The Shipping Struggle is Real: Here's What Coffee Roasters Should Know

state of shipping
Posted in: Strategy
By Mike Ferguson
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The Shipping Struggle is Real: Here's What Coffee Roasters Should Know

Expect delays and increased cost. 

I know, I jumped to the punchline, failed to beat around the bush even a little; but the bottom line being shouted from every corner of the trucking industry, repeatedly, is that the state of the industry is…it’s in a state. Whether it’s a state of emergency, crisis, or just confusion around the perfect storm of the last 12 months (meaning, it’s not just about COVID) depends on who you ask. But there is consensus around one point: Expect delays and cost increases and don’t expect significant improvements anytime soon, especially in “Less Than Load” (LTL) trucking. 

Coffee roasters, who are absolutely dependent on trucking, should not only adjust their expectations and budgets but actively engage in contingency planning, expanding all timelines related to ordering and receiving green coffee from any supplier. That’s the bottom line and, in a manner of speaking, the end of the story. But if you’re interested in the lines that come before the bottom line, and how we got here, keep reading.

COVID, Obviously

While COVID does not fully explain why trucking is now unreliable and unpredictable to a degree that is unprecedented, the pandemic does account for a good portion of the problem. This fact requires little explanation for those capable of empathy but suffice to say, everybody has been disappointing everybody because everyone has never done this before, and the supply chain is rife with uncertainty. If the only factor contributing to challenges in the trucking industry was COVID, we would all still need to adjust our expectations because nothing is at it was. Nothing is as it was. Everyone in the logistics world has been working under conditions nobody ever imagined and under strains for which there was no preparation. 

Our first step in addressing this new reality is empathy. As hard as it is on roasters in these challenging times, it’s been no easier for the truckers or those trying or manage how all this works under life-threatening conditions. Beyond simple delays related to just being safe, there were significant increases in shipping volume across all sectors (known as a “freight surge”) while people were staying home and clicking away. Yes, it appears there is a dim light at the end of the COVID tunnel, but then there is the…


Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

Established by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) in 2020, the Commercial Driver’s License Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse was designed to identify drivers who are prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle based on the Department of Transportation’s substance abuse program violations. While few would consider this a bad idea, introducing a new and substantial regulatory element to the trucking industry in 2020 was unfortunate timing. The clearinghouse is a database employers must use, similar to a background check, on all new employees at the time of hire and on all existing employees annually. 

According to a December 8, 2020 article in Transportation Topics News, “Nearly 46,000 driver drug-related violations have been recorded in the federal Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse during its first 10 months of operation, but only about 4,400 drivers have completed their return-to-duty requirements.” That’s over 40,000 truckers removed from roads, reducing long-haul capacity by 5-6% at a time when the trucking industry was already experiencing…


Driver Shortages

In addition to the 40,000 drivers lost through the clearinghouse program:

  • - Driving schools and Commercial Driver License-granting agencies shut down during the pandemic.
  • - Drivers are retiring and/or making career changes at record rates.
  • - The number of new drivers receiving Commercial Driver Licenses has dropped by 40%.
  • - Of the 92,000 trucking jobs lost early in the pandemic, only 52,000 have returned.
  • - In March 2021, trucker availability (as measured by something called the Driver Availability Index) hit a record low, meaning the demand for truckers is outpacing the supply of truckers at historic levels.

And these are just some of the major players in the current trucking drama. There have been many additional obstacles, such as unusually foul late winter weather and other minor changes to the regulatory environment. Around the time this blog is posted, Road Check 2021 will be upon us (May 4-6). This is an annual event where mass inspections of trucks occur all over the country for three days. Trucks that do not pass inspection can’t move until they are brought into compliance. Some trucking companies just simply stay off the road for three days.

Those who observe and report on the trucking industry are not offering much encouragement. There will be rate increases, both across the board and in the form of surcharges for regions and lanes that are more expensive to service. While it’s no fun being the bearer of these tiding, it would be worse to ignore shifts in so critical an aspect of our business and yours. Overall, the surge in demand for trucks and truckers is good news. The market will adapt—but don’t wait. It’s time for coffee roasters to rethink how they plan their green coffee purchasing. When it comes to shipping, the unusual is now business as usual.

Questions or concerns about shipping with Olam Specialty Coffee? Be sure to visit our Shipping and Tracking Support Page for more information when planning your next wholesale coffee purchase.

7 months ago
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