Food Industry Benchmarks Reflect Fuel Prices, Cost Per Mile and Cost Per Route Rise

Dec. 1, 2001
Reflecting the rising price of fuel, the cost per mile and the cost per route for wholesale grocery delivery rose sharply in 2001. Cost per mile jumped

Reflecting the rising price of fuel, the cost per mile and the cost per route for wholesale grocery delivery rose sharply in 2001. Cost per mile jumped 19 cents and the cost per route rose $39. Other benchmarks were mixed with cost per stop and cost as a percent of sales dropping and cost per delivered case rising. However, a look at 10 years of food industry cost data shows trend lines for the major benchmarks remain essentially flat. This data is reported in the Food Distributors International wholesale/retail transportation and fleet maintenance report prepared for the 2001 Food Industry Productivity Convention and Exposition.

Cost per mile, which had gone up through most of the decade of the 1990s, rose again in 2001 climbing to $2.28 up from $2.09 in 2000 and up significantly from the recent low of $2.04 per mile in 1999 and the 10-year low of $1.83 in 1991. Cost per mile for 2001 set a 10-year high, eclipsing the recent peak of $2.23 reached in 1996. Data for this cost survey was collected and analyzed by Richard H Kochersperger, a consultant in private practice. Previously, he has served in executive positions with Supervalu and in academia as Gerald Peck research scholar for wholesaling and retailing and director of the Center for Food Marketing of St Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

The Food Industry Productivity Conference and Exposition is sponsored by the Food Distributors International and Food Marketing Institute. Food Distributors International is the umbrella organization for the National American Wholesale Grocers Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association. Other organizations sponsoring the Food Industry Productivity Conference included the National Grocers Association, the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, the Grocery Product Manufacturers of Canada, the General Merchandise Distributors Council, the National Food Processors Association, and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association. The conference was held in Houston from October 21 to 24, 2001.

The transportation and fleet maintenance report differentiates between wholesale grocery and retail chain operations. The data usually shows that retail chains operate with a significantly lower cost structure than wholesale grocers. Apparently the customer service aspects of wholesale grocery delivery drive costs up far beyond the level experienced by retail chains that exercise tighter control over delivery operations.

Large Retail Orders

Specifically, retail chains deliver larger orders at each stop, travel fewer miles per route, and spend less time handling merchandise at stores. This tighter control of distribution is indicated by a much lower cost per mile, which rose only five cents to $2.05 in 2001, up from $2.00 in 2000. However, the data has varied widely in the recent past with retail cost per mile rising 60 cents from $1.80 in 1998 to $2.40 in 1999. Kochersperger explains that these large shifts are probably a reflection of which chains contributed data for the survey more than any basic change in the underlying cost of supermarket distribution operations.

Benchmark data for wholesale grocers in 2000 shows increased costs in all but two categories. Cost per mile rose 19 cents to $2.28, up from $2.09 in 2000. A look at historical data shows this to be a 10-year high up from the low of $1.83 in 1991. Cost per route rose $39 to $529 for 2001 after rising $26 to $490 in 2000. Again, this is a 10-year high, up from the previous peak of $527 per route reached in 1996. Cost per route was at a 10-year low in 1999 at $464. The second lowest level for this benchmark in the past 10 years was $477 in 1994. Delivery cost per case remains almost flat, rising only two cents to 39 cents per case for 2001, up from 37 cents per case in 2000 and 34 cents per case in 1999. In the two years previous to 1999, the cost per delivered case was 35 cents. This cost category seems to have stabilized after falling throughout most of the 1990s. In 1991, the cost per delivered case was 44 cents, and this benchmark rose to 46 cents per case in 1992. In 1995, cost per delivered case dropped to 35 cents. The 39-cent benchmark for 2001 is the highest recorded since 1992, while the 34 cents reported in 1999 is the 10-year low.

