How food & beverage shippers can navigate weather disruption | Breakthrough

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Real-Time Resilience: Shipping Solutions for Severe Weather

Jenny Vander Zanden

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Jenny Vander Zanden
December 12, 2023

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Rising global temperatures have led to a surge in extreme weather events over the past few decades. From Winter Storm Uri, which slammed Texas in 2021, to the wildfires in California that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in 2023, these unpredictable incidents wreak havoc on transportation networks across the country.

Common outcomes of severe weather include road and port closures, power outages, and infrastructure damage — all of which present major hurdles for shippers transporting products to market. These challenges are heightened for food and beverage shippers tasked with safely transporting temperature-sensitive and time-sensitive products.

To effectively navigate weather-related risks and disruptions, shippers must leverage primary data, user-driven technology, and market expertise for greater visibility into their transportation networks.

How severe weather impacts shipping

Picture this: A severe snowstorm is about to hit part of your high freight volume route, creating unsafe driving conditions and freeway closures. Your scheduled delivery of fresh produce is at risk of being delayed indefinitely — which not only threatens the quality of these perishable goods, but also inventory levels at your distribution center. With every passing minute, the pressure mounts as you scramble to find alternative carriers and reassure upset customers who are eagerly awaiting their deliveries.

Instances like this have become a stark reality for many shippers as the ongoing effects of climate change amplify the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Severe weather conditions cause billions of dollars in economic losses every year, partly due to supply chain disruption and damage to transportation infrastructure. Shippers must act quickly in these scenarios to find additional capacity, which can incur significant costs during a severe weather event.

Weather-related supply chain disruptions are particularly difficult for food and beverage shippers due to factors like:

  • Perishability: Around 30% of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted along the supply chain. Severe weather events can cause delays and power outages that affect temperature control, leading to spoilage that can render products unsellable.

  • Supply chain complexity: Food and beverage supply chains involve many different stages, from sourcing ingredients to distribution, which may occur across the globe. Disruption at any point can lead to a domino effect that impacts the entire chain.

  • Demand spikes: Extreme weather events can create sudden spikes in demand for essential products like bottled water, baby formula, and non-perishable foods. Additionally, load counts in a region are typically higher prior to a storm, but drop during post-storm clean up. In either scenario, shippers must be able to plan proactively and move with agility to ensure critical supplies reach their destination.

These challenges highlight the importance of adaptability in food and beverage supply chains. To create a more resilient supply chain, you need trusted advisors who can share real-time best practices to navigate the nuances of every extreme weather event.

Key shipping solutions for extreme weather

Of the transportation leaders surveyed for Breakthrough’s 2023 State of Transportation Report, 37% cited actionable predictive analytics as the most helpful resource in achieving their goals and overcoming challenges. That’s especially true when those challenges are weather-related.

Leveraging a trusted advisor who keeps a strong pulse on weather-related disruptions can help you proactively move up shipments or identify alternative transportation partners. As a result, you can prevent costly holdups and ensure timely deliveries. The right solution enables you to:

1. Identify areas with increased risk. Increased visibility into your transportation network can help you determine which parts of your supply chain are most exposed. This means pinpointing segments that would most significantly impact your bottom line if disrupted, whether in terms of overall shipment volume or the criticality of timely delivery. Once you identify these areas, you can implement risk mitigation strategies.

Consider a market-based fuel reimbursement program that aligns with the true price of fuel on a lane level. Shippers can eliminate weather-related spikes accounted for in the DOE’s one-time, weekly national average price and reimburse carriers with a daily wholesale fuel price based on their shipment.

2. Minimize waste and excess costs. Emergency preparedness can also make a big difference when it comes to cost mitigation and waste reduction — especially when considering a polyfuel strategy where fueling stations may be sporadic. For example, if a severe weather event impacts a carrier’s route in transit, the driver and their truckload full of temperature-controlled cargo sit around waiting, using fuel that’s unaccounted for.

Extended delays can degrade the quality of perishable goods, and you may incur additional costs in the form of labor resources. But if you can proactively plan for this scenario and know nearby locations to keep you fueled, you can ensure continuity of your cold chain. As a result, you can maintain the quality of perishable goods and avoid running out of fuel en route.

3. Protect relationships. It’s important to have conversations upfront with carrier partners about the potential for supply chain disruption and contingency plans. Network visibility helps you understand the extent of potential disruptions to your operations. As a result, you can maintain and strengthen relationships with carriers, customers, and other stakeholders across your transportation network through proactive risk mitigation.

But you also have to be prepared to adapt and communicate before, during, and after extreme weather events. When delays are unavoidable, you can still communicate with carriers and other partners to manage expectations and strategize on revised logistics.

The vital role of data in navigating disruption

Considering how weather impacts shipping, the escalating severity and frequency of extreme weather events make supply chain agility an essential component of any transportation strategy. As weather-related disruptions become more common, it’s crucial to reflect on and learn from past experiences to continuously refine your risk mitigation strategies.

At the same time, technology, data, and market expertise will continue to play a key role in enhancing supply chain resilience. By leveraging a trusted transportation management solutions provider, you can mitigate risk and deliver food and beverage products to your customers when they need them most.

Get in touch with Breakthrough to explore how technology that provides increased visibility into your network and data-driven insights can help you overcome weather-related supply chain disruptions.