Economy Percolates at Truck Stops

The nation’s truckers are not only movers of freight, they’re consumers, and they’re buying more goods on the road, according to the McLane-NATSO Index.

Total merchandise sales at truck stops jumped 10 percent year-over-year in the third quarter, reflecting higher demand and extra shelf space for products.

McLane is a foodservice distributor with $34 billion in annual sales and a large private fleet. NATSO is the national organization of truck stop operators. Together, they produce an index that serves as a window into merchandise sales at more than 900 truck stops where the freight and retail economies meet.

Average purchases per truck stop jumped to $17,300 from $15,700 per week compared with the same quarter in 2010, according to McLane and NATSO. That’s another sign that the freight economy is still expanding, despite the uncertain macro-economic outlook and high U.S. unemployment rate.

Many motor carriers reported year-over-year increases in volume and revenue in the third quarter, with volumes increasing 5.9 percent year-over-year in September, according to the American Trucking Associations For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index.

Carrier reports also show the freight expansion in the third quarter was slower than in the second quarter, and the McLane-NATSO index reflects that. Merchandise sales at truck stops increased 24 percent year-over-year in the second quarter, according to the index, led by hot and cold beverage sales.

What are truckers buying at truck stop convenience stores? Lots of automotive products and coffee, as well as candy, snacks, “grab-and-go” food and other goods.

Automotive product sales jumped 58 percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2011, compared with a 32 percent annual increase for all of 2010.

And as truckers hauled more freight, they drank more coffee and paid more for their java. Revenue from sales of hot beverages rose 28 percent from a year ago.

That wasn’t all due to higher consumption. A 44 percent spike in coffee bean prices from a year ago provided much of the jolt. Call it a caffeine surcharge.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wbcassidy_joc

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