Delivery cost as a percent of sales for wholesale grocers dropped fairly sharply to 1.72% for 2001, down from 1.9% in 2000 and 1.93% in 1999. This benchmark for 2001 is a 10-year low and is only marginally higher than cost as a percent of sales in 1980, the first year that FDI (then NAWGA) began recording delivery cost data. In past years, delivery cost as a percent of sales has been relatively high with results such as 1.95% for 1997, 2.03% for 1995, 1.94% for 1994, 1.96% in 1993, and 1.94% for 1992.

Cost Per Stop Drops

Cost per stop dropped $18 to $221 for 2001 after rising $43 to $239 in 2000, up from $196 in 1999. In fact, the 1999 figure was a 10-year low for this benchmark, and the 2000 result was the 10-year high. The previous high of $238 was reported for 1995. This benchmark has moved up and down erratically for years.

Data for retail chain operations show a significant difference from that of wholesale grocers with lower costs almost across the board. Trends for retail chain costs are only now beginning to emerge, because FDI only began collecting data from them in 1996.

Cost per mile data from retail chains looks a little less erratic than in the past, showing $2.05 for 2001, up five cents from $2.00 in 2000. However, this benchmark changed 40 cents between 1999 and 2000 dropping from $2.40 in 1999 to $2.00 in 2000. An even bigger swing occurred between 1998 and 1999 with this benchmark rising 60 cents from $1.80 in 1998. Prior to 1999, cost per mile for retailers looked relatively stable with the results at or near $1.80.

Cost as a percent of sales seems to be stabilizing for retail chains. For 2001, this benchmark is 1.5%, down slightly from 1.58% in 2000 and almost identical to the 1.51% posted in 1999. Both these benchmarks are significantly lower than the 1.72% posted by wholesale grocers. Cost per stop dropped $12 to $168 for retail chains in 2001, down from $180 in 2000. This benchmark seems stable with retail chains posting costs of $169 per stop in 1998 and $170 in 1999. Retail chains can make an average delivery stop for $53 less than their wholesale grocer colleagues.

Cost per route has been rising since 1998 for retail chains. In 1997 and 1998, the average cost per route was $365. In 1999, cost per route rose to $396 and jumped sharply to $439 in 2000. That trend continues with cost per route for retailers rising to $470 for 2001.

Only in the cost per delivered case category do retail chains and wholesale grocers approach parity. In 2001, it cost retail chains 33 cents to deliver a case of goods, up one cent from 2000. These results are well above the 25 cents per delivered case reported for 1999. The difference between retail chains and wholesalers is only six cents per case for 2001.

In 2001, wholesale grocers reported gains in route productivity, while productivity for retail chains remained relatively flat. Wholesale grocers gained almost 500 pounds of payload per route compared to about a 40-pound increase for retailers. Payload per route for wholesalers rose to 29,321 lb in 2001, up from 28,841 lb in 2000. This benchmark shows a steady increase starting at 26,467 lb in 1998 and 27,958 lb in 1999. In contrast, weight per route rose only 39 lb for retailers, to 30,473 in 2001, up from 30,434 in 2000. In 1999, retailers hauled only 30,444 per route. Retailers had their lowest payload per route in 1998 as well, delivering only 28,568 per trip. These payload averages are below historical highs when wholesale grocers averaged 29,926 lb per route in 1995 and retailers handled 31,258 lb per route in 1996.

The average weight per delivered case seems to indicate that retailers and wholesalers continue to sell products packaged as single servings or as prepared convenience foods. Case weight as delivered by wholesale grocers started the past decade at a high of 22.78 lb and reached a 10-year low of 20.5 lb in 1998. The average weight per case reported by wholesale grocers in 2001 is 21.35 lb, down slightly from 21.56 lb in 2000. In contrast, average case weights from retail chains first appeared in the FDI survey results at 23.39 lb in 1996 and fell steadily to an average of 20.38 lb per case in 1999. In 2000, the average weight per case rose to 21.83 lb, but in 2001 the average weight per case dropped again, falling to 20.89 lb. Although workplace regulations from OSHA designed to prevent repetitive motion and stress injuries were repealed by Congress early in 2001, the average weight per case still seems unlikely to rise in the future. In fact, reduction of average case weight will probably result as manufacturers concentrate on convenience foods.

