On the Move

The overall economy always impacts the movement of fresh fruits and vegetables, given that most products outside staples are reliant on impulse buys. Theft and fraud are the biggest issues facing the transportation industry right now. The industry is tightening its grip on how carriers are vetted and tracked.

The US transportation industry is responding to emerging challenges.

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of Produce Business.

During the peak weeks and months of the produce import season, an army of containers, trucks, pickups and aircraft move millions of dollars’ worth of fresh fruits and vegetables between their country of origin and their end destination: wholesalers and retailers.

From the U.S.’s biggest partner in produce, Mexico, the value of this trade is expected to top $53 billion by 2030, according to the Center for North American Studies.

For the many logistics and transportation companies involved in the business, recent years have brought their fair share of opportunities and challenges, from the promise of new technology to pressure from inflationary price rises.

One such challenge is fraud and theft, which is a problem spreading across the logistics and transportation industry, according to Gail Rosen, senior marketing manager at Rutherford, NJ-based freight transporter Genpro.

Rosen says an emerging criminal element is obtaining logistics supplier identities and forging documents, resulting in stolen loads.

Industry leaders, she says, are aggressively collaborating on attacking the issue through increased diligence around carrier onboarding and vetting, and proactive confirmation that the correct truck is being loaded at the shipping point.

This assessment is echoed by Bob Rose, vice president of Los Angeles, CA-headquartered Allen Lund Company, who describes theft and fraud as the biggest issues facing the transportation industry right now.

“We work closely with many partners to prevent theft; however, in the last year, it has become clear that freight theft is on the rise,” he says.

“The industry is tightening its grip on how carriers are vetted and tracked, and many resources are being employed in these efforts to stay ahead of the bad guys.”

Another issue of primary importance, especially during the summer volume spike, is the tightening truck market, says Rosen.

Given the issue, she says there is a need to provide produce shippers and receivers with ample quality capacity at a competitive cost.

Paul Kazan, president of Bronx, NY-based Target Interstate Systems, argues that even though there is an overcapacity of trucks in the market, the actual flow of that capacity is inconsistent, creating significant swings and gaps.

He also says the fact that seasonal trends are often punctuated by spot shortages can make scheduling loads with carriers problematic.

“All of a sudden, lettuce is hard to get, and when it’s hard to get, it gets expensive pretty quick.”

— Fred Plotsky, Cool Runnings, Kenosha, WI

Similarly, Fred Plotsky, president of Kenosha, WI-based Cool Runnings, says product availability in produce has become a real challenge for many companies because of shortages.

“It’s made things kind of tough in our business,” he admits. “All of a sudden, lettuce is hard to get, and when it’s hard to get, it gets expensive pretty quick.”


Across all freight types — from dry van and flatbed to refrigerated freight — 2024 shipment volume and demand is up as compared to 2023, says Rosen.

There exists, she says, a problem of overcapacity due to the large amount of carriers that entered the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, companies serving the produce industry are less impacted due to a smaller specialized carrier base transporting seasonal volume and perishables.

The overall economy always impacts the movement of fresh fruits and vegetables, says Kazan, given that most products outside staples are reliant on impulse buys.

“These are items that you grab because they look, smell or taste good, but in tough economic times these purchases drop significantly and some are curtailed in favor of frozen,” he says.

“This naturally affects the entire supply chain and creates less demand for the trucks and again an over-capacity of equipment.”

For Marshall Kipp, founder and chief operating officer at Visalia, CA-located Advanced Transportation Services (ATS), one of the most pressing issues affecting trucking — at least in California — are new emission rules that the state is considering imposing over the next five years.

He also agrees that the over-supply of trucks is a current challenge for the industry.

“While there are surge markets like South Texas and Nogales, AZ, for the most part, the supply of trucks grew so much during COVID that it has now contracted rapidly,” says Kipp.

Another aspect of the transportation industry that has undergone dramatic change over recent years has been technology. Technology is used not only to track the trucks’ location and progress, but also the temperature in transit as well as light and humidity.

On the ocean-going and airfreight side, Rose at Allen Lund says once the 2020 market issues normalized, costs dropped significantly.

“There were times when container prices dropped below realistic long-term pricing; however, those costs have also normalized over the last few months,” he says. “Currently, we are seeing prices rise from the same time last year.”

However, with costs — from fuel and components to insurance and drivers — rising, pressure on the industry is undoubtedly increasing.

With theft rising, Rose admits that trucking is becoming a more expensive way to operate all around.

“Markets come and go in trucking; hopefully, a fair wage for the work will arise,” he adds. “Currently, there is more equipment in the marketplace, so it remains soft – but it’s dependent on the ability to purchase items, so it seems like 2024 will be a relatively soft year.”

“There’s a slowdown for freight in general, so getting to the produce-growing areas is maybe a little tougher,” says Plotsky at Cool Runnings.

However, availability aside, he says freight rates appear to have “firmed up” over recent months. “It seems like in the produce business, it’s leveled out for sure, and it’s even starting to uptick a little bit,” Plotsky believes.


