Ongoing improvement process

July 1, 2007
As with any trucking operation, Hannaford Trucking Company in South Portland, Maine, faces numerous operational and cost-containment challenges. However,

As with any trucking operation, Hannaford Trucking Company in South Portland, Maine, faces numerous operational and cost-containment challenges. However, this private delivery fleet has no driver turnover problem while serving Hannaford Supermarkets' grocery and pharmacy operations.

Attrition of its 190 full and part-time drivers comes through retirement. Nor does the fleet have any difficulty in replacing or adding the “right type” of drivers, as it cultivates its own through a dedicated truck driver training school.

Eliminating the driver problem is a notable achievement, considering the trucking industry's high driver turnover rates. For the first quarter of this year, the driver turnover rate for large truckload carriers increased to 127%, the highest rate since the fourth quarter of 2005, when it was 136%, according to American Trucking Associations data. The turnover rate for smaller truckload carriers declined to 102% from 112%. While these numbers may seem high, they are in line with what has been considered “average” over the past few years.

Hannaford Trucking was established in 1982 to provide retail delivery service to the Hannaford Supermarkets. Today, 160 stores operate in five northeastern states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.

All of these retail stores and 30 wholesale customers (independent supermarkets) are supplied by three Hannaford-owned and operated distribution and trucking centers. All operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A full-line grocery center is in South Portland, Maine (760,135 square feet). Another is in Schodack, New York (580,000 square feet). Health and beauty care products are supplied through a 200,000-sq-ft facility in Winthrop, Maine.

The roots for Hannaford began in 1883 when Arthur Hannaford opened a small shop on the Portland, Maine, waterfront to sell high-quality produce. Within a few years, his brothers Howard and Edward left the family farm to join the business. By 1889, the store was selling more produce than the family farm could produce and had added other products, such as poultry, butter, and eggs. In 1902, the business incorporated as Hannaford Bros Co.

The company expanded into the wholesale grocery business in 1939 when it purchased one of the area's large wholesale grocers. It ventured into retailing in 1944 when it opened its first market. Hannaford changed its primary focus from wholesale to retail in the 1950s. Since then it has grown to be a highly successful supermarket chain in the Northeast, employing more than 26,000 associates (employees).

Hannaford has maintained its steady growth and success by creatively responding to changing market and business trends and by hiring quality associates and empowering them to make decisions and get things done, said Chris Huff, director of transportation. “By improving on what we already do well, we continue to get better.” This philosophy includes developing its associates and offering them opportunities for professional growth and career advancement.

Driver retention

For Hannaford Trucking, that encompasses employing experienced, safety-conscious, professional drivers and working with them to continue to improve their skills for safer, more productive transportation.

“We have a systematic process and approach to hiring drivers,” Huff said. “The starting point is requiring that a driver candidate have at least 300,000 miles or three years of accident- and violation-free driving. Applicants then have to interview with our HR (human resources) department, driver managers, driver safety team members, and me.”

Along with good earnings for drivers, benefits include at no-cost to the associate a healthy behavior incentive health and wellness program. “Not only do we have a nurse on staff, we have dieticians and health educators available so associates can get health and medical advice, or have any questions answered, or get their blood pressure checked, and all without having to make an appointment and take the time to travel to a doctor.”

Huff noted that for the second year in a row, Hannaford has received a Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles award from the National Business Group on Health, which recognizes companies for innovative efforts to battle obesity and promote a healthy work environment.

To be prepared for the time when new drivers are needed, Hannaford Trucking “grows” its own, and “we've had a lot of success with this,” said Huff. “A couple of years ago we established an in-house driving school, and we began recruiting from within Hannaford, targeting our warehouse personnel. They know the products and understand our culture.”

A retired veteran Hannaford Trucking driver runs the school, and Hannaford developed a special curriculum based on various truck driving training programs and company operations. Classes are kept small, usually no more than six to eight students, with the training molded to each associate's work schedule. “There is no cost to the associate, only an investment of time,” Huff said.

