It is often said that change comes hard to trucking. And while outsiders often overplay that hand, insisting the industry is hidebound with traditionalists content to run trucks more or less as they have for decades, anyone actually engaged in trucking in the 21st Century knows that is ancient history.
Arguably no one knows that better than the managers of corporate-owned private fleets. These trucking operations each exist to serve one customer — their parent firm — and so must constantly prove their worth as truckers, lest the company completely outsource transportation, and what's more, they must operate as highly visible representatives of corporate entities and product brands as their vehicles travel North America.
The transportation team at Kraft Foods knows full well they are responsible for delivering some of the nation's most honored household-name food brands — from Kraft, to Nabisco, to Oreo and Maxwell House, to name just a few — in as timely and safely a manner as all their management skills and the latest technologies can achieve.
To dovetail with corporate strategies, the fleet's managers had to “change the focus of the fleet,” heading into this year, according to Mike Cole, senior director for North America Transportation, who oversees the private fleet. He relates that the strategy calls for “building unmatched customer connections; delivering a world-class cost structure; and acting on business-relevant societal issues including sustainability.”
Cole explains that the latter challenge of sustainability is now “part of how all of our businesses are evaluated, so it's on all our leaders' minds. All of our sustainability projects need to make business sense in the long run. Otherwise, they wouldn't be sustainable. With any project, there's going to be an upfront investment. But if it's done right, these projects will be good for our business, for people and the environment.”
According to Cole, this year the Kraft fleet accelerated its sustainability efforts through a three-pronged approach: It increased its involvement with the EPA SmartWay partnership to cut fuel use; it brought idling down from 13 to 8%; and it took steps to further increase fuel efficiency, boosting the fleet average of 6.2 mpg recorded at the top of the year to 6.5 mpg after just 10 months.
As for creating those “unmatched customer connections,” Cole says we “aligned our fleet resources to support customer deliveries — maximizing on-time delivery and ensuring our products are available where and when consumers want them.” In addition, the fleet serves as “a key component of our overall transportation strategy [with dedicated and contract carriers] to further bolster service [performance] across the supply chain.” He adds that Kraft made a point of collaborating more closely with its customers to cut empty miles by hauling shipments for them as a motor carrier.
To get in place the sought-after “world-class cost structure,” the fleet implemented a detailed five-pronged set of tactics. First off, Cole explains, the fleet “methodically compares our cost to what external providers charge to ensure proper deployment of the fleet. We recognize that proving and communicating our value is an ongoing process.”
As noted above, the Kraft fleet redoubled its effort to reduce empty miles, bringing them down to just 18% compared to the 30 to 35% common in many private fleets. Thirdly, the fleet invested heavily in new technology for dispatching and for onboard computer/communication systems for its 204 tractors (which operate regionally).
Fourth, Kraft's newest tractors were spec'd with automated manual transmissions that Cole expects “will further drive fuel-efficiency gains.” Last but certainly not least, driver training was revamped, including a pilot-testing program for “mpg training on a simulator that showed very favorable results” and will soon be rolled out to all drivers. “And the fuel-efficiency gain from that investment,” notes Cole, “benefits both the bottom line and our sustainability efforts.”