Like most commodities, Rose says produce has inflation issues, and ones which can impact logistics and transportation.

“If you pay more for a head of lettuce or melon, we see a slight decrease in demand based on trucking, and we can only hope that the health benefits outweigh the additional costs at the store,” he says.

“If pricing is strong, customer demand for produce and other items will make transportation demand sluggish, making it difficult to increase prices in 2024.”

“We hope to see an uptick in demand in certain markets, but over the last few months, it’s been a slower market with less quality produce overall,” adds Rose.

“We believe there will be an uptick in demand this summer, increasing demand and truck volume, thus producing the normal summer price rise.”

At the present time, Rosen at Genpro says capacity remains on a par with demand; however, she also cautions that spikes in summer seasonal shipment volume within primary shipping regions could lead to these volumes outpacing capacity, which could impact cost.

Kipp, from ATS, says demand for produce shipments remains “very good for the most part” in the refrigerated perishable shipping market, although he has seen some slower demand on backhaul into produce harvesting areas.

However, Kipp says inflation has most certainly had an impact. “Rising equipment prices, insurance costs, and labor all play a part,” he says. “And let’s not forget trucks don’t go anywhere without diesel fuel.

“It’s still a matter of supply and demand; many trucks that made money during the uptick in the market have now given back more. It is becoming increasingly more difficult as trucks run out of warranty at half a million miles, needing to be replaced. These costs have risen immensely. They have come down from the peak but are still up 20% from where they were before COVID.”


Like any business, good relationships between transportation companies and their clients are vital. According to Rosen at Genpro, fostering such relationships has never been more important than it is today.

According to Kipp, suppliers who took great care of their customers during the COVID-19 years with capacity and avoided ridiculous pricing, are now seeing the benefits as the market settles.

“I think this is the reality of why relationships are so important — there was real evidence and a reality check for most customers and suppliers,” he adds.

Rose at Allen Lund describes clients as the company’s “life’s work.”

“It’s essential to ensure we care for all parties and treat them like our family,” he says. “We made every extra effort during the last few years, particularly as clients needed extra guidance.”

On the other hand, Kazan at Target Interstate says there has been a dramatic change in these relationships. Where, prior to COVID-19, such relationships were interpersonal and built-up over years, post-pandemic they have become more “transactional” in nature.


Another aspect of the transportation industry that has undergone dramatic change over recent years has been technology; a factor which Kazan says continues to push the industry forward.

“True supply chain visibility is here and will only improve the working of logistics, from tracing and tracking of the actual produce to the mode of transportation,” he says.

“We utilize the technology to not only track the trucks’ location and progress, but also the temperature in transit as well as light and humidity.”

Kazan adds that the advent of Electronic Logging Devices (EDL) further enables better planning and implementation.

Target Interstate has also recently launched “Produce Talk,” an online tool that allows employees and customers to monitor where produce shipments are in real-time, regardless of the system used to track them.

The system aggregates all the location notifications a customer receives from vendors and puts them on an interactive map with easy and actionable data. This information, says Kazan, can be sorted by commodity, shipper and ETA, alerting customers to loads that are on time, behind or not making delivery.

Kipp at ATS agrees. Technology, he says, is now playing an important role, especially in visibility and preventing service failure.

“Our customers can see their shipments driving down the road on a map with the click of a button on their computers,” Kipp continues.

“This technology allows receivers and shippers to plan and manage their labor force better, driving efficiency. How critical is it for transportation logistics to have state-of-the-art technology to provide the best service to customers? It’s now a must!”

For Genpro, the possibilities offered by technology are helping logistics providers bring value by becoming an extension of their customers’ supply chain, and in the process, meeting the service requirements of the produce industry.

“Examples of current efficiencies gained from transportation technology are reduced errors and resource optimization, real-time shipment tracking to include location and in-trailer temperature readings and closing information gaps between buyer, seller and transportation provider by hosting and supplying data,” says Rosen.

Likewise, Rose at Allen Lund views technology as the key component of any successful business.
“We continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve as our clients expect it and our employees demand it,” he says. “We have a very robust IT department, and we spend a lot of time challenging ourselves to make the best product possible for everyone involved.”

One such option being adopted by many companies is AI, which Rose views as a tool to enhance the transportation experience that complements its customers and employees.

“We have not seen this in any way replace our employees,” he says. “With advancements, we hope to continue giving excellent service at reasonable prices using all relevant tools at our disposal.”

For Kipp, AI offers advantages in predicting markets, refrigerated freight rates and projecting costs.
However, not everyone in the industry sees technology as a solution.

“For me, when I look back at 38 years, I would say technology made us in many respects less efficient,” argues Plotsky at Cool Runnings. “So much time is spent on technology that it takes away from doing a good job at trucking.

“I’m not saying it’s all bad because software has helped us communicate better with our drivers, but overall, it has cost us time.”