After the successful completion of the training, associates are considered part-time spare drivers, and they continue their training for another six months to a year, working with safety trainers who accompany them on deliveries. As driver openings become available or additional drivers are needed due to growth, these associates are offered the opportunity to drive fulltime or continue to remain a part-timer.

Company-owned fleet

Hannaford Trucking, headquartered at Hannaford's main distribution center in South Portland, owns and operates a fleet of 100 tractors. Fifty-seven tractors are domiciled there. Forty are based at the distribution center in Schodack. Three operate out of the center in Winthrop — a satellite operation of the main center. South Portland and Schodack each have its team of drivers, dispatchers, and safety managers.

The company also owns and operates 370 trailers; 300 are refrigerated and 70 are dry vans, in 48- and 53-ft lengths. The majority of the trailers are Great Dane. The manufacturer has a dealer — Atlantic Great Dane — directly across the street from the main distribution center.

Nearly all of the refrigerated trailers have Carrier Transicold units. Models include the Ultra XT, Extra XT, and Ultra XTC — standard with Carrier's Advance controller and UltraFresh 3 temperature management — “because we are always looking for the most efficient and durable temperature management systems,” said Huff. “We've had a solid partnership with Carrier over the past 10 years and their service has been great.”

All refrigerated trailers are single-temperature models. Solid two-piece “bunker boards” (portable insulated bulkheads) manufactured for Hannaford by Index Packaging of Milton, New Hampshire, separate the frozen products from the perishables. The frozen is loaded in the nose; perishable behind. Huff said this provides greater operational flexibility for retail delivery than do trailers with multi-separate temperature-controlled compartments. Groceries are delivered in van trailers.

Contract carriage

Hannaford Trucking has a high ratio of trailers to tractors because it uses Hutchins Trucking, headquartered in South Portland, Maine, as its primary contract carrier to supplement its fleet. Hutchins Trucking uses its tractors to pull Hannaford Trucking's trailers.

“This works very well for us,” Huff said, “because there are peaks and valleys in the grocery business, especially around holiday times like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. That's when our volume increases dramatically. Rather than over staffing and additional capital spending for equipment, we've partnered with Hutchins.”

Last year, Hannaford Trucking logged 11.5 million miles and delivered 36,537 loads. The average length of haul was 99 miles one way, with the furthest delivery point of 356 miles. Loads typically average about 32,000 pounds.

“We are very proud of our drivers and our fleet safety record,” said Huff. “We have been recognized for our safe performance by several state associations. A number of our drivers have won state and regional truck driving competitions, and a few have competed in the national event.” In 1995, Hannaford's Mark Corriveau was the US National Grand Champion.

Hannaford Trucking has 44 drivers with 1 million miles of safe driving, 24 drivers with 2 million miles, five with 3 million, and one who is almost to 4 million miles, “and all of that mileage has been racked up with us. That's particularly impressive when you consider that most of our miles are on crowded streets and in parking lots. Our drivers also have to deal with the Northeast's four extreme weather seasons, as well as considerably increased traffic that comes during tourist season.”

Equipment mix

Of Hannaford Trucking 100 tractors, 70 are daycabs and 30 are sleepers. There is a mix of Volvos with Volvo power, Mack Visions with Mack engines, and Freightliner Columbias with Mercedes-Benz engines. “We like to test a little bit of everything,” Huff said. The engines, equipped with engine brakes, are rated at 435 horsepower and mated to an assortment of automated and manual transmissions.

The 40 daycab tractors that operate out of the Schodack distribution center are spec'd with manual transmissions for 48-ft double trailer operations on the New York Throughway. Drivers spot the rear trailer at a designated Throughway drop site and make their delivery with the lead trailer. This trailer is brought back to the drop site and spotted, after which the second trailer is taken and delivered. This trailer is then reconnected to the other trailer, and the combination rig returns to the distribution center.

