are crucial from the financial, product, and delivery point and can benefit from a collaborative effort from the CFO and the supply chain. For example, let’s take a look at the second, sixth and eighth question. Freight costs are pegged around 3 – 5% of supply chain costs. Freight contract negotiation is one of the most important activities of the logistics function. It has an impact on the budget, affects the cost reduction KPI given to the logistics department. In B2C businesses, to a certain extent, the transportation offered also influences customer’s buying decisions. How can the function benefit from CFOs insight?

When the CFO is involved in this decision-making from the start, it increases the possibility of improvement in contract terms and in cost reduction.

On the cost reduction and financial front, the CFO, with their fact-based view of the organization, can help the logistics team negotiate better freight contracts. The rates negotiated in these contracts are based on a multitude of factors like government policies, fuel prices, political relations between trading countries, and global business environment. Logistics may or may not have insight into these issues, but the CFO and his team will have knowledge of what is going on in the business world. So, if they know there is a possibility of fuel prices changing in the next six months or a recessionary trend is being noticed, they can advise the logistics team to negotiate a short-term contract and revisit it later. Similarly, in the case of B2C shipments (ref Q6), the CFO and the supply chain head can negotiate for contracts with different delivery options in order to serve different customers. But this can only be done if the supply chain knows the financial viability of these options and that information can be gained only from the CFO of the organization. When the CFO is involved in this decision-making from the start, it increases the possibility of improvement in contract terms and in cost reduction.

Today, to be effective in their job and to create a competitive supply chain, CFOs need to lend their expertise to the supply chain and seek their inputs in the setting the goals and objectives of the company.

Long gone are the days when the CFOs limited themselves to matters pertaining to managing company finances. Today, to be effective in their job and to create a competitive supply chain, CFOs need to lend their expertise to the supply chain and seek their inputs in the setting the goals and objectives of the company.

At BlueGrace, we have found that working with organizations where CFOs are directly involved has helped turn over a new leaf and make significant cost reductions, positively impacting the supply chain of that organization.

We provide quarterly business intelligence reports that give updates on the savings targets you give to us, key performance indicators (KPIs), and special project updates. The CFO of a company, in particular, is able to use these metrics to budget and forecast for the organization moving forward. Connect with our team at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below to find out how we can work with your CFO to build an efficient and optimal supply chain.

Controlling Costs and Preventing Accessorial Loss

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Controlling costs is critical for any business to be successful. When working with a supply chain, the more complex it is, the more chances there are for additional costs and surcharges, any of which can cost your company a great deal of extra money.

They are any freight services that go beyond the normal scope of pickup and delivery.  

Accessorial charges are a particular type of surcharge. They are any freight services that go beyond the normal scope of pickup and delivery. This can include inside or special delivery charges, waiting or detention time, fuel surcharges, storage fees, and many others. Given the way the freight market is changing, especially due to the rise and continual growth of e-commerce, many companies are looking to a more specialized version of last mile delivery as customers want their products sooner rather than later. The “white glove” last mile service, while costly, is growing increasingly important as customer service is becoming one of the last true differentiators among the competition.  

In our webinar, we covered the basics and most common questions of accessorial charges which include:  

  • What are accessorials? 
  • How do they affect cost? 
  • How do they affect supply chain efficiency? 
  • How can we mitigate problems? 
  • How do we know if we have a problem? 

Consumers want their product today, that means that retailers want it delivered, checked in, and on the shelf yesterday.

Logistics and supply chain management has become a very tight game, almost cutthroat in its harsh severity. Consumers want their product today, that means that retailers want it delivered, checked in, and on the shelf yesterday. With the ability to order just about anything a consumer could possibly want from the vast online marketplace, brick and mortar retailers have to run an even tighter ship than they have before if they have any hopes of competing. To that end, some retailers are upping the ante and doling out punishment for shippers who aren’t in compliance.  


As we mentioned above, accessorials are extra charges associated with freight delivery that fall outside simple pick up and delivery. We gave a few examples above, but those are by no means the only accessorial charges that you could be stuck paying. Here are some other types of common accessorial charges.  

  • Reweigh
  • Limited Access
  • Liftgate
  • Residential delivery
  • Appointment / Notify
  • Sort & Segregate
  • Hazardous Materials

While inaccurate weighing of freight could be a result of an honest mistake, the cost of that mistake can add up quickly.

It’s important to control and monitor as many of these as possible to help control costs. Consider reweigh charges for example. When a carrier weighs freight and compares the actual weight to what’s listed on the bill of lading, the difference can be instantly tacked on to the invoice. For shipments that are 50 pounds or more over what the bill of lading states, there is a $25.00 validation fee as well as an increase to shipping costs. Additionally, all freight fees, fuel surcharge fees, and any other applicable accessorial fees will be adjusted accordingly. While inaccurate weighing of freight could be a result of an honest mistake, the cost of that mistake can add up quickly.


One way to better control accessorial charges is to have a more efficient and agile supply chain. Detention fees are a prime example of where efficiency pays off. For the LTL market, every shipment has a set amount of free time per stop before the charges start being applied. While this is based on weight, meaning that heavier shipments have more time, it can be hard to gauge just how long each stop is going to take which leaves your company exposed to detention fees.  

Another thing to consider is that the ELD mandate severely limits the amount of working time a driver has available. The longer it takes to load and unload freight can cause delivery delays and will ultimately increase the price of a shipment. Once you start adding detention fees onto the bill it can quickly become more expensive than you were initially anticipating. 

