Throughout the U.S., produce season is currently in full swing with a high demand for large volumes of fruits and vegetables. Now that temperatures are at their peak, the demand for produce shipments has increased among consumers, which generates the busiest months for shippers.1 In 2017 there was a 3.3 percent growth rate for the produce industry,2 and the industry will likely continue this growth pattern due to factors like upgraded technology and rising consumer expectations.
Improved Production and Updates in Technology
Advancements within the supply chain industry have created a strong growth in produce availability year-round. Twenty years ago, consumers were limited on what produce they could purchase based on location and seasonality. Although May through July are the busiest months for the produce market, many fruits and vegetables are now available year-round due to improved greenhouse production, as well as hi-tech cooling systems which makes handling more efficient.3
Today’s transportation refrigeration systems are more reliable and flexible than those built even a decade ago. There have been various advancements in technology that allow shippers the ability to monitor and control temperatures, track and trace shipments, and receive real-time notifications for time-sensitive events such as temperature changes, open doors, refrigeration system fuel levels, and battery life. All of these advancements in technology lead to less waste. 4
Consumer Expectations Continue to Rise
With improved temperature-controlled technology, consumers expectations have continued to rise. American consumers now expect that store shelves will constantly be stocked with fresh produce all year-round, regardless of seasonality.5 Produce accounted for 34 percent of total fresh sales for grocers last year, second only to the meat department, according to the United Fresh Produce Association trade group.6 The produce market has continued to increase in popularity due to the consumer trend of eating and living a healthy lifestyle.7
This trend includes purchasing organic, non-GMO and local produce, leading to the expectation that the volume consumption of fresh produce will grow annually through 2021.8 Specifically, in 2017, sales of organic fruits and vegetables increased 8.4%, to $15.6 billion.9 More shoppers now put quality over pricing, saying organic food is worth paying for the premium for.10
Industry Challenges to Consider
Although produce season can bring a rich harvest, this market also faces a number of challenges. Along with time sensitivity and the produce quality, shippers also have to take into consideration the implementation of the ELD mandate and how that impacts capacity and transit times. Drivers no longer manually record their time spent driving as it is recorded through an electronic logging device.11 Shippers must consider this new mandate, as it can affect the driver’s delivery schedules, which may impact the time-sensitive produce being shipped. Additionally, transportation capacity is tighter than ever, leading to record freight rates and unique challenges for shippers within all industries.12
Connecting with a 3PL can provide the flexibility needed to ensure produce shipments are transported and stored safely in today’s tight market, as well as address industry-specific challenges. In the coming years, an end-to-end supply chain partner can help focus on improving technology to meet the high demand for shipping produce all year-round.