Hannaford Trucking is slowly getting rid of its 30 sleeper tractors that had been in dedicated for-hire operation for inbound shipments. “Our over-the-road operation worked much like a three-legged stool. We would deliver a load of groceries, say in Northern Maine, pick up and deliver a load for a customer, say in Pennsylvania, then pickup a load of Hannaford products for delivery to our distribution centers.”

About five years ago, hauls out of the Northeast became even more competitive, as less and less freight was going out as a result of the decline of manufacturing, and variable costs such as fuel were climbing, Huff said. “Our primary focus is servicing our retail stores. So we ended our over-the-road operation, which for years worked very well for us.”

Drivers are assigned to tractors because “with ownership we've found that drivers take much better care of the equipment,” said Huff. “Even if all trucks are spec'd the same, they don't act the same. It's like a barn full of horses — they all have their own temperaments and moods. Once you get drivers used to a particular truck, they will find that sweet spot for optimal performance and get to know their vehicle inside and out.”

Hannaford Trucking owns and operates five Capacity yard switchers; two are staged at its South Portland center, two operate at the New York facility, and one at the Winthrop location. They are spec'd with Capacity's Dura Ride suspension system to make it easier on the drivers, and the mechanics, according to Huff. The system isolates the tractor from the shock associated with the constant trailer coupling and uncoupling, and minimizes stress to the tractor frame, cab, and drivetrain.

Road tractors are on a 7-year/700,000-mile replacement cycle, but the company is revisiting shortening this life cycle to better take advantage of the new vehicle technology that is more rapidly coming onto the market.

Trailers are kept for 14 years, but Huff is trying to stretch out the time. “This has been a real challenge because the more aggressive snow-fighting chemicals used by highway departments here in the Northeast are much more corrosive.”

The reefer units last as long as the trailer, averaging about 1,200 hours of operation per year. Depending on the used truck and trailer market at the end of the life cycles, the equipment is either traded in, sold or auctioned.

Latest technology

Last year, Hannaford Trucking replaced 32 older tractors with 32 new Volvo VN daycabs. Twenty-two of the tractors have Eaton UltraShift automatic transmissions. The other 10 tractors have Eaton 10-speed manuals for New York operations.

Eight new tractors have wide-base tires. Four tractors will have Bridgestone tires, and four will have Michelins.

“This is the first time we've tried super singles,” Huff said. “But as with all of our vehicle specifications, we're continually looking for ways to maximize fuel economy, improve driver productivity, and reduce maintenance requirements.”

An order for 67 new Great Dane reefers with Carrier Transicold's latest units will be delivered this fall. Forty-two of the trailers will have wide-base tires.

Eaton's VORAD (Vehicle On-board RADar) Collision Warning System has been added to two new tractors that run Northern Maine. The system uses pulsed and Doppler radar technology to identify potential hazards and offers audio and visual warnings to alert a driver to objects up to 500 feet ahead, even around curves.

“We are in a test phase with VORAD to see if it will help prevent collisions with moose,” Huff said. “Moose on average weigh about 1,000 pounds, so you can imagine what kind of damage the animal can do to a truck.” Hannaford Trucking had 15 moose-truck collisions last year in Northern Maine.

Vehicle maintenance

Since its founding, maintenance for Hannaford Trucking's equipment at each trucking center has been handled by Kris-Way Truck Leasing of South Portland, Maine, a transportation services company offering full-service leasing, contract maintenance, logistics, and dedicated contract carriage. Hannaford Trucking remains its largest customer.

When Kris-Way first received the Hannaford account, it had 32 tractors and 109 trailers, according to the company's Evan Keefer. Along with maintaining the fleet's 100 tractors and 370 trailers through a full-service maintenance program, six tractors are under short-term lease.

Kris-Way also maintains a full-service drive-through wash bay and fuel inventories for Hannaford Trucking's fleet.

According to Huff, drivers are allowed to have their rigs washed whenever they feel it is necessary. “In fact I encourage it. Our public image is very important.”

Conservation efforts

As part of the company's commitment to being a good corporate citizen, Hannaford Trucking in 2005 became a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Transport Partnership — a voluntary collaboration between the agency and the freight industry to increase energy efficiency while significantly reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution.