It’s critical to have your supply chain running smoothly and efficiently.

Because of this, it’s critical to have your supply chain running smoothly and efficiently. Not only does it increase the chances that you will make your delivery schedule, but having a more efficient operation makes you a more attractive customer to carriers (which increases the likelihood of getting the capacity you need) as well as helping to control shipping costs.  


When it comes to controlling costs, the more you understand about extra fees the better off you’ll be. Because many of these accessorial charges can compound and complicate others, it’s important to understand the full workings of your supply chain and identify any potential problems before they arise.  

The truth of the matter is that the more you understand your freight and the way your carrier works, the more accessorial fees you can either reduce or negate entirely. Many of these fees won’t even enter into the picture so long as the shipper is taking the time to make sure they’re doing things right. Doing this means preventing the issue before it even begins. On the other hand, if your freight invoice is coming as a bit of a shock, it might be time to take a closer look at the surcharges and determine what you can you do to correct the issue.  

Ultimately, everything we covered in the webinar is about helping your company to manage these fees and perform better across the board. From internal operations to external executions, everything is connected and we break it down for you. Watch the full webinar to learn more about how you can be successful!

There are a number of other benefits that can come from working with and outsourcing your logistics to a 3PL. If you would like to speak to one of our experts, call us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.

Intelligent Automation, the Future of Supply Chain. Is the Logistics Industry Ready?

It is a well-known fact that supply chain is increasingly becoming digital. But is simply adding a digital component to the complex supply chain network enough to make it efficient? Will it provide the edge that companies need to win in the current cut-throat and ever-changing global business environment?

What more is required?

According to a study conducted by IBM and National Retail Federation (NRF), the retail and consumer goods industry is designating intelligent automation, also known as artificial intelligence, as the future of supply chain. For this, IBM and NRF surveyed 1,900 retail and consumer products company executives across 23 countries.

The survey revealed that “intelligent automation capabilities help increase the annual revenue growth by up to 10 percent”. It found that of all the respondents surveyed, around 85 percent from the retail sector and 79 percent from the consumer products sector “plan to use intelligent automation for supply chain planning by 2021”. The study also found that 79 percent of the retail industry respondents “expect to use intelligent automation for customer intelligence by 2021”.

Combining human capabilities with intelligent automation can help reduce errors and encourage the culture of digital operations and customer experience innovations.

According to IBM, integrating supply chain with customer insight is essential for the success of the omnichannel. It further added that combining human capabilities with intelligent automation can help reduce errors and encourage the culture of digital operations and customer experience innovations.

When the retail and consumer goods industries, who have the most complicated supply chains, are envisaging intelligent automation as the future of the supply chain, then can logistics – the core of supply chain be left behind?

Definitely not. In fact, the current logistics landscape which is highly fragmented and complex will benefit immensely by leveraging the power of intelligent automation in its day-to-day functioning.

How Intelligent Automation Will Benefit Logistics

Better planning: Intelligent automation can integrate and streamline transportation planning, route planning, warehouse network, and inventory planning. It will enable data sharing among all functions, highlight errors and outliers in the data, and speed up data analysis thus increasing efficiency, improving accuracy and lowering operating costs.

Increased Transparency: The global nature of the industry, different rules and regulations across countries and multiple stakeholders has made transparency in operations and business transactions mandatory. Intelligent automation can be used to add checks at all data entry points to make sure that only verified and correct information enters the system and is available to all stakeholders on demand. This will improve decision-making, reduce incidents of miscommunication between users (internal and external), and decrease dependency on other departments for data.

Enhanced Visibility: A system empowered with smart technology like GPS and RFID can enable users to track shipments from pick up till the final delivery location. This can improve multimodal transportation planning and also keep the customers updated with a more accurate expected time of delivery. Visibility of shipments and other aspects of the supply chain also supports the planning function, highlights possible issues before they become roadblocks, and allows better control over the process.

Improved Efficiency: Adopting artificial intelligence to empower systems and processes will greatly reduce duplication and monotonous tasks. This, in turn, will improve both human and machine efficiency and reduce the turnaround time for each task to be completed.

Refined Analytics: Logistics is a data-intensive function. A large amount of data is used as the base for making strategies and taking decisions. An intelligent automated reporting system can reduce the time taken to collate, clean, format the data and minimize errors, thus leading to better, informed and quicker decision making.

Further benefits can be derived on a case to case basis as the technology is put in use. However, like with all new things, there’s a need to exercise caution.

These are just some of the benefits of using intelligent automation in logistics. Further benefits can be derived on a case to case basis as the technology is put in use. However, like with all new things, there’s a need to exercise caution. In a statement by the company, Luq Niazi, global managing director of IBM Consumer, explains the care organizations working with intelligent automation need to take. He says “The entire value chain operational infrastructure of B2B and B2C commerce, there has already been an increased adoption and demand for intelligent automation. This also brings forth the need for stronger transparency, ethical practices and business prioritization to evaluate and deploy AI responsibility.”

We at BlueGrace understand the importance of an intelligent tech-enabled ecosystem. Hence we have leveraged intelligent automation to build our transportation management system. The BlueGrace TMS provides its users with high-tech tools, visibility, visual analytics, speed, reliability, and it easily integrates with other systems and technologies. Along with performing all the regular functions, it also empowers you to identify opportunities to reduce costs and optimize your supply chain. To connect with our team to know more about BlueGrace’s TMS and how it can support your business growth, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below, and one of our experts will contact you today!

