The Impact of Produce Season on Your Freight
Consumers love when their favorite fruits and vegetables are in season at the grocery store. For shippers, however, spring can bring periods of tight capacity. Don’t let the quiet market following the post-holiday period catch you off guard. There are predictions for a stronger produce season this year versus previous years that were affected by hurricanes, so shippers should keep in mind that transportation might be difficult to secure.
Depending on the region, produce season begins as early as February and can cause disruptions to transportation—even for shippers who don’t ship produce. In addition, unpredictable weather can affect harvest time at the last minute. As a result, all shippers must prepare for the impact of produce season.
The Impact on Rates
How acute is the impact of produce season on freight rates? The Journal of Commerce estimates that spot market freight volume rises by up to 30 percent during the spring. Refrigerated trucks are especially hard to find and demand an even higher premium this time of year. The unintended victims of produce season include non-produce shippers trying to move freight out of these busy regions. As capacity becomes tighter, rates increase for shippers. Working with Echo as your third-party logistics (3PL) partner can help you navigate this period of high demand by providing access to our network of over 50,000 transportation providers.
The Impact on Ground Transportation
Peak times for produce and the effect on truckload markets vary by region and produce type. Mexico usually kicks off produce season in late February. Produce season then moves to Texas, to the southeast, to southern California by April, and finally northward as the temperature rises. Strawberries offer a great example of produce season’s effect on transportation. Approximately 1.7 billion pounds of strawberries were grown and transported domestically last year, and nearly 70% of those shipments took place between March and August. Their seasonality and subsequent demand for transportation have a direct impact on truck availability across the country and reflect a similar influx in demand for shipping other produce.
Expect a Decrease in Capacity
Produce season is shaping up to have a significant effect on freight shipping this year, so even shippers far removed from the produce market can feel the squeeze. Many independent, small, and medium-sized fleets in the U.S. position equipment in the harvesting region due to high volume and short or limited lead times. Not only is the harvesting market impacted, but other parts of the U.S. distribution model experience a decrease in capacity as well, since much of it is positioned in the produce area for maximum revenue per load.
Longer Wait Times at Grocery and Wholesale Distributors
Because of its limited shelf life, produce is considered a high-priority delivery item that takes precedence over most other deliveries during the season. As a result, shippers of non-produce items can experience a disruption to their supply chain. To manage the increase in shipments during produce season, grocer and produce wholesaler locations can adjust their receiving hours and detention time for maximum delivery options. Shippers can be proactive and contact these locations to determine the best pickup and delivery times to ensure their freight keeps moving.
How Shippers Can Minimize the Impact of Produce Season
Shippers should plan ahead with carriers and 3PL partners like Echo for produce season regardless of location. Because most contractual pricing has explicit or assumed capacity per week and per day, shippers should verify capacity commitments and plan their transportation accordingly. Allowing for extra lead time and providing accurate volume information are critical to avoiding tender rejections and minimizing costs. Another option for shippers is to adopt a “peak” or “produce season” approach to pricing throughout the year to navigate the high transportation demand around this time.
Work with Echo to Optimize Your Shipping Throughout Produce Season
Shippers can get ahead of produce season by selecting Echo as their 3PL partner to help them manage transportation costs and tight capacity throughout the year. Third-party logistics brokers lend significant access to capacity and are especially critical to success during produce season. When selecting a broker, shippers should look for 3PLs with large carrier networks to make sure your shipping needs are covered. Let Echo’s network of over 50,000 carriers manage the complexity of produce season.