Food fleets see a bright future ahead

FAMILY-OWNED trucking companies remain a vital part of the liquid and dry bulk food transport sector across North America. Further, many of these operations are going through a generational changing of the guard that should leave them well positioned for the future.

In this issue of Bulk Transporter, we focus on liquid and dry bulk food operations, and we profile two of the many family-owned companies that transport a wide range of food cargoes, including milk, sweeteners, juices, vegetable oils, flour, and sugar. Both of the profiled carriers are well represented by the next generation.

Schuh Hauling Inc, a Kaukauna, Wisconsin milk hauler, is the cover story. Brothers Clint and Barry Schuh bought out their father in 2004, and they have worked hard to expand the business by promoting just-in-time service at increasingly large dairy farms in the area and by aggressively pursuing backhaul opportunities.

A westward expansion put Ben Rouillard in the manager's seat of the Calgary (Alberta, Canada) division of Bess Tank Lines Ltd. His father, Jean Rouillard, founded the foodgrade tank carrier and still directs operations from the main office in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Growing demand for foodgrade tank transportation serves as a sub-theme for the two carrier profiles. It was also the driving force for the decision to upgrade tank-cleaning capabilities at Transport Service Company's Loudon, Tennessee, terminal.

Responding to calls for more bulk transport capacity may be the easiest challenge faced by the tank carriers serving the food industry. Other challenges could present significant risk both for the trucking companies and for the general public.

Some key concerns for food fleets were addressed during the International Milk Haulers Association (IMHA) annual convention. Topics covered include food security issues in the United States and Canada.

Chris Thompson with the University of Kentucky said that a three-year study now underway shows that milk haulers have been slow to adopt vehicle-tracking systems. He stressed the importance of such systems as a means of monitoring both the vehicle and driver to ensure the safety of the shipment.

The tracking systems have the ability to monitor the integrity of seals and locks on the tank trailer throughout the milk pick-up, transport, delivery, and cleaning processes. The electronic monitoring gives milk processors verifiable proof that the tank trailer was secure at all times.

Tank trailer seals are a point of concern in Canada, as well as the United States, according to John Johnston with the Ontario Milk Transport Association. He told fleet managers at the IMHA meeting that there is concern in Canada that pre-loaded milk tankers could present a tempting target for terrorists and vandals. More needs to be done to ensure that those trailers are fully secure.

Going beyond security, food haulers also have to contend with the driver shortage and with technology changes, such as the new diesel engine requirements that take effect with the 2007-model-year trucks and tractors. The engine and emission control hardware will add $7,000 to $10,000 to the cost of a new truck, according to many reports, and fuel economy may decline. All of this means higher operating costs.

Despite the varied challenges, foodgrade tank truck carriers are thriving. More importantly, a new generation of management is bringing the energy and innovation that these fleets need to move into the future.

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