7 Benefits of Outsourcing Logistics to a 3PL

To outsource logistics or manage it internally is a major point of consideration for organizations. The decision is usually arrived at after extensive cost-benefit analysis of both the alternatives. While the outcome is often based on the size and nature of the business, availability of capital and manpower, geography served, operational risks involved and extent of control an organization is willing to let go of, outsourcing is increasingly becoming a favored option. Below we will highlight the top seven reasons why you should consider it too.

While your in-house team may be expert at all the functions, the complex nature of the job makes it challenging for them to do all of it by themselves.

Expertise: Logistics is a very dynamic function. A logistician is required to understand business strategy, manufacturing planning, inventory management, and the nitty gritty of different modes of transportation depending on regions served. Along with having expert knowledge of these functions, they are also expected to be good at creating strategies and implementing them. It also requires a lot of coordination and collaboration with various service providers and government regulatory agencies. While your in-house team may be expert at all the functions, the complex nature of the job makes it challenging for them to do all of it by themselves. A 3PL has expertise in all these functions, they also have a connection with external agencies. They can take over the more tedious and complex jobs, freeing your team to strategize and plan the business.

From negotiating rates, booking the freight, providing storage, arranging for the transportation, getting the shipment loaded to following up on the shipment till it reaches the final destination, a 3PL can do it all.

Taking product to market: A 3PL arranges the transportation – local or international, to ensure that your product reaches the intended destination on time. From negotiating rates, booking the freight, providing storage, arranging for the transportation, getting the shipment loaded to following up on the shipment till it reaches the final destination, a 3PL can do it all. In the case you have international shipments, a 3PL has the experienced professionals to manage that as well. How much and how a 3PL contributes to the process depends on the organization that it works with.

Trained staff: A 3PL not only brings in the logistical facilities like warehouse facilities and transportation, but it also brings with it trained personnel who are equipped to handle the day-to-day logistics of the business. 3PL staff is trained to handle the exigencies of the business and deliver on the KPIs you set for them.

This is the age of digital logistics.

Technology: This is the age of digital logistics. A 3PL brings with it specifically designed, trusted, and ready-to-use systems and processes that can manage the end-to-end logistical process on a single platform. Most of the 3PL service providers are also open to customizing or integrating their digital platforms with that of the organization they work with. This flexibility offered by a 3PL not only helps the organization bridge the gaps in its systems but also helps it to do it at a comparatively lower cost.

Large network: The main objective of any business is to conquer new frontiers and markets. And, to do this, it requires a wide logistics network and a robust, flawlessly executed logistics strategy. Your 3PL partner is expected to and can help you achieve your business goals. They may either have their own network across regions or they may have business collaborations with transporters and storage facility providers in different regions or a mix of these two, their own network in some cities and collaboration in another. They are thus better placed to help you expand and grow your business. To do this, all you need to do is work with them in a collaborative manner to find the most optimum solution to reach your customers.

A 3PL not only has the means to do so, but also the technology and the trained staff to execute the process efficiently.

Dedicated customer service: Logistics is now a major part of customer service. Obtaining the right product, packed in the right manner, at the required delivery time is on every customer’s wishlist. This can only happen if the ordering process and logistics are synchronized and managed correctly. A 3PL not only has the means to do so, but also the technology and the trained staff to execute the process efficiently.

Cost Reduction: Last but not least, outsourcing logistics and allied activities to a 3PL not only provides all the above benefits and improves efficiency but also reduces operating costs and administration overheads.

Why BlueGrace?

When companies want superior supply chain management services and best-in-class technology, they turn to BlueGrace®. Why? Our progressive approach to transportation management helps customers of all sizes drive savings and simplicity into their supply chains.

You landed the Wal-Mart account! Now what? The Retail-Supplier Relationship

An enviable position

Congratulations! You made it this far – you’re a Walmart supplier. To achieve this, you’ve provided all your information, proven that your products are a good fit for Walmart’s customers and demonstrated that you are the sort of business Walmart wants to work with. You’ve filled in the forms, shared your certificates and completed the 11 step onboarding process.

It’s a fantastic achievement. According to Walmart, you’re now one of 100,000 businesses worldwide supplying products to its customers. That number demonstrates just how much Walmart is the “800 lb. gorilla” in the supply chain, and it’s also a mark of how highly regarded you are, as a CPG company, to have it agree to distribute your products.

We know that all your distributors, all the retailers you sell wholesale to, are important to you, but Walmart is possibly just that little bit more special. Whether you’ve just started, or have been supplying it for a few years, it’s a different business to the one we all grew up with. The pressure Walmart faces are the same as the rest of the retail sector. Its size is a double-edged sword – its footprint of stores and operations means there are more places to be affected by market disruptions, yet it has the resources to not only weather the storm, but profit from it too.

Just being big isn’t enough, however. What marks Walmart out is its commitment to innovation. In July 2019 it opens its first high-tech consolidation center — a 340,000-square-foot dock in Colton, California that will use automated technology to receive, sort and ship freight. According to the announcement, this ‘will enable three times more volume to flow throughout the center’.

Walmart innovates to maintain its position. Why does it need to do that?

The Situation Today

Walmart needs to continually innovate because it faces a very real threat.


