LACK OF EQUIPMENT PROMPTS CONCERN

LACK OF EQUIPMENT PROMPTS CONCERN

Shortage of refrigerated equipment to carry perishable cargoes is becoming an increasing headache for shippers, according to a recent update of a national logistics study released by C.H. Robinson.

And the shortages will most likely be aggravated by the current Asian financial crisis, said to Patrick Brecht, an expert on perishable cargoes.C.H. Robinson is one of the largest third-party logistics companies in North America.

The survey found that 44 percent of 100 respondents, involved in picking carriers to carry temperature-sensitive goods, complained there was ''not quite enough capacity'' or ''not nearly enough capacity.'' By comparison, only 27 percent spoke of capacity shortages in the original 1997 survey.

Mr. Brecht, who has been involved in the development of reefer and controlled-atmosphere technology at Dole Ocean Liner Express and American President Lines, among others, said the import squeeze in Asia wouldn't help the situation. With cargo volume between the U.S. West Coast and Asia down 15 percent to 20 percent in recent months, it's likely there will be more domestic trading, he said.

''That stuff has to go somewhere,'' said Mr. Brecht, who now runs Special Commodities Services in Petaluma, Calif. ''The Northwest is looking for someone to take its fruit.''

Containers used in international trade are not interchangeable with those used for domestic transport, Mr. Brecht noted. International containers are generally 40 feet long and 90 inches wide, while those used domestically are up to 53 feet long and 97 inches wide.

This was just one of the issues picked out in the survey, which also asked questions about what shippers want from logistics providers in the future.

The top request was for better overall service - including consistency in handling, storage and transportation; better accounting, and improved management systems.

Mr. Brecht pointed out that some quality carriers have satellite monitoring systems that can monitor the condition of a reefer container, and even the truck that's carrying it, from anywhere in the country.

''They can tell if the truck's about to run out of oil, even if the driver misses it,'' he said.

Adequate equipment availability topped the list of issues affecting a shipper's choice of carrier, especially during peak seasons, the survey found.

Also mentioned were more consistent transit times, driver professionalism, frequency of mechanical failures, overall cost and the ability of the supplier to exchange pallets.

Mr. Brecht said that being on time was most likely a high priority for shippers of perishable goods.

''Temperature-Controlled Logistics Report,'' was written by T.K. Associates of Minneapolis Inc., an independent marketing company.

The report is based on discussions with 1,000 companies of various size involved in the meat, poultry, fish, frozen foods, produce, dairy and distribution industries.