Respondents Determine Data

Survey results continue to illustrate how much the data depends on which companies respond. For instance, miles per route for retail chains shows extreme fluctuation from 1996 to 1998, a small change for 1999 followed by a large change for 2000, and another small change for 2001. Meanwhile the number of miles per route for wholesale grocers rose to a 10-year high in 1999 and has fallen steadily since. However, this average is still above the 10-year low of 210 miles per route from 1996. Among wholesalers, the average mileage per route has not changed by more than 25 miles since 1996.

The 2001 report shows that retail chains run 225 miles per route, up seven miles from 218 miles in 2000 and up 30 miles from 195 miles in 1999. This is higher than the previous high of 223 miles reported in 1997, which immediately followed the all-time low of 177 miles per route in 1996. A change in the sample of retail chains is the best explanation for the wide swings in average miles per route. Regardless of the sample, one factor remains constant. Wholesale grocers run more miles per route than retail supermarket operators.

The number of stops per route is relatively stable; although, wholesale grocers historically have made more stops than retail chains. However, that has changed to some extent for the past two years. In 2000, wholesalers made 2.27 stops per route while retailers stopped 2.26 times per route. For 2001, retailers made more stops than wholesalers with the averages showing 2.57 stops per route for retail chains and 2.45 stops on an average wholesale grocery route. In previous years, the difference in wholesale and retail operations was much more evident with wholesalers making 2.47 stops per route in 1999 compared to 1.79 stops per route by retailers. The benchmark for 2000 represents a 10-year low for wholesalers, down from the 10-year high of 2.75 stops per route in 1992 and 1995. The average for 2001 is the all-time high for retailers and follows the all-time low of 1.79 stops per route from 1999.

In past years, retailers delivered many more cases per stop than wholesale grocers. In 2000 and 2001, that indicator has changed markedly with retailers delivering fewer cases per stop than wholesalers in both years. In 2001, retailers delivered an average of 562 cases per stop, down from 597 cases per stop in 2000. In contrast, wholesalers delivered 580 cases per stop in 2001, down from 620 cases per stop in 2000. The drop in cases per stop for retailers is the second in a row after reaching an all-time high of 834 delivered cases per stop in 1999. For comparison, wholesalers delivered their recent low number of cases per stop at 505 in 1998 and reached the recent high at 620 cases per stop in 2000.

The number of cases per stop has remained relatively flat for wholesalers for the past five years from a low of 505 cases per stop to a high of 620 cases per stop. The largest change between any two years has been 105 cases and the smallest change was 10 cases per stop. In contrast, retailers report a series of wide swings with four successive changes of more than 100 cases per stop.

This is the seventh year that data from retail grocery chains has been included in the transportation and fleet maintenance report. Retail chains provided 30 responses to the report questionnaire, down from 37 responses in 2000, but still well above the 19 responses in 1999 and 10 retail chain responses in 1998.

Among wholesale grocers, the number of respondents had remained fairly stable for eight years, but dropped sharply for 2000 and 2001. In 1999, 104 wholesale grocers responded to the survey questionnaire, up from 102 in 1998. The drop began in 2000 when only 72 wholesalers responded, and continues in 2001 with only 59 respondents. The wholesale grocer data includes responses from large distributors such as Supervalu, Fleming, and Roundy's. The largest respondent had annual sales of $5.7 billion, compared to sales of $65 million for the smallest respondent.

