5 Key Takeaways from the Food Shippers of America 2017 Conference

Robert Nathan

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The Food Shippers of America Annual Logistics Conference is one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a fantastic opportunity to meet with other food and beverage-minded supply chain people, get some much-needed face-time with our customers, and learn about the trends, regulatory issues, and technological developments impacting the industry at large.

To those who attended this year, I hope you got as much out of the conference as I did. Looking forward to connecting again soon.

For those who couldn’t make it, whether you’re in the food and beverage industry or not, I’d like to share my five key takeaways.

1. Collaboration and teamwork are still the most important aspects of successful logistics partnerships.  It sounds so basic, but relationships are paramount in this industry.  As four-time Super Bowl quarterback Terry Bradshaw said in his Food Shippers talk, “We really get somewhere in life when we learn to trust people.” It’s only when you’ve established a foundation of trust and transparency that you can start to build meaningful relationships and work toward common goals. From my experience in the industry, there are a few things that set shippers, logistics providers, and carriers apart as truly collaborative partners.

  • They provide and ask for regular, constructive feedback.
  • They establish empathy by understanding each other’s motivations and goals.
  • When issues arise, the party at fault takes ownership immediately and proposes a solution.
  • They focus on core competencies, understand where they are valuable, and build customized technology solutions for their customers’ needs
  • As the industry changes, new mandates and regulations are rolled out, etc., they share best practices and encourage each other to proactively evolve.

Oh, and one more note. I agree with Food Shippers speaker Cori Purrington from ES3 that digital relationships are convenient, but can also be shallow. Getting face-to-face time or simply hearing someone’s voice over the phone can go a surprisingly long way in building trust—which is especially important when you’re in a bind.  Get to know your partners and vendors outside of email and text messages.  Long-term partnerships are built on real, human connections.

2. ELD Mandate preparations are in full swing—for both carriers and shippers. The ELD Mandate is here to stay, and many of the conversations I had at the conference revolved around compliance. On the carrier side, there aren’t many economic or technological barriers to compliance at this point, as ELDs have become inexpensive and user-friendly. Those who have not yet installed them in their trucks are waiting to act for one of three reasons:

  • They’re waiting to see which ELD technology becomes the “go-to” come Q3/Q4.
  • They’re waiting for even cheaper options to emerge.
  • Few shippers are requiring compliance before the deadline.

Shippers are also considering how the mandate will impact their business and taking the following steps to prepare.

  • Sending out carrier surveys to gauge compliance
  • Analyzing their manufacturing and distribution footprint to see if/how they can mitigate impact with more regional DCs and plants
  • Positioning themselves as “shippers of choice”
  • Assessing effective drayage and intermodal options
  • Focusing on drop trailers to avoid high accessorial charges and tight schedules
  • Creating more space at their facilities to accommodate drivers so that they can sit without running their HOS clocks

Because ELDs may reduce the amount of available capacity on the road, compliance must be a collaborative effort between all parties in the supply chain. Especially as the driver shortage intensifies in the coming years, efficient asset utilization will continue to be a hot topic.

3. “Shippers of Choice” have a real competitive advantage.  In addition to ELDs and an increasing driver shortage, rising GDP will also contribute to a capacity crunch in 2017. Some predict that capacity will tighten by 5-15% by the second half of the year. As demand for freight capacity rises, shippers will compete for the best options, and those positioned as “shippers of choice” will come out ahead. Smart shippers are revising accessorial schedules, speeding up load times, and requesting carrier feedback. It goes back to my first point. Shippers who focus on collaboration and relationship-building will attract the best carriers and prices.

4. Amazon is taking over and changing the supply chain game.  Amazon is now considered the largest distribution company in the world. Food Shippers speaker John Larkin stated that by 2020, it’s estimated that 15 percent of all retail will be e-commerce, and Amazon will command half of that. From drones, to self-driving cars, to smart shopping carts and shelves in stores, Amazon is re-imagining all facets of the supply chain—and the impacts will be huge. 

In addition, Amazon is changing consumers’ expectations around tracking and tracing shipments. Dubbed the “Amazon Effect,” B2B buyers are beginning to expect the same level of visibility they’d get when purchasing an item for themselves on Amazon. We’ll likely see more technology platforms that offer these capabilities in the future.

5. More disruptive forces are coming. Beyond rising GDP, trucking regulations, capacity fluctuations, and the “Amazon Effect,” there are a few other disruptors on the horizon that are worth mentioning. 

  • Fuel prices are on the rise, which will cause truckload and intermodal prices to rise as well—especially in the second half of the year.
  • Trucking companies and shippers that implement progressive automation-focused technologies now—like 10-4’s visibility platform or project44’s APIs for example—will experience significant performance gains and cost-savings in the future.
  • The retail channel will become increasingly complex. From buying-channel and product-range proliferation to lightning-fast delivery speeds, the entire supply chain industry must adapt to swiftly changing consumer preferences.

Food shippers, logistics providers, and carriers alike are facing some pretty significant changes.  It’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. My team and I are excited to work with our customers and carrier partners to tackle these industry challenges head-on.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Food Shippers speaker and bestselling author Tim Sanders: “We’re all in the business of solving problems, no matter what it says on our business card. If you harness the power of deep relationships throughout your value chain and bring people together around a shared vision, you can achieve rapid problem solving.”

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