Wholesale Delivery: Adapting effectively

Everything in the distribution operation changes every day, says Serge Tremblay, fleet supervisor for the Edmonton, Alberta-based western division of Sobeys Inc., a Canadian retail grocery and food distributor. “Our customers are always expecting high quality, reliable temperature-sensitive service from us,” he states. “At the same time, we have multi-temp refrigerated trailers running in different provinces, each with its own size and weight regulations.

“It’s also not uncommon to be dealing with a variety of climates and weather conditions,” Tremblay adds. “Our division operates mainly in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and British Columbia, a territory covering millions of square miles. We serve customers as far north as Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, and south to Calgary and the U.S. border, so we could have a reefer overheating or freezing on the same day.”

Equipment choices at Sobeys are driven by logistics and by ongoing expansion of the product lines the company supplies to more than 1,300 stores in 837 communities. “We haul a lot of dry bulky goods, along with a growing number of refrigerated products, such as a large number of dairy and cheese items, from our warehouse in Calgary,” Tremblay says. “We have also started hauling our own packaged meat products. Each product type requires different temperature zones in our trailers, and everything must be maintained within a few degrees of a specified set point to ensure its integrity.”

The long distances that Sobeys’ equipment travels have led to the use of about 20 sets of turnpike doubles. Dedicated carriers pull the pairs of 53-ft. reefers, along with the rest of the western division’s trailer fleet. “It can be a struggle to find the best company, but we’ve been fortunate with the carriers in our system for the past six or seven years,” Tremblay says. “Before then we had company tractors, but with new emissions regulations it became too expensive to justify the investment in equipment.

“We continue to own our trailers, in part to ensure product quality and integrity,” Tremblay explains further. “We spec the reefers in great detail and perform or oversee a strict maintenance regimen in-house and at trailer dealer and outside service vendor locations throughout our operating area.”

The Sobeys western division has settled on Great Dane reefers fitted with multi-temp refrigeration units from Thermo King. It has also added some Carrier models. For the past five years, it has been adding Super Seal models to its operation and most recently ordered 18 Great Dane Everest units. Currently, there are about 160 refrigerated trailers in the operation. “Our plans call for replacing between 12 and 20 trailers annually, and along with growth in our western division business, we’ll most likely be buying more in the coming years,” Tremblay says.

The trailers at Sobeys, Tremblay goes on to relate, are specified to meet particular needs. The tri-axle models are all equipped with pintle hooks for use in turnpike doubles operations. Additionally, extra insulation in walls and roofs helps ensure thermal efficiency in a region where winter temperatures in some northern locations can routinely reach -10 deg. F or lower.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Empire Co. Ltd., headquartered in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Sobeys operates 23 distribution centers across Canada. Founded in 1907 as a meat delivery business, the company initially employed a horse-drawn cart to collect livestock from farmers.

Today, it carries a significantly larger amount and variety of freight, and in all cases works to address changing needs while ensuring product integrity and on-time delivery service.

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