How to Manage Your Produce Logistics and Shipping in North America

Importance of Understanding your Cross-Border Produce Shipments

Produce shipping can be very tricky if you don't know what you're doing. There are a lot of elements to consider and timing & storage is everything. North American grocery-retailers have to provide fresh produce all year round to meet demand and with produce’s limited shelf life, delivering goods on time is very important. The products must move quickly through the supply chain as any delay can result in the goods spoiling and revenue being lost. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that around one-third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide is lost each year in the process of moving food from farms to retail locations for consumption.

Produce has one of the shortest life cycles that exist, and although fruits and vegetables have all different shelf lives after harvest, there is always a heightened sense of urgency when it comes to transporting and distributing these products around the world. The supply chain has to be precise in order to minimize delays and maximize shelf life. In the past, retailers have relied on Wholesalers to handle their produce but more recently large retailers have started to enter into direct relationships with corporations and growers and then using freight forwarders who specialize in and understand produce’s unique shipping requirements to deliver the produce from their country of origin to the retailer’s various distribution centers.

Obstacles with Transporting Produce and How to Overcome Them

Freight forwarders need to ensure that all team members in the shipping process understand their role and are ready to react as delays or damages are costly and can result in the shipments not being accepted at their end destination. Transporting produce has many obstacles that need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently, such as delays at ports, transportation capacity issues and language barriers. Forwarders who have experience with these issues, ports of origin and how common problems affect produce will most often have strategies and relationships in place to avoid and quickly recover from issues.

It is crucial that the freight broker you partner with has relationships along the entire route and it is important to understand all of the touch points throughout the process. When shipping produce, you must decide which shipping methods will best balance transit time and overall cost. It is important to keep track of where the shipment is, and also what temperature it is being kept at, so that in case of rejection the source of the problem can be easily identified.

It is also necessary that your forwarders fully understand the rules and regulations for the USDA, US & Canadian Customs, FDA, and CFIA so that they have the correct information to make all processes flow smoothly. Establishing relationships with senior people within these organizations will help to resolve issues quickly and thoroughly as they arise. Having a state of the art P.O. management system that allows real time communication to the customer is critical to successfully shipping produce. It is very important to have the right logistics management team in place, so that you can save time and money when shipping your produce. Advances in technology and relationships with carriers have evolved the way that retailers obtain and ship their produce to always provide the optimal shelf life.

Ten Tips for Managing Produce Shipping

  1. Develop documented standard operating procedures. Ensure that carriers know the rules at a shipping or consignee facility as it reduces detention charges, loading and unloading feeds as well as mistakes in handling freight that has been rejected.
  2. Build your inventory of carriers. Identifying multiple carriers and modes of transportation to move produce gives shippers flexibility in pricing which is helpful when cost of fuel rise. Options such as intermodal or carload are more fuel-efficient than truckload.
  3. Create a forward inventory. Having a just-in-time delivery networks gives companies the ability to order products today for next day delivery ensuring freshness.
  4. Stay on schedule. Consignees and shippers should make carrier appointments to prevent increased wait time on the dock and reduce the risk of the goods being spoiled.
  5. Develop a qualified carrier base. Offering full visibility to your shipments, maintaining load security and ensuring that the cold chain is intact throughout the load’s life are crucial. Food traceability and safety are two of the most important challenges so validating your carrier base against strict industry protocols are a top priority.
  6. Make yourself an attractive shipper. Always inspect the inside of trailers to make sure that they are clean, dry and odor-free and ensure that your carriers know standard operating procedures, and that your shipping department confirms proper loading temperatures and matches case counts to the original bill of lading.
  7. Find the perfect match. It is important to work with carriers who understand your business needs and can fulfill those needs at the right price.
  8. Monitor temperatures. Monitor temperatures at the warehouse and make sure the trailer is the right temperature before loading. Make sure that your carrier has the right tools, technology and procedures to monitor, report and adjust temperatures while the produce is in transit.
  9. Ship it forward, trace it back. Prepare yourself in advance with the technology to quickly trade the product back to the farm, and even the lot, to save time and money.
  10. Deal with issues in a timely manner. Shippers are entitled to due process and to the right of inspection, but they need to process rejections quickly.