Meijer Logistics

2022 Private Fleet Finalist: Meijer Logistics

June 14, 2022
The Midwest supercenter grocer is growing its driver base as it prepares to test out the next wave of zero-emission technology to keep its stores stocked with fresh food and goods.

With more ways than ever for customers to buy and get groceries, keeping virtual and actual supermarket shelves stocked and cold chains secure has become even more competitive this decade. Through the COVID-19 pandemic and ecommerce boom, Midwest grocer Meijer keeps growing. A lot of that is on the back of its innovative private fleet.

“Meijer prides itself on its freshness,” Carol Heinowski, Meijer Logistics’ outbound manager, told FleetOwner. “Every one of our stores gets produce delivery every single day. We’ve actually had some of our drivers here in Michigan call into dispatch from the apple sheds on the west side of the state and say, 'Well, I’m going to be here for a little while longer. They’re literally picking the apples off the trees right now.’ That’s how fresh they are.”

See also: Meet the 2022 FleetOwner 500 Private Fleets of the Year

David Hoover, the private fleet’s outbound logistics director, said those apple hauls tend to be less efficient than other runs but do pay off in freshness. “We have more deliveries into our food stores than other chains that we’re aware of,” he told FleetOwner.

With more than 250 retail locations in six states (Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin), fresh food is a big part of the company’s growth and success. Founded in 1934 as a supermarket, Meijer now considers itself a supercenter—a concept it created in the early 1960s. Branded as “Thrifty Acres” in 1962, the grocer added department store shopping under the same roof as the supermarket. Thrifty Acres locations became such a success that they were renamed Meijer in the mid-1980s.

Fresh success

While its supercenter model has made its retail locations into a one-stop shopping haven, the groceries are the star attraction, Hoover explained. “Our DNA is foods,” he said. “We’ve always been foods heavy. We’re thankful our customers shop the other side of the store, but we’re a foods destination and always have been.”

With 251 tractors and 2,847 trailers, Meijer Logistics, the private fleet for Meijer stores, is ranked No. 500 on the FleetOwner 500: Top Private Fleets. The private fleet primarily serves stores in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, while dedicated carriers haul freight for stores in all six states. Meijer Logistics reported a 99.8% on-time delivery rate last year. It also reported no driver out-of-service incidents in the past two years. 

“They do everything right—and they do it in a big way,” Gary Petty, National Private Truck Council president and CEO, said of the Meijer Logistics operations. “They have the same leadership team year in and year out.”

Controlling their transportation services is a big key to keeping Meijer stores stocked. “One of the things that helps us with our on-time deliveries is the way we staff,” Heinowski explained. “A lot of companies have that traditional first shift, second shift, third shift. We don’t have that. At our Lansing facility, we have 17 different start times. We have groups of drivers that are starting every hour to every other hour, around the clock. That allows our dispatch staff to be really nimble, really flexible with those loads because we always have a fresh group of drivers that are getting their day started.”

Growing its driver base was a big goal going into 2021 to be sure the fleet can have enough around-the-clock resources to keep shelves stocked, Hoover said. But like most fleets this decade, Meijer has seen some drivers leave to chase hiring bonuses at other carriers. Despite this, the fleet set out to reach 400 employee drivers by year’s end, Heinowski said. 

“We were able to hit that goal, which we saw as a huge accomplishment given the climate right now. A week after reaching that goal, we decided to raise the bar,” she added. “So we’re going to keep hiring.”

One place the fleet is looking for potential new drivers is in its warehouses. Meijer designed a training program this year that will help warehouse workers train and obtain CDLs to join the private fleet.

The late Fred Meijer, who founded the chain with his father nearly 90 years ago, famously said: “Customers don’t need us; we need them.”

Hoover said that has not changed this century. “It’s really important that we get the product to the store at the right time so they can be set for the customers,” he explained. “People don’t shop in our stores because of our trucks, they shop because of what the truck brings. They want it there, they want it fresh, and they want it at a reasonable price.”

Maintaining the fleet

Meijer handles most of its maintenance in-house, Hoover said. The fleet’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, and Accountability scores are well below the national average. FMCSA’s SAFER system has reported only two vehicles (and no driver) out of service over the past two years. 

“We are very good—and that’s more of an achievement because we have trailers out there that are 15 to 20 years old,” Hoover added.

To bolster its maintenance team, Meijer has an apprenticeship program that has already produced four master mechanics, he said. The fleet also works with trade schools, donating used tractors to top colleges in the Michigan and Ohio area.

Heavy-duty technicians are always on duty at Meijer's two terminals, Heinowski said. “Drivers have access to mechanics 24/7. If they see something is wrong with the equipment, they just let a mechanic know about it, and it gets fixed. I know the drivers appreciate having that quick access to the mechanics to get both the little and big things are taken care of.”

Rolling into the future 

Meijer Logistics has been an early adopter of fleet safety and efficiency technologies. The company is a past participant of the North American Council on Freight Efficiency's Run on Less program. And it is a five-time EPA SmartWay Excellence Award winner, including the past two years. 

“Meijer is definitely very proactive when it comes to safety technologies, fuel-efficient technologies,” Heinowski explained. “We’re definitely a company that’s willing to test different things to see how they work out.” 

The company is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50% by 2025. One of the ways it’s looking to get there is through alternative fuels. Meijer will be the first Midwest test fleet for Freightliner’s eCascadia Class 8 tractors, two of which are expected to be delivered to Michigan this July. 

See also: Fleets and their customers are driving decarbonization

Hoover said they plan to use the eCascadias on round trips of about 200 miles. But instead of slip-seating the trucks, Meijer will “slip seat the driver,” he explained. The fleet plans to dispatch the eCascadia driver from one Meijer location to another, where the other eCascadia is charging. “Then they’ll take the charged truck out on another 200-mile run, and that should fill out their day pretty much for us,” Hoover said. “And then another person is going to start on a second shift with the truck that was fully charged and do the same thing again.”

Freightliner parent company Daimler Truck North America will monitor the Michigan fleet’s progress to see how its BEV equipment operates in Meijer’s territory. Hoover said this is just another new technology the fleet is leaning into, like its past early adoptions of disc brakes, LED lights, advanced driver assistance systems, electronic logs, dash cameras, and more. 

“Among our members, Meijer is as good as any on any metric combination you’d want to pick,” NPTC’s Petty told FleetOwner. “We would rank them easily in the top 10 on any scorecard.”
About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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