“Since then, we have worked even harder to improve our efficiency,” Huff said. “Replacement equipment is more aerodynamic and lighter, and we are making operational improvements to save fuel and reduce emissions.” Among these:

  • Greater use of tandem trailers.

  • Improved weight distribution within trucks (the typical load is about 32,000 pounds).

  • Trailers have been set closer to the back of the tractor cabs to reduce air space between the two units and improve aerodynamic flow.

  • Changes in delivery practices so that each store gets the products it needs with fewer deliveries.

  • All tractors, governed at 65 mph, come with cruise control and automatic idle shutdown to reduce engine idling.

  • Installation of XATA onboard computers that provide real-time fuel information to drivers.

“The XATA onboard computers are a great tool,” said Huff, “ because they help our drivers manage themselves going down the road. The computers measure fuel consumption continuously, along with other aspects of the vehicle's performance, such as idle times and speeding time, and provide on the driver display instant information on how to improve fuel economy. Plus, the computers help us change driver behavior by helping us better understand truck and driver functions as they happen.

“XATA's applications turns the vehicle performance data into reports for analyzing vehicles, trips, and routes to find the opportunities to improve fuel performance. By viewing this information against historical data, our driver managers can more quickly spot trends by driver or vehicle that need to be addressed. This is used with drivers as a coaching tool to find ways to improve operations.”

Hannaford Trucking also is improving efficiencies through its Gainshare incentive plan, where fleet efficiency targets — based on miles per gallon, accidents and repair damage and time-at-store — are determined at the beginning of the year. Rather than being individualized, the incentive plan combines all drivers into one team. “In this way, drivers work with each other to reach the goals,” Huff said. If all three targets are hit, drivers can earn a bonus for overall team performance.”

According to Huff, the incentive plan has saved more than 16,000 gallons of fuel last year.

By switching to a tandem-trailer operation at its New York distribution center, the company saved more than 83,000 gallons of fuel and reduced by 500,000 the miles-of-operation on the New York Throughway and the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Loading improvements for more even weight distribution throughout a trailer have resulted in reduced rolling resistance, and Huff estimates Hannaford saved another 16,000 gallons of fuel last year.

Alternative energy

“We've been using B20 (a biodiesel blend) in our five yard switchers for about two years now,” Huff said. “The difficulty we're having with bio product is that in the colder months it has a tendency to congeal and stall the equipment.”

Biodiesel is manufactured from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled restaurant greases for use in diesel engines. Biodiesel blends are a mix of diesel fuel and biodiesel. They are denoted as, “BXX,” - with “XX” representing the percentage of biodiesel contained in the blend. B20 is 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.

“We recently completed a study using B20 in our delivery tractors that indicates we lowered our mpg and efficiency. We will revisit this as biodiesel develops and continue to evaluate the benefits of this type of fuel.”

Hannaford Trucking also is exploring hybrid refrigeration units. “Carrier has developed a hybrid diesel electric unit, the Vector, for multi-temperature trailer applications,” said Huff. “We're waiting for a hybrid unit for our single-temperature trailers.”

Business outlook

Hannaford is continuing its steady growth, which has been helped along with its merger in 2000 with Belgium-based Delhaize America, the sixth-largest food retailer in the United States, with some 1,500 stores from Maine to Florida. This has allowed the companies to share best practices, strengthen management, and realize significant synergies.

Last year alone Hannaford added 14 new stores and remodeled 10. The main distribution center in South Portland is currently undergoing a 123,000-sq-ft expansion — which should be completed later this year. All of this bodes well for Hannaford Trucking.

Huff said: “We need to continue to challenge ourselves to improve our operations while reducing costs. If costs increase, they are reflective throughout the entire supply chain. However, we have seasoned leadership and support staff, with drivers who take great pride in their profession. And, we role model innovative behaviors that keep us successful.

“So does our working closely with vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers to get the most efficient, productive, durable, and reliable equipment possible, suited to our operations and the geographic area we cover.”

About the Author

David Kolman

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