DIVERSIFICATION ranks as a major contributor to the success of Carry Transit over the past seven years. In the process, the tank truck carrier has become a top-tier foodgrade hauler serving some of the largest food processors in the industry.
Based in Bridgeview, Illinois, the kosher-certified carrier provides service across most of North America. Carry Transit's fleet of 256 tractors and 504 trailers hauls liquid and dry bulk cargoes ranging from sweeteners, edible oils, glycerin, alcoholic beverages, plastics, and flour. Operations also include 15 company-operated transloading sites and 10 commercial wash racks.
“We are always on the alert for additional cargoes and services that are within our niche as a foodgrade hauler,” says James E Blackmon, Carry Transit president. “The diversification strategy achieved two key goals. It smoothed out the peaks and valleys in food shipment activity across the year, and it helped us build a more efficient operation.”
The diversification strategy was put into place shortly after Superior Bulk Logistics acquired the Carry Transit assets and name in 1999. Part of the diversification occurred as a result of synergies between Superior Carriers Inc (the chemical hauler arm of Superior Bulk Logistics) and Carry Transit.
“As the acquisition unfolded, it became clear that we served many of the same customers in the consumer product arena,” says Steve Kirk, vice-president of sales and marketing at Carry Transit. “These companies ship or receive both foodgrade and non-foodgrade products. We're able to offer them a complete package of liquid and dry bulk transportation and logistics services. Carry Transit focuses on shipments intended for human consumption, and Superior Carriers handles similar products that are going into industrial use.
“Glycerin is a good example, and Carry Transit is hauling increasing volumes of that product. We took over the transport of plastic pellets from Superior Carriers — a change that made sense because handling procedures for plastics and foods are very similar. We are hauling a lot more flour, starch, alcoholic beverages, and edible oils. We see potential opportunities related to biodiesel production.”
Blackmon adds that Carry Transit has been particularly successful with its push into dry bulk cargoes. “We see more growth opportunity in dry bulk,” he says. “That's good because most of these products — such as flour, granular sugar, and plastics — are less seasonal.”
Despite the diversification over the past six years, sweeteners remain at the core of the Carry Transit operation. “While we have lessened our dependence on sweeteners, they are still an important part of our business,” Kirk says. “Diversification has brought much better equipment utilization through the year, and it has smoothed out the peaks and valleys in our business cycles.”
Growth also is coming from changes in the food processing industry. Many food processors run their own private fleets, and for-hire food haulers have been used largely for peak shaving (handling the overflow during the busiest times of the year). While the private fleets still exist, they are shrinking.
“We're getting more business from this downsizing trend,” Kirk says. “Shippers are asking us to go to new places and serve new regions. Private fleets won't go away totally. They'll continue to play a role in marketing for the food processors, and they'll handle the high-volume lanes. Less active traffic lanes will be turned over to carriers like Carry Transit.”
Keeping up with the growth has been a challenge; capacity management has become a critical focus for Carry Transit. “We're developing flexible pricing based on delivery times,” Blackmon says. “We're encouraging our customers to work with us on this, and we're making some progress. Our biggest shippers have been particularly receptive. We need to do more work with the intermediate accounts. Customers must be involved in the effort to manage capacity. They have a vested interest in it.”
Kirk adds that tight capacity is making it possible for Carry Transit to be somewhat more selective in choosing shippers with which to do business. “We look for customers that want a real partnership,” he says.
Whatever edibles are shipped by those partners, Carry Transit will provide transportation to and from virtually any point in North America. The fleet operates from 18 terminals, most of which are concentrated in the eastern half of the United States.
In Mexico, Carry Transit interlines with Transpormex SA de CV of Queretaro, Queretaro. “We're moving some sweeteners and glycerin into Mexico right now,” Kirk says. “We expect more opportunities to develop in the future.”
Most of the terminals offer more than just office space and parking for tractors and trailers. They have at least a small maintenance shop. Ten of the terminals have foodgrade wash racks that provide commercial cleaning under the Sanicare Wash Systems name.
Sanicare uses state-of-the-art foodgrade cleaning processes, and operations have been automated as much as possible. Proprietary software prescribes each wash based on the prior commodity shipped. Computerized controls help conserve water and energy use without jeopardizing the sanitizing process. Cleaning systems include Sani-Matic stainless steel vat units, Fulton boilers, and Sellers and Lechler spinners. A patented drying system facilitates the flow of air through custom-designed manhole cones.