Amazon has been at the forefront of the consumer shopping experience revolution. One-click payments, same-day delivery in certain geographies, multiple delivery and collection options, dash buttons – all features that are shaping customer expectations. Its dominance of the retail landscape is such that it has gone from driving 15 percent of core US personal consumption expenditure (PCE) growth in 2013 to 69 percent in 2017, according to Morgan Stanley Research.

This has forced many retailers, including Walmart, to revise how they serve customers. For Walmart, that means a switch from building stores to focusing more on e-commerce to drive growth. In September 2016, it acquired e-tailer, accelerating its online sales and helping it to outperform the retail sector within a year. It consolidated its e-commerce position with the purchase of Indian online retailer Flipkart in 2018.

In much the same way that Amazon purchased Whole Foods to acquire physical presence, Walmart acquired to give it a credible e-commerce function.

That does not mean that Walmart is abandoning its bricks and mortar business. Those stores mean that it is closer to more people in the US than any other retailer, with 90 percent market penetration, versus Amazon/Whole Foods’ combined 74 percent.

So, Walmart is closer to you, but Amazon can offer a great experience. This is where Walmart’s innovation switches from automation technology in vast consolidation centers to delivering efficiencies in its extended supply chain. A customer can find anything in Amazon and get it the next day. With a Walmart down the street, if a product is in stock, that same customer can walk away with it on the day.

It is here that suppliers come in. Products have to be in stock. As Steve Bratspies, the chief merchandising officer for Walmart US, told the Wall Street Journal, “When we receive the product that we ordered, we see better sales.”

In other words, if a customer can not find what they want, they will go somewhere else. Not only does the retailer lose that sale, it also loses the opportunity to sell complementary products, or perhaps something that simply catches the shopper’s eye on the way to checkout. According to Greg Foran, Walmart US CEO, five percent out of stock at Walmart’s scale translates to 5,000 orders.

So, Walmart will do everything to make sure that its shelves stay full, that customers can find what they want, when they want it. If insufficient stock is ordered, that’s a retailer issue. If insufficient stock is delivered at the right time, that’s a supplier issue.

At the same time, as Walmart and other bricks and mortar retailers look to economize, they’re looking at where they hold stock. They want stores to sell, not to act as warehouses – the price of retail square footage simply does not allow that in the current market. That’s why Walmart is introducing these consolidation centers – to collate from hundreds if not thousands of suppliers, before using their own distribution networks to get the stock to stores.

That’s the retail landscape suppliers are entering into when they become part of the Walmart supply chain. Alongside this are rising fuel and transport costs – the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) May 2019 update forecasts that regular gasoline retail prices will average $2.92 per gallon (gal), up from an average of $2.85/gal last summer.

It’s an additional cost that both suppliers delivering to Walmart and the retailer itself, through shifting products from consolidation centers all the way to stores, are going to have to take on board. This ultimately impacts margin across the supply chain.

Ramifications: they say jump, you say how high

An environment of ruthlessly seeking efficiency, with fluctuating transportation costs, dominated by 800 lb gorillas.

What that means for suppliers is that they have to deliver when Walmart wants, not when the suppliers feel like it. It’s where OTIF comes in – on the actual due date, exactly the right amount. There is no grace period, limited leeway. That’s because flexibility eats into the margin.

Struggle to comply and chargebacks kick in – currently three percent on all shipments below the threshold. Amazon, with MABD, may appear slightly more lenient, but it has a similar level of chargeback on both late and early deliveries. On top of that, purchase order (PO) and advanced ship notice (ASN) violations (such as failing to confirm a PO or not sending an ASN in good time) levy a two percent charge

It’s just got stricter, as well. From May 2019, suppliers that ship full trucks must hit a specified window 87 percent of the time, up from the previous 85 percent previous target. For less than truckload (LTL) shippers, the jump is that much higher – up to 70 percent in that window, from 50 percent before.

It gets trickier. Historically, suppliers were judged on how consistent deliveries were on time and how complete they were. Now, those two parts will be evaluated separately. It’s all about having data that can be fed back into a stringent evaluation process to identify further efficiency opportunities.

Then there’s the challenge of Walmart as an international operation. As you grow within Walmart, there may become opportunities to supply its Canadian subsidiaries, or even further overseas. That brings its own challenges as you will need to comply with local regulations and legislation, both in terms of your products and your business practices.

What you need to think about if you are

So far, what we’ve discussed applies to all shippers. Yet every business is different, and there will always be specifics that only certain types of suppliers need to focus on. In this section, we’ll take a brief look at three types in particular: newer CPG companies, LTL shippers and those dealing in perishables (such as fresh food).

…a newer CPG shipper

With the introduction of consolidation centers, and the end of stores holding inventory, the onus of predicting consumer demand is passed on to CPG companies. That means knowing who your end customers are, how they shop and when there might be spikes in demand, even if you do not sell direct. This is a challenge for all CPG shippers, but whereas more established brands may have the resources to store spare stock, for newer businesses that capacity may not be available. This is where really clear insights into customers, coupled with efficient internal processes and a lean supply chain of your own, come into play. Falling foul of chargebacks will quickly eat into profits, making it vital that shippers can accurately predict consumer demand.


If you’re LTL, the positives are savings in not paying for half-empty trucks, but the drawback is less control over how the carrier gets to your distributor than if you were a full-truck shipper. The carrier may pick up your pallets, then go to another shipper for their products. It might head to a regional dock to unload your pallets to go on another truck heading somewhere else, before being cross-shipped on to a third truck with everyone else heading to Walmart. That means you have to build in additional time to your shipment planning to ensure that you comply with OTIF, which will have ramifications for your own production processes and supply chain.

