FOOD SHIPMENTS NOT BOXED IN BY UPS STRIKE

ATLANTA -- The strike by 185,000 United Parcel Service employees apparently had little effect on the shipment of food to retailers last week, but mail-order food companies had to make some adjustments in their shipping efforts.A spokeswoman for Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., told SN the trade group has not heard of any food-related problems stemming from the strike because, "our

ATLANTA -- The strike by 185,000 United Parcel Service employees apparently had little effect on the shipment of food to retailers last week, but mail-order food companies had to make some adjustments in their shipping efforts.

A spokeswoman for Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va., told SN the trade group has not heard of any food-related problems stemming from the strike because, "our members do their own distribution."

A spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, Washington, agreed that food retailers were unharmed because they rely on their own shipping systems. The Food Marketing Institute, Washington, did not consider the strike a major issue for the food industry, said a spokeswoman.

Stew Leonard's Dairy Store, the Norwalk, Conn., retailer, which also operates a mail-order gift business, made plans to use alternate shipping companies, including FedEx and Airborne Express, to handle orders, according to a store-level source.

Jennifer Jiles, a spokeswoman for UPS here, declined to say how much of the shipper's volume is related to the food industry. She also declined, for competitive reasons, to name any of UPS' food-industry customers. However, she assured customers, "If there were perishables in our system, we would have given them priority."

The Teamsters walkout, which began after a breakdown in contract negotiations, sent UPS customers scrambling to use the U.S. Postal Service or other private couriers. UPS handles about 12 million packages a day -- 80% of the nation's parcel deliveries.

Clambake Celebrations, a Cape Cod, Mass.-based purveyor of live lobsters, suspended deliveries last week after FedEx dropped its overnight delivery guarantee due to a surge in volume, said spokeswoman Jo-Von Tucker. Tucker said the company is deeply concerned about losing customers to seafood stores and supermarkets.

Chet Dalzell, spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association, New York, said the only good news to come out of the strike was that "everyone saw it coming and they had time to make contingency plans." With all the media coverage of the strike, consumers have been very sensitive to the mail-order companies' situation, he added.

Omaha Steaks, the nation's largest mail-order seller of steaks, poultry, veal, seafood and frozen gourmet foods, was concerned that its primary shipping company, FedEx, would be "overloaded" during the walkout, but it has not experienced any adverse effects, said Sharon Grunkin, a spokeswoman. However, the company has added extra dry ice to its shipments to ensure they survive any delays, she said. UPS operated last week on a contingency basis, using management and nonunion employees to clear out the backlog of packages and documents that were already moving through the system when the Teamsters went on strike.

UPS said it would accept only packages that were "critical" in nature, such as medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and blood, and only then from existing customers. The company was, however, accepting international and overnight air express letters and parcels for delivery.

Late last week, labor and management negotiators were hoping to resume talks with the aid of a federal mediator.