Delivering the safe way

As one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America operating one of the top two-dozen largest private fleets in the country, Safeway Inc. has an extensive network of distribution, manufacturing and food-processing facilities. The company operates some 1,712 stores throughout the United States and in Western Canada. The size and scope of Safeway's private fleet makes for impressive statistics:

As one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America operating one of the top two-dozen largest private fleets in the country, Safeway Inc. has an extensive network of distribution, manufacturing and food-processing facilities. The company operates some 1,712 stores throughout the United States and in Western Canada.

The size and scope of Safeway's private fleet makes for impressive statistics: It consists of 1,084 tractors, 4,400 trailers, and 1,666 professional drivers making 1.35 million store deliveries while traveling over 94 million miles each year. It operates from some 20 distribution centers with 15.7 million sq. ft. of warehouse space under one roof.

“We're big but lean,” says Tom Nartker, vice president of transportation. “Our lean transportation principles are focused around the relentless pursuit of identifying and driving out all forms of waste to continually reduce costs. We utilize process improvement tools such as value stream mapping, Kaizen and the 5S Philosophy.” The 5S are sort (distinguish between what is needed and not needed), set in order (have a place for everything and everything in its place), shine (look for ways to keep things clean and organized), standardize (standardize best practice processes across the organization), and sustain (stick to the five rules and audit results). Scorecards and key performance indicators are also key aspects of Safeway's lean practices.

Sustainability initiatives are key components of the fleet's success. Utilizing sophisticated route-planning tools to maximize trailer cube and minimize miles driven, the Safeway fleet has increased outbound trailer cube utilization in 2010 and improved its number of ton-miles per gallon of diesel fuel used over 2006 baseline numbers. Being an EPA SmartWay Transportation Partner has led Safeway to focus on maximizing fleet mpg through driver training, use of low-rolling resistance tires, aerodynamic tractors and trailer skirts.

Carbon footprint reduction is a company priority. Safeway is one of the few distributors in the U.S. utilizing nitrogen-powered trailer refrigeration units, which are low maintenance, virtually silent, ensure “just-picked” product, and hold temperatures to within one degree of setting.

Optimizing backhauls to fill empty miles on a more consistent basis has lowered overall costs.

In support of the company's overall distribution network, Safeway fleet managers control a large inbound traffic operation. “In addition to our private fleet, we utilize contract carriers to deliver goods inbound to our distribution centers and stores,” Nartker says. “A large percentage of these carriers are dedicated to hauling fresh produce directly from the fields into our distribution centers. Last year, this represented 196,000 truckloads and 3.5 million tons of product delivered. The sheer size, range and scope of this operation requires a top in-house team, which, fortunately, Safeway has.”

Continuous improvement is the key to success. “We are very fortunate to have a talented transportation team that works to make every run, every mile, every day a little better,” Nartker concludes.


Gary Petty is president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's website is www.nptc.org. His column appears monthly in Fleet Owner.

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