…dealing in perishables

While targets may be tight for long-life or non-perishable goods, for suppliers that deal in products that have a limited shelf life, OTIF goals are even stricter. That two-day window becomes one, which puts the emphasis on the shipper to be absolutely accurate with their deliveries. All retailers that stock food and drink, particular that which needs to be kept in controlled, refrigerated environments, need it to be able to stay on the shelf for as long as possible, in order for it to be as attractive as possible to customers. Get closer to use by or best before dates, and consumers are less likely to buy, leading to last-day discounting and wastage.

The upside

It might seem like becoming a Walmart supplier is nothing but hardship and the constant threat of chargebacks. Yet it is challenging because Walmart is such a golden opportunity to get your products into the hands of millions of consumers, both in the US and further afield.

It isn’t all about the sales opportunity, however. With retailers like Walmart looking for efficiencies, it forces their suppliers to either follow suit or fall off. By aligning your own systems and processes with the demands of OTIF, you will end up a leaner, meaner machine. This means less wastage in your operations, resulting in less outgoings and more profit.

At a time when all sectors are undergoing huge disruption, this streamlining sets you up to thrive rather than simply survive. While it is demanding, the practices and processes you onboard will unlock long term gains for your business.

The question is, what do you need to consider when aligning your business with the demands of Walmart?

Top tips on being a star supplier for Walmart

Here’s what we’ve learned turns a good shipper into a great Walmart supplier from working with businesses just like yours:

  1. It’s all about data: Walmart wants its supply chain to be as efficient as possible, so it’s willing to share the data it has to help you shape your operations. If you don’t sell direct, getting tangible customer intelligence can be a challenge, but Walmart will share information, such as on-shelf availability and point of sale insights, more often.
  2. Work from the customer backward: On time doesn’t mean in-time to Walmart. If you don’t want to suffer chargebacks, you need to think about your timings from the customer backward. The customer buys your product after it’s been on the shelf X days, so how long prior to that do you need to be delivering it to the distribution or consolidation center? How long does it take to get from your warehouse to that point?
  3. Chargebacks hurt, so make sure it’s justified: Walmart may be huge, but it isn’t infallible. There’s a lot of automation, which means sometimes chargebacks can be applied due to mistakes in their processes rather than your failed compliance. For instance, a carrier may have delivered your shipment OTIF, but the DC did not unload that day. The only way you can contest, however, is to have full and complete records showing how you delivered OTIF against the buyer requirements. Having a trusted logistics partner that can audit your scorecard and compare it to carrier manifests is critical, and it could be the difference between receiving a chargeback or being able to challenge it successfully.
  4. Load planning: If you supply multiple products to Walmart, think about how they are loaded on the pallet or in the truck. It’s no good having the back half of the truck full of products for distribution centers further down the line, or shorter life products nearer the bottom of the pallet.
  5. Think like a Roman: The Romans crisscrossed their empire with straight lines, because that’s the most efficient way from point A to B. You want to do the same, but build in factors such as weather forecasts, traffic patterns, fuel levels, and load points. You’re looking for the most optimized route because it will save you time, which in turn saves money.
  6. Packaging tips: People need to know what’s in the box. That means distribution center employees, yes, but it also means customers. How will it look on the shelves? At Walmart’s Supplier Summit 2019, Foran said “packaging should be designed for impact and efficiency with large fonts that are easy to read, easy to find and bar codes which also are prominent on the packaging.”
  7. Cut down on travel time: Fuel and transport costs are the great unknown, tied to everything from crude production levels to the political situation in the Middle East and South America. You want to control as much as possible, so limit how far you need to move your inventory by positioning it closer to warehouse locations. If Walmart is selling your product predominantly in California, why not get as close as possible to the new consolidation center? Limit the variables and you have a more efficient machine.
  8. Appointment scheduling: Be aware that your mode of transport will dictate when your products can be delivered. Most LTL carriers will not allow you to pre-schedule appointments, preferring to wait until your freight has arrived at the consolidation terminal. It will then be co-loaded with other Walmart-bound deliveries, with appointments based on the trailer the carrier has allocated for that day. It’s therefore vital that you, or more likely your logistics partner, can work closely with both the carrier and scheduling system to make sure this is being done. By doing so, you will be better placed to identify exceptions, such as where the carrier cannot accommodate the delivery, to adjust OTIF without penalty. Most suppliers don’t realize this and miss the opportunity. It is important to note, however, that this must not be abused and is for exceptions only. Your lead logistics service provider is expected to have the right connections and expertise to manage it professionally.
  9. Speaking of carriers, reliable ones are worth their weight in gold: We hear of horror stories where carriers and shippers fall out because neither can clearly understand what the other is actually trying to achieve. The number one mistake people make is to think that being efficient equals going for the cheapest option, when it’s actually about having every part of your chain operating reliably. There are carriers that will drop prices to get business on board, but if you’re then simply more low-paying cattle, is your OTIF compliance going to be top of the carrier’s agenda? You want a good price, certainly, but you need a partner that’s aligned with your objectives more.
  10. The right foundations: You can’t operate a 21st-century business using 20th-century tools. To compete in today’s market needs having the right technology underpinning your operations, foundations which give you visibility and control and allow you to have sight of, and optimize, every aspect of your business.
  11. Embrace digital: Walmart is investing billions in its technology – that means manual processes and paper documents are disappearing. Digital tools like electronic bills of lading are becoming the norm. Do you really want to be the only shipper the trucker has a paper docket for, with the rest on his mobile device the dock or DC are simply scanning?
  12. Ensure everyone lives by OTIF: It’s all well and good your logistics team being held to OTIF, but when the penalties impact the rest of your business, isn’t it really a matter for everyone? It comes back to working back from the customer – the process doesn’t stop when the product leaves your dock but should carry on through to your production team. If you’ve got a lead time of two weeks to produce new stock, that’s not a just manufacturing factor, it’s a supply chain one too.
  13. Walmart want you to win; let it help you: Walmart run a sophisticated education network designed to support suppliers. It’s in its interests that you are operating to the best of your abilities, so make full use of the classes, academy, and tools it offers to help you do just that.
  14. OTIF is vital, but so is everything else: Walmart is taking huge strides in making its entire operation as sustainable as possible, which includes targets for suppliers. These are only going to get stricter, so it’s a good idea to know what they are and keep yourself aligned. There will come a point where being 100 percent OTIF compliant, with customers buying your products in droves, won’t save you if you have a huge carbon footprint and are unsustainable. That’s a lot to take in, so here’s a one-off tip:
  15. How to write a great OTIF action plan: Walmart lives on data, which means evidence. Write a great OTIF action plan and you will have evidence on how you will improve standards. But how do you do that if you’ve not done one before? Googling isn’t an option here – you need qualified, experienced support. Hiring the right people is one route – but they won’t come cheap, and can you justify having them on staff as a permanent employee. Another option would be to outsource to a competent third party. One which has experience of supporting suppliers to build efficient supply chains, whether they’re supplying to Walmart, Amazon or any other big box retailer. Having a supportive partner that has done this, time and time again, for all sorts of different businesses and sectors, means you get access to the right experience and support, tailored to your unique requirements

