In an ideal world everything between a commissary and its clients would be delivered fresh the day it’s made, but the nature of the supply chain will only allow for that when working on a smaller, more local scale. According to Technomic, a refrigerated truck can deliver a freshly-made product to a retailer every day only within a four-hour radius of drive time, which is why many commissaries are located near metropolitan areas. But what of those that are closer to their supply than their demand? Or for that matter, what of those whose businesses simply grow successful enough that they must expand their distribution area, yet still balance the freshness of their product with when that product must be restocked?
That’s where one incurs less-than-truckload shipping costs — when your clients need more of your product, but not so much that it warrants the cost of using an entire truck to get it there. Throw in the variable cost of gasoline and these stakes get higher or lower accordingly. And of course there’s also the element of shelf-life to contend with — the shorter the shelf-life, the smaller your delivery range, and the more frequent those deliveries have to be. In the end it can turn out to be an expensive matter to deal with, because the less product you have moving out in those trucks, the more you’re paying per pound to move them.
So LTL shipping is all dependent on where you’re located, how big of an operation you run, and the shelf-life of your product — but it’s also something that everyone has to deal with the best they can. Since going from working primarily with retailers to selling wholesale, FreshPro Food Distributors (formerly RLB Food Distributors) found that handling LTL shipping was a balancing act of unknowns, walking a tightrope of timing to keep their products as fresh and fully in-stock as possible.
“On the deli side of our business we have a great deal of our product lines arriving LTL,” says Carolyn Woupes, senior deli buyer at FreshPro. “The biggest challenge is having the product arrive close to the time we are expecting it and before we run out of our current inventory. Normally, if it’s a line of product that has a longer shelf life, we may increase our reorder point for four weeks, realizing it can take up to three weeks to arrive. However, with shorter-coded product we try to have at least two to three weeks on hand, depending on the shelf life.”
It’s a challenge all commissaries know well, and for Woupes, alleviating some of that pressure came down to simply organizing an appointment schedule to hold trucks accountable for when they arrived, and then taking some of the shipping burden on themselves in order to more efficiently keep their supply chain running smoothly.
“I’ve found that since we’ve implemented an appointment schedule, we have been able to keep better track of our inbound deliveries. Prior to the appointments, the trucks would just show up when they wanted, and it was hard to track down the drivers. We also always try to see if we can pick up the product ourselves after we make deliveries, so if the vendor is near one of our current routes we add them on as backhauls. With backhauling the product we have control of receiving the product when we need it, and we’re not at the mercy of trucking companies.”
Another solution to this problem that has worked for some commissaries has been partnering on distribution with another of their customer’s supplier. In this manner, multiple suppliers can literally share the burden by picking up one another’s products on alternating days and dropping them off with their own.