As temperatures begin to rise across the nation, so does the volume for produce in freight and logistics. Every year around this time, produce peak season takes place – creating pressure for shippers to secure the right carriers experienced in transporting perishable products. To break it down, produce season reflects when fruits, vegetables, or any farm produced crops are most harvested and are then rushed to the market to retain peak freshness. This increase in freight volume subsequently causes a chain reaction for higher refrigerated container (reefer) demand and spot pricing.
In a time where farm-to-table food is appreciated and coveted, shipping produce just in time requires a different level of expertise. There are a lot of factors we must get just right as produce shipments are transported by ocean, rail, truck, or air — and generally a combination thereof — on its way to the end consumer.
Here are just a few:
- Loading locations
- Ready times
- Product clearing customs
- Quality control checks
- Driver availability and hours logged
- FSMA regulations
- Weather patterns, traffic, other external disruptors
- Humidity and ambient external temperature
- Proper packaging
On average, half the shelf life of produce is spent in transit and across the industry, if your shipment doesn’t make it on time and intact, it’s worthless. Missteps or mishandled cargo in cold chain logistics can translate directly to lost revenue, wastage, and empty grocery store shelves.
So how can you ensure your produce shipment is safe across the journey from your farm or facility to point of sale during the busy season?
Here are 3 areas to take into consideration when shipping produce.
1. Choose a Partner You Can Trust
Throughout the entire cold chain journey, you need a logistics partner you can rely on. Your business is to get the produce on the consumer’s table whereas a logistics provider’s priority is delivering your product safely, securely, and on time. Find a provider that has access to the latest technology, the right partnerships, market intelligence, visibility, and communication – and do your research. Many providers will claim they have all of the above just to earn your business, but their track record may not reflect as positively. You want a logistics partner that has the expertise and truly knows the ins and outs of shipping produce so choosing wisely will result in less stress down the road for you, your customers, and your product.
2. Temperature-Controlled Shipping
Probably the most common mode of transporting fresh cargo is by truckload via reefer. These containers maintain a stable temperature inside while controlling humidity and providing adequate airflow, keeping the product from spoiling.
For food logistics, maintaining the right and steady temperature throughout the product’s journey is vital. If not closely monitored, it can result in a rejected load with the product going to waste. It is reported that losses of produce from poor chain management can range from 10 to 40 percent. In order to optimize produce freight and avoid rejected loads, select an experienced cold chain logistics partner that optimizes cold chain technology to increase the shelf life of fresh produce and reduce loss for the entire shipment.
In addition to temperature control, inspection of what the freight is being transported in is just as important. Containers should be dry and airtight. Any visibility of standing water could lead to high humidity, mold, and potential damage to the cooling unit itself.
3. Planning for the Known and Unknown
As we mentioned earlier, this time of year brings more transactional shipments, taking up carrier capacity especially within the reefer fleet. As shipments from produce hotbeds Mexico, Texas, and Florida heat up, here is an outline of what you need to keep in mind when planning your shipment.
Develop a plan in early spring. An experienced logistics provider will be on top of trends and where the truckload market is heading, and they will be able to help strategize your cold chain. Ensure you’re your cargo’s needs match up with what they can offer. Getting ahead of the peak season with pre-booking freight ensures a smooth transportation journey but having a backup plan in place is not a bad idea. Remaining flexible is key to intercept any issue that may come along.
Prioritize your urgent freight versus shipments with some flexibility. Not all shipments are created equally so if you have specific products that are more in demand or have a strict delivery deadline, those need to take priority versus less urgent products. During this time, shipments can and do get held up so partnering with a strategic provider that has reliable service, experience, and equipment capacity is essential to a successful delivery date.
Whether it’s produce or any other type of cargo, we can help you create a strategic transportation plan to mitigate the disruption during volatile seasons. With an asset-based fleet of both dry and refrigerated containers, plus a network of more than 45,000 carriers, we have the capacity to position our equipment where you need it most. Contact us today to discuss how we can help ‘Make it Happen’ for your supply chain.