Being a Walmart Supplier – a story from the frontline

For one Houston-based health and beauty supplier, working with Walmart was a dream come true, until the tremendous growth it propelled led to distribution challenges.

With vendor scorecards dwindling and chargebacks against purchase orders mounting the need for a better solution was apparent. From numerous carrier meetings to drive on-time compliance to costly upgrades in service levels, the trend continued to show little improvement.

Lead times were not an issue and inventory levels were manageable, yet carriers could not seem to comply with the OTIF date clearly displayed on the BOL. Purchase orders were being shipped with ample lead time and in most cases early with guaranteed service at a premium. However, even with upgraded service, the carriers would typically refuse to refund the charges since they were delivered “on time” per the standard transit.

To tackle this, the supplier analyzed the data and scorecards to determine the root cause and set a baseline for current state performance. Next, an assessment of ERP integration capabilities was performed. By linking this with a transport management system, this supplier was able to apply custom business rules to achieve the missing link of the overall issue.

What this meant was that no matter when the order was received in advance of the OTIF, the supplier could effectively route the “Best Value Carrier” and provide the most optimal ship date, relative to the selected carrier’s standard transit time. Each order, once approved within the ERP, would be rated and routed with a Walmart approved carrier delivering the lowest cost, standard service and shipped on the day that would best fit that carrier’s network, all to allow for the delivery within the specified OTIF window.

The supplier showed a 90 percent reduction in chargebacks within the first 60 days of implementing this program and realized the best scorecard performance in recent history.

Now it’s time to start work

As we said before, the hard work starts now. Remember, you aren’t alone – many CPG companies experience difficulties keeping up – back in August 2017, OTIF compliance stood at 70 percent, and it’s taken a while to get higher. Walmart wants you to do well, so listen, learn and take the opportunity that awaits. Look at your own network, your own suppliers and operations, and see how they can work together to support your business with Walmart or any other big-box retailer. Technology and nuances of logistics and supply chain operations are vital here. Working with partners who have the connections, first-hand experience, and understand both the business and technology can make the difference between success and failure.

BlueGrace is a freight and logistics services provider and one of the top 3PLs (Third-party Logistics Providers) with invaluable experience in managing complex logistics programs of leading CPG companies. The dedicated team has the first-hand experience in planning, building and delivering supply chain solutions for CPG businesses that not only help them meet the requirements of their retail partners but turn their logistics from a cost to value add.

You’ve done great work getting this far. Now it’s time to do even better. Give BlueGrace a call today at 800.MY.SHIPPING or fill out the form below and see how we can help you achieve exactly that.

Tips for Becoming a More Strategic Shipper

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While there are a lot of buzzwords in the logistics industry, it may be surprising to some but “business strategy” is not among them. Every company needs a strong plan of approach and a method of conducting business that will put them in a more advantageous position. Successful companies understand that good strategy isn’t about just doing better than the “other guy” but also about not hindering themselves in the process.

One of the biggest ways that shipping companies tend to shoot themselves in the foot is by looking at their carriers as a resource rather than an asset.

One of the biggest ways that shipping companies tend to shoot themselves in the foot is by looking at their carriers as a resource rather than an asset. Being a preferred or “shipper of choice” is one of the best ways to shore up your strategy to make you more profitable today, next week, next year, in five years and years after that.

With the dwindling supply of able-bodied drivers, the relationship between shipper and carrier is more important than ever before. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to attaining that status with your carriers and carrier conduct in general.

