Bulk foods provide cargo diversity for veteran California truck fleet

Sept. 1, 2002
BULK FOOD hauling may not be the main focus at Frank C Alegre Trucking in Lodi, California, but it provides crucial balance to the overall operation.

BULK FOOD hauling may not be the main focus at Frank C Alegre Trucking in Lodi, California, but it provides crucial balance to the overall operation. Further, the bulk edibles business has become an important profit center in its own right.

Food hauling was added to the carrier's freight mix in 1990 and now accounts for about a quarter of the business. Despite the success, management at Frank C Alegre has been careful to keep the edibles business in perspective.

“The future looks good for the bulk food side of our business, but we don't want to expand too quickly,” says Frank C Alegre Sr, founder of the trucking company that bears his name. “Food hauling is a recession-proof business, because people always need to eat.”

Tony Alegre, president of the trucking company and Frank's middle son, adds that managed growth is the objective for the bulk food division. “We won't jump out trying to get every piece of business,” he says. “We're looking for good accounts with steady hauls that give us good incremental growth. We want to grow with the economy at 3% to 5% annually.”

The biggest challenge facing Alegre Trucking in the edibles hauling sector is competition posed by other carriers that don't understand the cost of doing business, according to Robert Fowler, vice-president of operations. “They cut rates today, and they are gone tomorrow,” he says. “We've been successful hauling bulk foods because we do our homework, and we are very consistent.”

Security of bulk food shipments has been less of an issue for the fleet, according to all of the top managers. “We've had no big problems with security,” Frank says. “Trailers are kept sealed at all times now, but our customers are still far more concerned about equipment cleanliness.”

Food performance

More recently, the liquid and dry bulk food hauling has outperformed the general economy for the trucking company. Like many motor carriers, Frank C Alegre Trucking got off to a slow start this year. Food was the bright spot, though.

That's quite a contrast through much of the trucking company's history in which construction hauling played a major role. Established in 1963, the carrier was heavily involved in construction hauling by 1968. At the time the carrier built a new five-acre terminal in Lodi in 1972, the fleet consisted of 14 tractors and 14 gravel trailers.

Helen, Frank's wife, was active in the business from the start, running the office side of the business from their living room. She remembers it as a valuable learning opportunity.

“It was great to start at the beginning in this company, because we had time to learn every part of the business,” she says. “It's tougher today, and I'm glad the kids are taking over. You can't make a company like this successful anymore by trying to do it on your own. A dependable staff is essential.”

From 1975 to 1976, Frank C Alegre Trucking added bulk cement hauling. The carrier took over the Pacific Redi Mix transport operations in 1981. By the mid-1980s, the company was the largest cement carrier in northern California. Bulk cement and aggregate hauling continue to dominate the operation.

Food move

Twelve years ago, management decided it was time for more diversification. The company began pursuing hauling opportunities for bulk edibles and plastics. The first major accounts were signed up, and management hasn't looked back.

Out of approximately 165 total vehicles in its fleet, Alegre Trucking has 32 dry bulkers in dedicated service to flour and sugar hauling and 12 tank trailers assigned to vegetable oil. About 10 dry bulk trailers are in plastics service.

All of the vehicles hauling food products are in dedicated service. Daily and weekly inspections go well beyond what is required to ensure that every unit is in the best possible condition for hauling edibles.

Flour is transported in 1,600-cu-ft aluminum dry bulkers from Polar Tank Trailer Inc. Trailers — also with 1,600-cu-ft capacity — from Polar and Beall Corp are used for dry sugar. Eight of the bulkers are set up for vacuum-pneumatic operation. Four-inch outlets are typical for the trailers, but they are configured for quick conversion to five-inch outlets for specific customer requirements.

Tanks used for foodgrade hauling are constructed of Type 304 stainless steel to sanitary requirements. Tank capacity ranges from 6,500 to 7,000 gallons. The trailers are insulated and heated. Hardware includes Olsen vents and Thomsen outlets.

Food customers

Flour primarily goes to bakeries, while sugar customers include candy factories, bakeries, and dairies. The primary demand for vegetable oil comes from yeast producers, food processors, and tortilla factories.

Fleet vehicles involved in food hauling operate out of Alegre Trucking terminals in Lodi, Stockton, and Fresno, California. Liquid food cargoes are transported throughout California, but the dry bulk business is primarily in the northern part of the state.

The Lodi terminal is the largest of the facilities, now encompassing 20 acres. A total of 33 acres is available. A full range of maintenance and repair services are provided in the 13-bay shop at the terminal. The shop handles everything from routine preventive maintenance to major wreck repairs.

Regardless of where vehicles are based, all loads are dispatched from the main office in Lodi. The foodgrade activity has its own dedicated dispatcher. The other business units — cement, aggregates, and plastics — also have dedicated dispatchers.

Drivers also tend to specialize in specific cargoes. “We sometimes move a driver from one business unit to another, but only if it is absolutely necessary,” Fowler says. “We do that just to keep drivers busy.”

Alegre Trucking is making greater use of owner-operators. “They make it possible for us to handle market changes with less capital cost,” Tony says. “We can give owner-operators good, steady work at competitive rates.”

Rail transfer

Rail-to-truck foodgrade service is provided through GKA Enterprises Inc, an affiliated company located at the Port of Stockton. GKA was established by Gary Alegre, Frank's younger son. In addition to rail transfer, GKA recently broke ground for a foodgrade wash rack near the Port of Stockton.

Alegre Trucking also operates out of several third-party rail transfer sites in Southern California. “Most of the time, our customers dictate which transfer facilities we use,” Tony says.

Despite the growth in foodgrade business, construction hauling still dominates the company. “This part of the San Joaquin Valley will be a growth area for the next 10 years, with a lot of construction activity,” Tony says.

Fowler adds that this year has been very good for cement hauling. New construction jobs are underway throughout the Central Valley. Among other projects, Alegre Trucking has been working on an airport construction project in San Jose.

Cement is transported in Beall aluminum doubles trains, with each trailer holding 600 cubic feet of product. Six Sure Seal aerators on each trailer make it possible to unload in as little as 10 minutes. Dual domelids provide greater loading flexibility. Running gear includes aluminum disc wheels and Reyco two-leaf spring suspensions.

Kenworth and Freightliner tractors are used throughout the fleet. The newest units have Cummins ISM engines rated at 370/410 horsepower and Eaton Fuller 10-speed transmissions. With some of its most recent purchases, Alegre Trucking specified Eaton's AutoShift transmission. Initial driver reactions have been positive.

Tractors dedicated to cement hauling have PTO-powered Gardner Denver blowers. Those in food hauling service are specified with either Drum or Gardner Denver blowers.

Whether the tractors and trailers are hauling bulk edibles or construction materials, the Alegre Trucking fleet is a familiar sight throughout California. With the hard work invested by everyone at the company, the fleet should remain a familiar sight for many years to come.