Drivers still account for the bulk of the cost of food industry delivery operations. The percentage of total cost attributable to drivers rose in 2001 with drivers taking up $1.22 cents per mile of operating cost or 56.22% of the total. This is up from $1.151 per mile in 2000 at 55.1% of total transportation cost. Operating expenses, including maintenance, tires, and fuel, add another 51 cents. Fixed costs, including licenses, insurance, depreciation, taxes and leases, add up to 28 cents. Both fixed and operating costs were higher in 2001 than in 2000 when fixed costs added 24.4 cents per mile and operating costs were 43.5 cents per mile. Within the operating cost category for 2001, fuel rose the most, up to 26.6 cents per mile from 19.9 cents per mile in 2000.

Costs Trend Upward

Most wholesale grocery cost categories trend upward in 2001. Delivery cost per route for 2001 is up to $529 from $490 in 2000. This is well above the $464 reported in 1999 and above the $495 reported for 1998. The highest level for delivery cost per route was posted in 1992 at $574.

Wholesale grocery fleet cost per stop dropped to $221 for 2001 after jumping to $239 per stop in 2000. This benchmark has been erratic, posting only $196 per stop in 1999 and $229 per stop in 1998. Erratic or not, the cost per stop has more than tripled since 1980 when the average was only $73.

Wholesale grocery delivery cost per case for 2001 continues to rise, moving up two cents per case for 2001 to 39 cents per delivered case, up from 37 cents per case in 2000 and 34 cents per case in 1999. This follows a drop from 38 cents per delivered case in 1996 to 35 cents per case in 1997 and 1998. For four years of the past decade, 1994, 1995, 1997, and 1998, cost per delivered case remained the same, falling from a 10-year high of 46 cents per case in 1992.

Decreased Mileage, More Stops

The average wholesale grocery fleet ran fewer miles and served fewer customers per four-week period in 2001 than in 2000. Respondents report an average of 380,162 fleet miles per four-week period in 2001 compared to 405,414 miles per period in 2000. However, this average is higher than the 320,871 miles per four weeks posted by wholesalers in 1999. They served 334 customers at 4,226 stops per period compared to 433 customers at 3,513 stops in 2000. In 1999, wholesalers served 321 customers at 3,392 stops per period.

Comparable data for retail chains differs greatly from that of wholesalers. In 2001, retail fleets ran an average of 725,165 miles to 8,343 stops at 155 store locations. The averages for 2000 were 719,985 miles to 6,651 stops at 195 store locations, and the averages for 1999 were 730,806 miles to 8,552 stops at 126 stores.

In 2001, the average wholesale grocery fleet ran 1,785 routes every four weeks to deliver 2.45 million cases weighing 52.3 million pounds at 4,226 stops. This is an increase from 2000 when the average wholesale grocery fleet ran 1,636 routes every four weeks to deliver 2.19 million cases weighing 47.19 million pounds at 3,513 stops.

Retail Fleets More Active

Fleets at retail chains were much more active in 2001 than fleets at wholesale grocers, running 3,217 routes every four weeks to deliver 4.7 million cases weighing 98 million pounds spread across 8,343 stops at 155 stores. This was more activity than reported for 2000 when retail fleets ran 2,782 routes in four weeks to deliver 3.9 million cases weighing 83.99 million pounds to 195 stores in 6,651 stops.

Sales per case rose to $22.59 for wholesale grocers and to $21.94 for retail chains in 2001. This is an increase from $19.67 for wholesale grocers and $20.38 for retail chains in 2000. This indicator was somewhat volatile throughout the 1990s with the value of a wholesale case reaching a previous high of $22.43 in 1991 and a 10-year low of $17.35 in 1996.

Data for retail chains is more limited, but the benchmark for 2001 at $21.94 marks the highest value per case since retail chains have been included in the report. Case value for retail chains reached its lowest point at $17.39 in 1998.