Move to an Integrated Supply Chain

One of the worst carryovers from the inception of the logistics industry is that aspect of the business is thought of as a separate entity, a cost center. By siloing these facets rather than integrating them, it’s easy to lose cohesion and efficiency.

For a shipper, every part of their business is (and should be) connected.

For a shipper, every part of their business is (and should be) connected. Your sales team is just as important as those in the warehouse or operating the dock. Even if those are all considered to be connected and are even working as a complete unit, transportation is no less a part of that. All too often, shippers look at their carriers as an afterthought and opt not to include them in the larger operations discussions as well as providing information to them at the last possible minute.

“When an order arrives, ideally the information shouldn’t only be broadcast to inventory folks and the distribution center. The information should immediately go to the transportation group so they can start to coordinate the capacity to move that freight. Too often transportation folks are only notified when the pallets are sitting on the docks,” said Brian Gibson, executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Auburn University

While cutting down on the transportation budget might save a little cash up front, it could (and often does) have an impact on other facets of your business.

Of course, the cost is a factor in this regard. While cutting down on the transportation budget might save a little cash up front, it could (and often does) have an impact on other facets of your business. Disconnect and poor communication with a transporter tend to end up costing more in the long run with delays, detention fees, poor customer service, annoyed carriers, unsatisfied customers.

Do Unto Others

The golden rule certainly has its place in the business world and unfortunately, not all shippers and carriers have learned to get along as they should. Pricing is the perpetual thorn in the side, of course, and it’s easy for one side or the other to take advantage when the conditions are right. The “us-against-them” mentality may be useful when it comes to thinking about the competition, but it really has no place when you’re working with a carrier. Treating carriers poorly can have some serious consequences in the future.

Think about 2016 and 2017 when shippers could harangue carriers for a better rate and carriers had no option but to comply. In 2018, when demand was high enough for carriers to be more picky on what freight they carried, the worst of the antagonizers were either dropped or gouged when it came to the bill.

Trucking companies might put up with it when demand is low and they have no choice, but don’t think they won’t drop a company as soon as capacity picks back up.

Build a Good Working Relationship with Carriers

Remember, carriers, just as you as a shipper, are in the game to make money. For them, profit comes when they are more productive, so getting their drivers in, out, and on the road to the next delivery is key. However, when a driver is delayed, that puts a hurting on their productivity and ultimately their bottom line.

One of the best ways you can help to strengthen your working relationship is to ask your carriers to audit your supply chain and make suggestions and recommendations on how to make it more efficient.

One of the best ways you can help to strengthen your working relationship is to ask your carriers to audit your supply chain and make suggestions and recommendations on how to make it more efficient. While detention fees might help to recoup some of the losses from a delay, remember, carriers would much rather keep their drivers moving instead.

Looking Ahead

While we might not be able to predict the future precisely, shippers are able to put together a forecast of what they’ve got coming down the pipeline for deliveries. Communicating that information with carriers ahead of time not only helps to ensure there’s capacity available, but it also makes life considerably easier for both parties and strengthens the relationship at the same time.

Trucking companies like to know what’s coming down the line, more to the point, they like to have shipments lined up so they can keep their trucks moving. If they aren’t expecting anything from you, then they’ll look for freight elsewhere. While that’s a good move on their part, it doesn’t do a shipper any favors when they have freight that needs to get on the road.

One thing to remember is that the more communication you have with your carriers the better the relationship will be and the more reliable the service.

Small to midsize companies will typically make forecasts on a three week or monthly basis while larger companies will run a two-week forecast. Regardless of the number of days or week, though the one thing to remember is that the more communication you have with your carriers the better the relationship will be and the more reliable the service. The optimal goal is to have continuous service with the same carrier pool. This not only helps to build a more stable rapport with the carriers, but it’s mutually beneficial to both parties to have a consistent schedule that shipper and carrier alike can count on.

Make Decisions Based on Data

The technology available to the supply chain has grown up so much over the past few years that we’re able to make inductive leaps that we’ve never been able to do before. With the right technology, we can collect a seemingly endless number of data points, aggregate them and turn them into something comprehensible. From there we can take that information and use it to make informed decisions as well as highlighting opportunities for efficiencies.

Even on the most basic level, for example, this technology gives shippers the ability to track their freight in real time and proactively make decisions that could avoid delays, rather than reacting when it already happened.

Conversely, this data is also a great way to improve the communication between shippers and carriers.

Weekly communication with carriers helps to foster positive growth in relations as well as provides the ideal opportunity to discuss operational problems and pain points. Yes, the transportation budget matters, but that pales in comparison to the difference between getting exceptional service and poor service.

Why Shippers Should Consider Working with a 3PL

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) can be instrumental in navigating this pro-trucker market. As a shipper, working with a 3PL can give you access to carriers that are not only rated and vetted but have a good working relationship with your 3PL partner. Consider it a “leg up” on building a good relationship. Additionally, a good 3PL knows what their carriers are looking for in terms of preferred or “shippers of choice.” Because of that and the changing market conditions, 3PLs are becoming more heavily relied upon to help get the job done.

“It’s more than just the growth of demand that is making 3PLs a tempting partner for shippers. With the influx of big data, analytics, blockchain technologies, and so many more innovations, attempting to keep pace can be difficult. As demand grows and capacity tightens, shippers and carriers alike need to be smarter about how they operate if they want to stay competitive in today’s marketplace.

