Food retailers in recent years have paid a great deal of attention to controlling the energy consumption of their stores, investing in new lighting and refrigeration equipment and energy management systems, among other technology.
But another ongoing user of energy — private trucking fleets — has been the subject of considerable scrutiny as retailers seek to control costs and lessen their impact on the environment at the same time.
Retailers may need to rely more on their private fleets because of the reduction of third-party trucking capacity and driver availability caused by the recession. With that greater reliance, a number of major retailers are taking steps to upgrade the efficiency of their fleets.
Last month, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co.  released its 2010 Sustainability Report, in which its transportation efficiency efforts were described. Overall, Kroger's fleet, which includes 1,800 tractors (60% owned by Kroger) and 8,200 trailers (90% owned), improved its efficiency by 7% last year. The company intends to improve fleet efficiency by more than 25% by 2014; this includes an increase of 15% in cube (trailer maximization) efficiency and a 20% gain in miles per gallon of fuel, as well as a 10% reduction in empty returning trailers.
Kroger is one of several food retailers participating in the SmartWay Transport Partnership, the Environmental Protection Agency's program to help companies use the newest technology to reduce their fleets' fuel consumption and emissions. All of its new trucks are fully SmartWay-compliant, including 40 multi-temperature trailers for Ralphs that have airfoils on the sides and use 8% less fuel.
Kroger said in its Sustainability Report that its newest trucks are “quieter, 99.9% cleaner, and 16.6% more fuel efficient than our older trucks.” Because of these features, each new tractor-trailer saves about 900 gallons of diesel annually. Among the new trucks are 125 Freightliner Cascadia trucks with near-zero-emission Detroit Diesel engines and greater fuel efficiency.
WAL-MART'S TRUCK TESTS
All of Kroger's trucks run at a maximum speed of 62 miles per hour, and more than half have a 2-3 minute idle shutoff, which results in a 1%-2% fuel reduction.
Another SmartWay participant, Meijer , Grand Rapids, Mich., also recently purchased 75 Freightliner Cascadia trucks with Detroit Diesel DD13 engines and BlueTec emissions technology, which meet EPA's 2010 emissions guidelines. According to Daimler Trucks North America, Portland, Ore., parent of Freightliner, compared to an average EPA-compliant 2007 truck — and over an average vehicle lifetime of 1 million miles — the new Cascadia truck will reduce fuel consumption by nearly 11,500 gallons of diesel fuel, cut fuel costs by nearly $30,000, trim carbon dioxide emissions by 124 U.S. tons, and slash nitrogen oxides emissions to near zero.
Wal-Mart Stores , Bentonville, Ark., another SmartWay participant, has long been a leader in taking actions to cut its logistics and supply chain costs. In May, Bloomberg News reported that Wal-Mart was seeking to take over U.S. transportation services from its suppliers — in what would be a major expansion of backhaul shipments — with the aim of reducing the cost of transporting goods to its warehouses.
Analysts quoted by SN pointed out that Wal-Mart may meet resistance from suppliers whose own logistics efficiencies would be adversely impacted by the plan. But backhaul is just one of the strategies Wal-Mart is applying to improve the efficiencies of its fleet, which includes 7,200 tractors, 53,000 trailers and 7,950 drivers.
According to its website, Wal-Mart's goal is to double its truck fleet efficiency — roughly measured in cases delivered per gallon of fuel used — by 2015 compared to a 2005 baseline level, having increased efficiency by 38% at the end of 2008. To that end, the company is employing better delivery routes, loading its trailers more efficiently, and testing or deploying “a suite of clean technologies” designed to save diesel fuel and generate fewer air pollutants.
All of Wal-Mart's new trucks will have auxiliary power units, trailer side skirts, super single tires and tag axles. Super single tires weigh less than conventional tires, enabling retailers “to get a bit more cargo onto their trucks and avoid another trip,” said Jason Mathers, Green Fleet Project Manager, the Environmental Defense Fund, which is working with Wal-Mart on reducing its carbon footprint. Wal-Mart also added 500 new aerodynamic trucks to its fleet.
Last year, Wal-Mart began a series of tests of advanced trucking technologies. “In order to meet our goal of doubling our fleet efficiency, we are taking an active role in the development of these technologies,” said Chris Sultemeier, senior vice president of transportation for Wal-Mart, in a statement. “We look forward to determining if these technologies will help reduce our environmental footprint, are viable for our business and provide a return on investment.”
For example, in partnership with ArvinMeritor, Wal-Mart began testing a “first of its kind” full-propulsion diesel-electric hybrid truck in the Detroit area that is powered solely by battery power at speeds of less than 48 miles per hour. This technology could help Wal-Mart increase its fleet efficiency by up to 25%, the company said.
At its distribution center in Buckeye, Ariz., 15 trucks were retrofitted to run on reclaimed brown waste cooking grease collected from Wal-Mart stores. That technology could increase fleet efficiency up to 2%, Wal-Mart said. Other trucks at the DC were designed to operate on an 80/20 blend of biodiesel made of reclaimed yellow waste grease.
ONBOARD TRACKING SYSTEMS
One technology that is increasingly deployed by food retailers to improve fleet efficiencies and comply with federal regulations is onboard tracking.
A key factor making onboard tracking technology more relevant to food retailers is the advent of new safety guidelines — Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 — from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety administration. CSA 2010, which will be rolled out by the end of the year, uses a more detailed scoring system to assess driver and vehicle safety. It will have “huge implications for transportation, changing the way carriers and drivers are scored from a safety perspective,” said Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing for Xata Corp., Minneapolis, a fleet management software vendor supplying such food retailers as Winn-Dixie Stores , Schnuck Markets  and Brookshire Grocery Co. 
The onboard systems help retailers measure and monitor driver behavior and how vehicles are being used, such as hours of service, enabling them to meet the new safety guidelines, Schenk noted. He estimated the more stringent safety requirements could result in a “massive driver shortage” over the next 18 months.
Smart & Final , Commerce, Calif., has used an onboard tracking system from PeopleNet, Minneapolis, for about two years, to manage its private fleet consisting of 55 tractors and 100 drivers and serving about 300 stores.
In addition to onboard computers, Smart & Final's system includes the PeopleNet Fleet Manager (PFM), which is hosted by PeopleNet, and customized “Link” software running on an on-site server provided by PeopleNet. (Costs for the hardware and software could not be obtained.)
The overall system helps Smart & Final keep track of “all the stuff we never saw,” such as the amount of fuel used per vehicle and per driver, accelerations, speeds, number of stops and on-time delivery performance, said Michael Quesada, transportation scheduler for Smart & Final. The technology allows Smart & Final to do a “top-to-bottom measurement” of performance issues, providing insight into “what we need to do about it,” such as “whether we need more deliveries in the morning vs. the evening,” he said.
The system also maintains “e-log” data to ensure that Smart & Final is meeting federal hours-of-service rules. “It takes responsibility for maintaining logs and makes us a partner in that,” said Quesada. “It's very accurate and we are able to key in on issues with drivers.”
Smart & Final also employs the Direct Route fleet routing system from Appian Logistics Software, Oklahoma City, which is integrated into PeopleNet.
The PeopleNet system has improved the Smart & Final fleet's gas mileage “hugely” and has boosted on-time deliveries, Quesada said, declining to be specific; it has also affected “the way we lease equipment.”
The biggest challenge Quesada faces with the PeopleNet system is “digesting the huge amount of data. There's still a ton of data I'm sifting through.” To accomplish that, he has developed “a good line of communication” with PeopleNet. “I'm still learning.”