Route mileage for wholesale grocers declined again in 2001 to 222 miles per route, a change of 17 miles per route from 239 miles in 2000 and down from 245 miles per route in 1999. In grocery delivery, miles are a cost factor rather than a revenue producer as in for-hire trucking. In that light, wholesale grocery fleets have improved productivity for the past two years. During the 1990s, route mileage peaked at 278 miles in 1991 and fell to a low of 210 miles in 1996.

Retail chain fleets are expected to outperform wholesale grocery fleets in this productivity category; however, such was not the case in 2001 when retail fleets ran 225 miles per route, up from 218 miles per route in 2000. The average wholesale grocery fleet actually ran three fewer miles per route than their retail chain competitors in 2001. Route productivity among retail fleets has been falling since 1998 when the average route required only 190 miles.

Sales Dept Impacts Fleet Costs

Fleet managers responding for the 2001 transportation report said that the sales department has the largest impact on transportation costs. More than 84% of respondents say this is because sales has the power to dictate delivery times and conditions. The sales department can also add to transportation costs by demanding delivery of add-on orders late in the distribution cycle. However, cooperation between sales and transportation seems to be improving. Warehouse operations are another department with a heavy impact on transportation costs. At most distributors, late deliveries, shipping mistakes, and product damage can be directly related to the warehouse personnel responsible for loading trailers. Warehousing also can impact transportation productivity by handling backhauls slowly. Failure to unload backhauls in a timely manner raises costs because trailers are being used for storage rather than transportation.

“Very few companies allow the transportation manager to charge other departments for costs incurred from special customer services such as product storage, extra trips, or special deliveries to correct buyer mistakes,” the FDI report says. “As a result, wholesalers often are making decisions about the business without the correct economic information. For example, if buyers were charged for trailer usage, less inventory would be purchased and fewer trailers would be used for temporary storage.”

The number of food distributors and retailers continues to shrink as the industry consolidates in search of economies of scale. Chains such as Albertsons, Kroger, and Safeway all are actively seeking to purchase additional sales volume; although, the stock market has not been kind to traditional food retailers. Competition comes from abroad as well with global companies such as Ahold, Carrefour, and Tesco seeking to grow worldwide. The trend is global; Wal-Mart has purchased retail chains in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Wal-Mart is certainly a driving force in North America as it continues to roll out supercenters as fast as they can be built. These megastores impact the sales of every retail food outlet within 20 miles of the supercenter, the FDI report says. Some distributors and retailers experience significant sales losses competing with Wal-Mart. However, other wholesale grocers have made substantial gains by providing logistics services for chains such as those owned by Ahold as well as supplying K-Mart, Kroger, and Target.

Wholesalers and retailers that once depended on store sales for growth also are looking to the foodservice market for increased volume. Ahold has purchased Alliant, once the foodservice arm of Kraft Foods, and JP Foodservice, until recently a division of Sara Lee. The McLane Company, a convenience store distributor owned by Wal-Mart, purchased the remains of Ameriserve, which at one time was the second largest foodservice distributor in the US prior to its bankruptcy. Other retail chains such as HEB are looking to specialized stores such as Central Market with a high percentage of ready-to-eat food to drive up sales.

While traditional food wholesalers and retailers are attempting to increase online sales, these companies did little business with the start-up retailers such as Webvan, HomeGrocer, and Streamline. All of these online retailers disappeared as the Internet bubble burst on Wall Street.

Slow-Growth Sales Pattern

The result is slow-growth sales pattern, the report says. The significant increase in competition from such alternative sales formats as drug stores and take-out food outlets, coupled with corporate restructuring has created a difficult business environment. In the future, executive efforts will continue to focus on squeezing out unnecessary expenses in all aspects of wholesale grocery operation. This new business philosophy is putting more pressure on the transportation department to reduce costs and to become more efficient.

