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Industry Viewpoint: Trucking through COVID-19

reedMy mother taught me to never let good food go to waste.

Albert Einstein taught me that “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

We, as members of the produce supply chain, are making them both proud. Crisis has a way of not only bringing out the best in people, but also bringing people together. Mom always told me there were people starving in some far-off land who would do anything to have my food, so I can’t waste it. Today, it’s not some far off-land, but our own grocery stores with bare shelves and nervous shoppers who need to be fed and reassured.

Over the past couple weeks, new levels of collaboration, safety, and operations across the supply chain are being achieved daily as we learn to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic on the fly. Changes in buying habits, supply and demand, and rapidly changing government regulations have greatly challenged supply chains. How and to what extent is often dependent upon the specific supply chain in question.

Those that supply sporting venues, restaurants, and hotels are experiencing tremendous decreases in demand, and have been forced to think differently. Some distributors have adapted to home delivery to maintain revenues. Those that supply retailers, online grocers, meal-kits, or home delivery platforms are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Though this environment is unpredictable and challenging, we must remember what Albert Einstein said. These difficulties have given us the opportunity to come together as an industry and keep the country running. Members of the produce supply chain are collaborating at previously unimaginable levels. Many shippers, receivers and 3PLs have removed punitive fines to the carrier base as drivers put themselves in harm’s way to feed an uneasy nation. Shippers and carriers are working together to ensure surety of trucking capacity and best control costs. Though the freight markets in the foreseeable future will experience substantial volatility, there are things we can do to prepare ourselves:

  • Communicate supply information to your carrier base. Where and when will produce be available for shipping? Help the carrier align their capacity to you in advance. Expecting a significant volume drop-off? Tell your carriers so they can adjust.
  • Identify mutually beneficial flexibility. Items like appointment scheduling, transit times and scorecard methodologies may influence how the carriers interact with a shipper’s freight. Be flexible where applicable to enable drivers to excel in this environment.
  • Explore alternative strategies. COVID-19 is producing different challenges by mode, geography, commodity, consumer behaviors and industry. Openly discuss these challenges with supply chain partners to seek ways to innovate and creatively deploy available resources.
  • Consider modifying basic SOPs. Some produce shippers have begun requiring drivers to adhere to additional safety protocols. For example, limiting the driver from accessing certain areas of the facility, or hand sanitizing before checking in and dispatching out.
  • Be an “enabler.” In addition to modifying SOPs, it’s important that companies support their carrier partners. Things as simple as offering gloves, masks and hand sanitizers greatly increase the driver’s ability to stay safe.
  • Look for opportunities to share your scale with others and consolidate. Volumes may spike up and down dramatically throughout the next few weeks due to rapidly evolving regulations. As they expand and contract, consolidation may allow for supply chain continuity, reduced pressure on the carrier base, and cost advantages.
  • Don’t forget there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Though we don’t know when, eventually, we will work our way back to a fully functional economy. Eventually, restaurants will reopen. When they do, the supply chain might be a little “rusty.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to bring out the best in people, and we have an essential job to do. Let’s keep our people safe.

(Michael Fullam is the executive vice president of ReedTMS Logistics)

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