April 27, 2023

4 ways a TMS can keep shipments fresh when extreme weather hits

As the temperatures heat up, so does the race to get produce from the fields onto shelves across the country, and many in the industry are bracing themselves for a busy and unpredictable few months. This fast-paced food and produce supply chain leaves no room for error, as every moment counts in the quest to keep products fresh for consumers. Unfortunately, climate change is making this task even more difficult.

From wildfires and droughts to hurricanes and other extreme weather events, the frequency and intensity of these disasters have been on the rise in recent years. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the frequency of extreme weather events has increased by more than 30% since the mid-20th century. And after a (relatively) tame 2022 in terms of wildfires and hurricanes, Accuweather is predicting a return to more destructive seasons with between 11 and 15 named storms making landfall and as much as 8.2 million acres of forest lost to fire, and are urging people to begin preparation for the rocky road ahead now.

With extreme weather events constantly threatening to throw a wrench in the works, shippers would do well to follow that advice to ensure that their shipments arrive on time and with maximum freshness. And in order to do so, they will need to step up their game and coordinate seamlessly with all involved parties.

Outside of the impact that weather has on the crops themselves, one of the biggest impacts that it can have on a shipper’s ability to deliver fresh food and produce on schedule happens during the many stages of transportation between the farm and the supermarket. So for most, the quickest way to put the brakes on extreme weather delays is by ensuring you have a solid Transportation Management System (TMS) in place to keep things moving. Below we'll explore four ways that a reliable TMS can help ensure success when bad weather puts a damper on your ability to ensure deliveries arrive at their freshest.

1. Ensuring timely deliveries

One of the biggest challenges when the weather isn’t cooperating is making sure that shipments arrive on time. In order to accomplish this, shippers should look for a visibility solution that provides accurate, real-time ETAs that go beyond standard point-in-time location, factoring in all the complex variables that can impact arrival times, like weather and traffic conditions. 

Just imagine expecting a delivery today. You've arranged for staff to receive and process the shipment, and you've made arrangements for warehouse storage. But when the shipment doesn't arrive as planned, you're left in the dark about its whereabouts and estimated arrival time. Managing shipments before, during, or after something like a hurricane or wildfire can be a nightmare without real-time visibility and communication.

To effectively mitigate the impact of extreme weather events, you need to make decisions in real-time as the situation unfolds. This requires complete visibility of your supply chain operations and the ability to instantly communicate with carriers, shippers, and customers to address changes, delays, and other issues proactively. 

By having access to accurate information on exactly where a shipment is, what factors could impact its timeline, and when it will arrive at its destination, schedules can be adjusted and communicated well in advance, giving receivers the opportunity to adapt and prepare for quicker loading or unloading, and ensure that fresh food and produce arrives on store shelves in the shortest possible time.

2. Reducing costs 

When it comes to shipping fresh produce and food, extreme weather events can pose significant challenges. Delays, disruptions, and spoilage risks can result in increased costs and decreased efficiency, and even as rates for truckload dry van and reefer begin dropping from historic highs, cost is still a top concern. 

Some strategies like order consolidation can help to keep costs down, but the manual processes involved remain time-consuming and prone to error. However, automated solutions like Shipwell’s Load Optimization enable shippers to greatly reduce both shipping costs and the number of miles those shipments need to travel before reaching their destination, and as an added bonus it ensures smooth operations even in adverse weather conditions.

One of the key benefits of automated order consolidation is optimized routing. Advanced algorithms can analyze real-time weather data, road conditions, and traffic patterns to identify the most efficient routes for delivery trucks. This allows for the rerouting of trucks to avoid impacted areas, reducing delays and minimizing the risk of spoilage or damage to perishable goods. Optimized routes also help reduce fuel consumption, transportation time, and overall transportation costs, resulting in cost savings and increased efficiency.

In addition, automated load consolidation can significantly improve truck capacity utilization. By consolidating multiple orders into a single shipment, businesses can optimize the use of truck space and reduce the number of trucks on the road. This minimizes the risk of delays or disruptions during extreme weather events and helps lower transportation costs, resulting in increased efficiency.

3. Maximizing efficiency

With disruptions to the supply chain, delays in transit, or damaged goods, it’s important to find the right balance between price and performance when selecting carriers during extreme weather events. This includes looking at ratings, on-time delivery rates, safety records, and more. However, finding that balance can be difficult even under the most ideal conditions.

Leveraging a TMS that enables shippers to automate the procurement process helps to make that job easier. Automation allows companies to use data from prior shipments to make informed decisions about which carrier will best suit their needs. It also helps ensure businesses are taking advantage of the most cost-effective options in the current market, allowing them to compare prices, delivery times, and other pertinent information from multiple carriers so they can make informed decisions about which will be the most efficient choice for their needs. 

Likewise, by leveraging powerful data and analytics or even advanced AI capabilities, it’s possible to automate other time-intensive manual tasks like BoL creation, responding to quote requests, or providing customer updates, allowing shippers to free up time and resources to focus on other aspects of their business, such as optimizing supply chain networks and improving customer service. This increased efficiency can help shippers stay competitive during the hectic produce season and the weather-related disruptions that come with it, allowing them to more quickly adapt to whatever curveballs mother nature might throw at them.

4. Managing risk

There are a lot of risks associated with getting perishable shipments onto shelves in time during a season of unpredictable weather, such as disruptions related to climate change and crop failures, and managing those risks can quickly turn into a full-time job in itself. However, with the right TMS solution, companies should be able to quickly identify risks before they become costly delays while keeping their logistics budget under control. To accomplish this, machine learning and analytics are especially useful. With the ability to identify potential issues quickly, businesses can leverage their TMS platform for automated exception management to ensure problems along the supply chain don’t create costly delays. 

Using machine learning capabilities, these tools are able to analyze millions of data points per second, flagging anything that might lead to delays or other problems. Businesses can then immediately take the necessary steps proactively avoid the issue rather than having to react after it has become a problem. This way, they save time and money on costly corrective measures and keep their shipments running as smoothly as possible during extreme weather events.

Some solutions (like Shipwell's Compass Dashboard) take this one step further by not only providing an easy way to monitor shipment data in real-time and provide alerts on potential issues, but by also delivering instantly actionable resolutions that can keep cargo moving even through extreme weather events. This type of technology not only helps companies stay ahead of disruption, but also enables them to adjust plans as needed while keeping their logistics budget under control. 

What’s next?

No matter how you look at it, a strong Transportation Management System is becoming a vital part of getting food and produce shipments where they need to be quickly during a summer season that is increasingly prone to hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, and other extreme weather events. By ensuring timely deliveries, reducing costs, maximizing efficiency, and managing risk, a TMS can help shippers navigate the unpredictable and ensure success — even in the face of these increased disruptions. 

For more information on how Shipwell can help prepare your supply chain for whatever surprises this summer has in store, talk with an expert today.

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