Seven Carry Transit facilities have transloading capabilities that operate under the SuperFlo label. A division of Superior Bulk Logistics, SuperFlo offers customers a comprehensive distribution package with single-source efficiencies. The SuperFlo network consists of 17 locations across the United States, and 15 of them have foodgrade capabilities.
The largest of the Carry Transit transload operations are in Lakeland, Florida; Arlington, Texas; and Stockton, California. “These are some of our most active locations,” Blackmon says. “We're working aggressively to expand operations at those locations, especially Arlington and Stockton.”
More rail capacity is being added in Arlington, which is served by both the Burlington Northern Sante Fe and Union Pacific railroads. The facility will be able to accommodate about 100 railcars when the expansion is complete in March 2006. In addition, the terminal has blending capabilities for producing sucrose from sugar. On-site storage consists of four 36,000-gallon tanks for sucrose and seven 50,000-gallon tanks for fructose.
The terminal in Stockton also has BNSF and UP service and is at the Port of Stockton. Rail capacity is in excess of 100 car spots, and Carry Transit is moving a growing range of edibles through the facility. Cargoes include sugar, soy oil, flour, and plastics.
Within the intermodal sector, Carry Transit also handles ISO tank containers and roll-on/roll-off tank trailers. “For instance, we provide drayage service for cargoes — such as rum and molasses — moving by barge and ship between Puerto Rico and Florida,” Blackmon says.
With such a diverse operation, one of the biggest challenges is managing the various activities to ensure maximum productivity. That responsibility falls on the staff of the central dispatch center in Bridgeview. Tools they have at their disposal include Qualcomm's satellite tracking and communication system and Superior Carriers' fleet management program.
“We're still rolling out the Qualcomm units to the entire Carry Transit fleet,” Blackmon says. “It's being integrated into the fleet management system. Our customers benefit because they are able to access the system for up-to-the-minute status reports on their shipments.
“Computer services are part of the back office support provided by our parent company, and that has been a big benefit. We also share marketing resources and safety and administrative personnel.”
Dispatchers use the tracking and management systems to squeeze maximum productivity out of the fleet. The goal is to keep the tractor-trailer rigs moving and loaded.
“Most food shipments are local or regional, and the average haul is 200 miles,” Kirk says. “Most food transport rates are for a one-way movement. That makes backhauls very important. Our dispatchers will put together several short hauls to keep the rig busy. This means a driver may be gone several days before returning to the terminal.”
Keeping the rigs busy helps Carry Transit pay drivers a more competitive wage. “We want driver pay that is above the food sector average,” Kirk says. “That has been a factor in our requests for rate increases, and it's one of our negotiating points when we submit proposals to provide service into new markets.”
Despite the efforts to increase pay, the driver supply remains tight. Carry Transit currently employs 224 company drivers. Another 32 are lease operators with their own tractors. Carry Transit managers are hard at work adding to the driver force, and they are having success.
“We're taking some new drivers right out of truck driving school,” says Bill Kennedy, Carry Transit vice-president of operations. “We're also recruiting drivers with limited experience (a year or less) from dry freight fleets. We're targeting ex-military through a government program that we signed up for in January.”
Late-model tractors are helping to attract and retain company drivers. Along with parent company Superior Carriers, Carry Transit runs Eagle model International conventionals with 51-inch sleepers. Specifications include 410-horsepower Cummins ISM engines, Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmissions, and Drum Hydrapak hydraulic power for product handling.
Foodgrade tanks predominate in the Carry Transit fleet, accounting for more than 300 of the trailers. Walker Stainless Equipment built most of the tanks. Constructed of 304 stainless steel, the typical foodgrade tank in the Carry Transit fleet has a 5,700-gallon capacity.
The newest trailers have a street side ladder-and-platform arrangement that provides greater fall protection for drivers. Tank hardware includes Betts domelids with Girard foodgrade vents. At the rear of the trailer is a stainless steel cabinet that contains hose tubes and an Ibex stainless steel pump. Running gear includes a Hendrickson Intraax air suspension and Alcoa Dura Bright aluminum wheels. Carry Transit has begun trying Michelin X-One and Bridgestone Greatec widebase tires.
The tank truck carrier also is testing some of the highest capacity, lightest weight tanks in food transportation. These trailers have a capacity in excess of 5,000 gallons and can carry a payload of around 57,000 pounds. The carrier is looking at insulated and uninsulated units.
“We're working with several builders on this project, including Walker, Bulk Manufacturing, and Brenner Tank,” Kennedy says. “This type of equipment benefits customers with their own pumps and hoses at pick-up and delivery locations.”
Innovative equipment specifications are just another way that Carry Transit works to provide customers with the best possible foodgrade transport service.