Transportation costs seem to be under control, but are still rising. Eight factors seem to play a large part in keeping costs under control. Fuel cost is probably the most obvious. (1) Fuel costs rose sharply through most of 2000 and again in 2001. Fleet fuel economy remained fairly flat following a few years in which new equipment with electronic fuel controls had a positive impact on costs. That new equipment allowed some fleets to post fuel economy averages above seven miles per gallon. However, urban traffic congestion has had a large impact on fleet efficiency. The industry average for 2001 is 6.39 miles per gallon, up from 6.37 mpg in 2000, but down from 6.47 mpg in 1998 and 6.4 mpg in 1997. This is a clear indication that the operating environment for food distributors is more important to fuel economy than new, high-performance equipment. (2) Many companies have introduced effective cost control programs for reducing growth in insurance and worker compensation expenditures. (3) Labor contracts are being negotiated for longer periods such as five or six years at higher salary and benefit levels, causing higher wage costs. This is particularly true as the driver shortage intensifies for wholesale grocery fleets. Finding qualified drivers with good work skills is becoming more difficult in many parts of the country. Although the slowing economy makes drivers easier to hire, keeping them when other sectors of the economy improve will prove challenging. In response to the driver shortage, many food industry fleet operations are being outsourced to large for-hire carriers. (4) Wholesalers are controlling costs by charging customers for the real cost of delivery. This includes unloading incentives and charging for lost time resulting from operating inefficiencies. Manufacturers have begun to pay incentives to distribution centers to turn inbound equipment more efficiently. More technology, including routing software programs and on-board driver productivity recorders, is being brought to bear on delivery costs. (5) Delivery equipment is designed to run longer and to operate at significantly lower costs. Many fleets are shifting their maintenance strategy from repair during long service life to preventive maintenance with repairs performed by vendors for equipment covered by extended warranties. Many fleets are purchasing longer trailers to reduce the number of trips per day. (6) Weight-per-case will continue to decline as manufacturers focus on ergonomically designed packaging to improve pallet patterns and reduce in-transit damage. For the time being, federal regulations aimed at prevention of stress and repetitive motion injuries have been sidetracked. (7) Distributors are adopting new technology such as global positioning to track equipment movement, radio frequency warehouse systems, and other sensors that help monitor equipment utilization and provide data for fleet forecasting. (8) Food safety concerns are finding their way into fleet design and purchasing decisions. Managers are facing the reality that proper temperature control for all products is necessary as retailers pay more attention to order delivery condition. To meet these concerns, more fleets will begin to need multi-temperature refrigeration systems with positive temperature control in two to as many as four temperature zones.

59 Grocers, 30 Retailers Respond

Data in the 2001 transportation and fleet maintenance analysis was compiled with 59 responses from wholesale grocers and 30 retail chains throughout North America. Six of the responses were from Canada. These 89 respondents operate an aggregate fleet of 30,996 tractors, trailers, straight trucks, and refrigeration units. Outright ownership is the preferred acquisition method with fleets holding title to 76% of the equipment. If equipment does not fit a company's fleet standard, it is slightly more likely to be leased.

According to 2001 information, the average wholesale grocery or retail chain fleet operates 58 tractors of which 56 have tandem drive, slightly more than one straight truck, and 197 trailers of which 104 are refrigerated, 80 are dry vans, and 13 are used for storage. This average fleet runs 93 refrigeration units — 78 in single temp applications and 15 multi-temp units.

The average age of a tractor in wholesale grocery and retail chain fleets rose to 4.49 years following a drop to 3.9 years in 2000, the lowest average age on record. Previously tractor ages ranged from an average of 4.9 years in 1999 to 5.4 years in 1998. All these averages are well below the 10-year high of 6.95 years reported in 1993.

This higher average age for 2001 is reinforced by an increase in the percentage of tractors still in the fleet after 11 years. That figure for 2001 is 4.91%, up from 4.32% in 2000. Previous averages for tractors older than 11 years were 5.84% in 1999 and 5.69% in 1998. These percentages are much lower than the 7.29% posted in 1997 for tractors older than 11 years.

