Date: Mar 03, 2014
March 2014-Special Transportation Issue

The Western Growers/CH Robinson Transportation Program has just completed its seventh year with record growth showing the validity and utility of the effort moving forward.

The program began in 2007 as a way to leverage the combined transportation needs of WG members for better rates and better service.  Over the years, under the same WG/CHR umbrella, it has been expanded to include members of other regional trade associations to further capitalize on the “strength in volume” concept and create even a stronger nationwide network of points of origin and destination.

“We have seen tremendous growth with more than a 20 percent increase in volume in 2013,” said Gary York, CHR’s director of sourcing, Europe, who splits his time between Europe and the transportation firm’s Monterey, CA, office.

Shannon Leigh, who is also in the California office and wears the title of customer group manager for the western group, quantified that growth stating that more than 40,000 semi-tractor-trailer loads were shipped under the program during calendar year 2013.  She said the products shipped cut across all categories with the lettuce group (including both salad products and commodities), citrus and strawberries leading the charge.

York said that when the program was first established getting the best transportation rates and service from the nation’s truckers in over the road shipments in the continental United States and Canada was the key goal.  Of course that remains a very important element, but the program has grown well beyond that as the logistics needs of shippers have evolved and been identified.

Today, through its advanced computer programs, the WG/CHR program can offer other services, including forward distribution, real-time tracking of a load and its temperature, overseas shipments both to and from the United States, purchase order management and a host of other transportation management services.

“There has been a shift in what we call supply chain solutions,” said Leigh.  “In the last several years, shippers are asking for more services and we are able to tailor our offerings to fit their needs.”

For example, she said one shipper has access to CHR’s internet-based Navisphere platform, which gives them the opportunity to track their own loads on a continual basis.  York said this particular transportation management system is available for shippers who have enough volume to warrant that type of service.  “For a small shipper, it is not necessary or advantageous, but for shippers with a certain density of freight, it can be very helpful,” he said.

The forward distribution service is another attribute of the program that has evolved over the past several years.  With warehouse facilities throughout the country and within a day’s journey of every destination, shippers can utilize that service and offer just-in-time deliveries to their customers without investing in their own destination warehouses.  York noted that this program continues to enjoy strong growth each year.

Leigh said the service offering real-time temperature monitoring is just beginning to be utilized by a limited number of shippers, but it can potentially offer great benefits.  It could be 3 a.m. and the load, sitting somewhere in the middle of the country, can exceed a specific set point.  “Our staff working that shift will be alerted and they can relay that message to the trucker to avert any problems,” Leigh said.

“Currently, we have about a dozen shippers taking that inside peek at that black hole between origination and destination as a way of managing their risk,” York said.

With regard to logistics abroad, York added that CHR is currently offering services on four different continents with the list of countries involved growing on a regular basis.  “We have customers who have freight needs all over the world and we can provide these services for them,” he said.

With regard to the transportation for the coming months, Leigh said the “market looks stable as we are moving into spring.”  She said there are some factors that point toward increased demand for trucks, including a recovering economy that has seen the Gross Domestic Product increase to a more healthy level.  While that will result in increased demand, the latter stages of 2013 saw an increase in Class A tractor sales meaning the supply is also on the rise.  While Leigh said there could very well be periods where demand exceeds supply causing higher rates, the short to mid-term forecast indicates that there is sufficient supply to handle the normal flow of demand.

York added that diesel fuel prices also are expected to remain fairly stable at least eliminating that typically upward price pressure.

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Tim Linden