Preliminary findings from its forthcoming Key Performance Indicators for the Food Supply Chain report have been revealed by Scala, the supply chain and logistics consultancy.
One significant revelation is that as much as 24% of the total distance travelled by food delivery vehicles is still covered when they are empty. For drinks vehicles, the figure stands at 20%. That's despite efforts to cut back on this empty running. In addition, the space within vehicles is not always fully used, often because of customer constraints on pallet heights.
"From these numbers, we're essentially after ways of improving performance, even if we're not going to save the world," said Scala md John Perry.
Further findings show loading or unloading delays contribute more to overall delays than traffic congestion. In the food sector, heavy traffic represents just 22% of total delay time. However, more than a quarter of delay time can be attributed to delivery problems and more than a third to a company's own actions. For drinks deliveries, 60% of delay time is down to delivery problems, with hold-ups on the road taking up only 17% of the time.
The survey splits distributors into primary, delivering to regional distribution centres, secondary, delivering to supermarkets, and tertiary camps, delivering to small shops and catering outlets. Most primary and secondary distributors spread deliveries over seven days, reflecting the rise of Sunday trading, according to Scala's findings. That has cut peak weekday deliveries by a quarter, easing congestion. However, tertiary distributors, often delivering to on-trade and small independent outlets, tend to operate on a Monday to Friday basis, it says. Primary distributors also make the most of 24-hour distribution, whereas about half of secondary distributors operate around the clock. Very few tertiary distributors do so, because of constraints imposed by customers or local authorities.
Predictably, tertiary distributors were found to clock up the largest distances travelled per delivery, 14km to 50km per pallet, because they must make many trips, delivering small amounts. By contrast, distances travelled by primary and secondary distributors ranged from three to 13km per pallet.
More than double the number of fleets were surveyed for the current project than for its 2002 predecessor, 109 versus 53, involving 9,000 vehicles against the previous figure of 5,000.
Companies participating in the work can request more precise information comparing their own performance with the whole industry for free. Following a pilot project with three businesses, responses were gathered during regional workshops attended by all the firms involved. These workshops proved to be as useful as the survey itself, said Perry. "Communication between companies started to be built up from the workshops prior to the study. We hope people will follow this up and keep going. They can learn as much from each other."
Within six weeks Scala is expected to finalise all its findings, which will form part of the Department for Transport's work on developing a sustainable transport network. Preliminary results were made public at the Scala Consulting Annual Logistics Debate, held in association with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK) at Wroxall Abbey, near Coventry.