Older Trailer Fleet

The trailer fleet is almost a year older in 2001 than in 2000 with an average age of 6.56 years compared to 5.58 years in 2000. This average age is lower than the 7.46 years posted in 1999, 7.25 in 1998, or 7.73 in 1997. The current average age still is a significant improvement from the 9.11 years reported in 1993.

Average refrigeration unit age is down to 5.63 years for 2001, a drop of more than a year from the 6.83 years reported for 2000, 6.72 years in 1999, 6.4 years in 1998, and 6.85 years in 1997. The average age of refrigeration units was at its recent high of 7.15 years in 1995. Prior to 2001, the most recent low average was 6.18 years in 1996.

A significant portion of the trailer and refrigeration unit fleet still is older than 11 years. The percentage of trailers older than 11 years rose to 27.9% for 2001, up from 26.2% in 2000, but well below the 37.61% of older trailers reported in 1999. The percentage of refrigeration units older than 11 years in 2001 fell to 17.8%, down from 18.2% in 2000 and 24.22% in 1999. However, this percentage of older units is still much higher than the 13.96% of units older than 11 years in 1998.

Managers Worry About Age

Average age of the delivery fleet is a concern to industry transportation managers. A full 68% of survey respondents voice moderate, severe, or critical concern about the age of their fleets with 48% stating moderate levels of concern. Only 32% of managers say that fleet age is only a mild concern.

Equipment utilization data for 2001 shows an increase for tractors and a decrease for trailers and refrigeration units. Industry averages that include wholesale grocery and retail chain fleets show that tractors ran 85,233 miles in 2001, almost 10,000 more miles per tractor than the average of 75,814 miles in 2000. Trailer mileage was down to 28,787 miles in 2001 from 35,011 miles per trailer in 2000. Refrigeration unit utilization was down slightly to 1,710 hours in 2001 from 1,750 hours per unit in 2000. The increases in tractor utilization continue a four-year pattern, while trailer utilization suffered a decline of roughly 9,000 miles annually. The 40-hour drop in refrigeration unit utilization probably is statistically insignificant. Unit utilization was at its recent peak at 2,386 hours annually in 1993.

Technology enhancement and computer support continue to top the list of the most pressing needs cited by fleet managers. The need for information in all aspects of the transportation operation is forcing managers to embrace computers, radio frequency systems, cellular telephones, global positioning systems, and satellite communications, the report says. In addition, the driver shortage that has affected truckload carriers for years has become real to wholesale grocers and retail chains. The shortage is severe in some parts of the country. Driving a truck is not a particularly attractive job as the labor pool continues to shrink, the report says.

While the 2001 report recognizes a driver shortage, driving a truck for a wholesale grocery or retail chain fleet remains a stable occupation with 49% of survey respondents reporting driver turnover of 3% or less. However, the situation is deteriorating, because in 1999, 54% reported turnover rates less than 3%. In 1998, this figure was 56% of respondents. A better indicator, however, may be at the top end of the turnover scale, where 11% of 2001 respondents reported turnover rates in excess of 20%. This is almost twice the 6% of respondents reporting 20% or more turnover in 1999. The condition of the economy is represented in this percentage as well. Drivers are slightly less likely to leave a stable job, because in 2000, 13% of respondents reported turnover of 20% or more.

Retirement remains the main reason that a driver at a wholesale grocery or retail chain fleet leaves the labor force. The 2001 survey report shows that most drivers left jobs for retirement. Working hours were reported as the second most important reason for leaving a wholesale grocery fleet. Running third among the reasons why drivers leave for other employment is that they are dissatisfied with wages. In this regard, the majority of drivers for wholesale grocers and retail chains are full-time union workers 41 to 50 years of age who are on the clock for 46 hours a week at a base pay of $17.78 per hour. The average fleet has 105 drivers with a small management team and support staff.

About the Author

Gary Macklin

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