As the industry continues to change, it’s likely that we’ll only see 3PLs continue to grow in popularity.”

Working with a partner that’s dedicated to shaping up your supply chain takes much of the guesswork out of having to do it yourself. We at BlueGrace specialize in doing just that, make your logistics work for you in the leanest and most efficient way possible.

At BlueGrace, we take your current freight data and get an inside look at what your team may be missing. Our carrier procurement strategists will help you meet tight deadlines, optimize your freight expense, and ultimately, find peace of mind. Fill out the form below to find out more about how partnering with BlueGrace can create more visibility and opportunities to simplify, overall helping you find a better way to do business.

Driving Down Supply Chain Costs with Mode Optimization

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The term “optimization” is thrown around often in the logistics landscape. It’s true, optimization is an indispensable part of a well-run business model. Of course, every business owner wants their operations running as tightly and efficiently as possible, but the footwork required to determine how to optimize your business’s operations and see tangible results is often easier said than done.  

Our Webinar discusses the typical LTL network and differentiates between less than truckload (LTL) and full truckload and the factors companies should consider when deciding which alternative is best for a particular shipment.

In our Webinar “Driving Down Supply Chain Costs with Mode Optimization,” Brian Blalock, Senior Manager of Sourcing Strategy at BlueGrace, discusses the typical LTL network and differentiates between less than truckload (LTL) and full truckload and the factors companies should consider when deciding which alternative is best for a particular shipment. Both have their advantages and weaknesses, but one may suit the business better depending on the kind of freight being transported, the location or origin and destination. While the decision is sometimes considered arbitrary, in order to optimize your operation, i.e. lower cost and maximize profit, it is crucial to consider the following factors. 

LTL vs. Full Truckload

LTL shipments must be 12 linear feet or less, usually 5000 pounds or less, and are “typically consolidated with other freight from other shippers,” Blalock said, continuing that they are identified by class and that the structure, and that pricing can be very complex because it is determined by product class, distance and weight. Typically, it costs less than a full truckload, an obvious appeal to any shipper. 

Fewer claims of damage occur with truckloads than with LTLs.

Fewer claims of damage occur with truckloads than with LTLs. “Why?” One might ask. It’s simple. Blalock uses the example of witnessing luggage being boarded into the belly of an aircraft; people rarely handle a stranger’s items as gently as they would their own. In conclusion, the “less handling of freight, the less damage to the freight,” Blalock says. Since LTLs require more stops and handling, more damage is incurred to LTL freight than full truckload on average. 

When shipping a full truckload, your freight is the only thing on the trailer, so transit time is only contingent upon the required breaks for drivers and the time between pickup and delivery locations. The freight never has to leave the truck because it travels directly to its destination, so truckload shipments tend to arrive faster than LTL shipments, while at the same time, incurring less damage. 

When to Not Ship LTL?

LTL loads should be the choice for shippers dealing in smaller quantities at a time as carriers charge by weight and volume, but may not be the optimal choice at every juncture. In order to determine which mode is right for your operation, create business and shipping rules around factors like weight, volume, time constraints, and cargo sensitivity of your shipments. You need to consider the rate at which damage may occur in your LTL shipments. How much does it really end up costing you at the end of the day? In knowing this information, you will be better able to decide in which case you need to opt for a full truckload, and which you are able to go with an LTL. 

If the margins are tight on your product, the last thing you want is another cost eating away at your bottom line.

Another key is understanding how business decisions affect OTIF (on time in full). “If you ship to Walmart you can’t show up late, you can’t show up early, and you can’t show up incomplete,” Blalock said. “Any of those that you do, typically, [are] about a 3% ding to the cost of the entire invoice.” If the margins are tight on your product, the last thing you want is another cost eating away at your bottom line. “Likewise, if you continue to not hit your dates, you’ll find that you can lose valuable shelf position, and you won’t be shipping to Walmart anymore.” Blalock says to consider using different carriers for different shippers to this end: “The choices that you build into your business rules include choosing the right type of carrier every time,” he said.  

Supply Chain Engineering

“Understand that we are following the linear rules of the carriers,” Blalock says. “Build the rules of your freight around your tariffs.” Blanket rate pricing main type associated with the LTL market. Customer specific pricing is negotiated on your behalf when all of your capacity is going to a single provider, which is typically preferred for shippers with a larger freight spend. BlueGrace negotiates specifically customer-by-customer to determine which suites the customer better. “If you’re in Montana or the upper peninsula of Michigan, sometimes you may just want to pay the more expensive LTL cost,” he said, due to the fact that market is more remote, and competition between carriers is less apparent. 

Identifying consolidation opportunities is the key to the cost-reducing aspect of optimizations.

Identifying consolidation opportunities is the key to the cost-reducing aspect of optimizations. BlueGrace’s software is designed to help clients consolidate unnecessary costs in their unique supply chains. One measure that BlueGrace uses is a center of gravity study, which considers various origin points and points of destination and calculates where each region should ship from to find the fastest route at the best cost. “You want to be able to take advantage of the ability to choose the right mode every time and drive down costs. If all things are equal, an FTL is going to travel much faster … and [incur] less damage to freight,” Blalock said. “If time is no issue, if the freight is indestructible,” then LTL could be the best option for you. 

Click HERE to watch the full Webinar and learn more about tariffs and fuel surcharges associated with costs. If you would like to speak to one of our freight experts, contact us at 800.MYSHIPPING or fill out the form below.