"The taskforce will help identify best practices that companies can address."
Terry Humfeld, vice president, said the association's leadership deliberately discounted other modes of transportation since they are minute compared with trucking and further noted that rising fuel costs was not the primary impetus for the effort.
"While fuel was certainly one of the concerns, our volunteer leadership indicated that there were a lot of issues that needed to be discussed," Humfeld said in a follow-up interview with ID Access, noting that the PMA wanted to identify specific trucking issues that it could realistically address and correct.
Humfeld said rising fuel and insurance premium costs are important but the PMA, independently, cannot resolve those issues for the good of industry. On the other hand, issues such as shortage of drivers, lack of trucks, receiver-driver interaction, government regulations and other matters that directly impact the delivery of produce create unease about the availability and reliability of transportation in general, he clarified.
"Where we hope to have influence is to identify and analyze transportation issues that the industry has created for itself as a result of long-held business practices, he said, suggesting the lack of drivers as an example.
"We're not going to have an impact on increasing the number of drivers but we would like to see what could be done to change the perception of how drivers feel about produce in terms of a product they're willing to haul," Humfeld said.
BENEFITS FOR FOODSERVICE DISTRIBUTORS Foodservice distributors would ultimately benefit from the removal of issues that keep some drivers from delivering fresh produce because of their perception of the associated hassles, Humfeld explained.
"We need to determine what are the hassles and issues and why is produce a less-desirable cargo and then address those issues on a company-by-company basis. From distributors' perspective, that would make sure that they would get product flowing uninterruptedly into their warehouses from their suppliers," he continued.
Humfeld admitted that he has heard that some receivers "are not known for treating delivery drivers very well." The taskforce would examine what are driver and distributor expectations and best practices that could be put in place to assure that truck drivers look forward to delivering produce to those operations, he said.
"Some of the recommendations that I would expect to come out of this study would pertain to what receivers could do to ensure that perishable products, such as produce, are not avoided by the limited supply of drivers," he continued.
One of the little things, as he called them, that a distributorship could implement for sake of delivery drivers is designating a room where they could get a cup of coffee.
"The taskforce will help identify other best practices that companies can address," he said.
Humfeld believes that with the growing popularity of fresh produce and distributors' desire to expand into this category, the results of the taskforce's work would benefit the supply chain.
"If distributors want to handle more produce and become a provider of choice to their customers, they're going to need to ensure that the product that is coming in from suppliers is what they want. They should also incorporate correct best practices to ensure that everybody can go along their way without being delayed substantially or hassled," Humfeld said.
The taskforce's recommendations are expected to be released next Spring. In the meantime, the PMA intends to focus on transportation at its Fresh Summit convention and exposition Nov. 4-8 in Atlanta. Included will be a town hall meeting, a panel discussion led by logistics company experts on challenges of trucking, and an education session on complexities of global shipping.