What’s equally unseen is why trucking can be a huge barrier to entry for small and mid scale farms. Like so many industries, distribution is generally more efficient at large scale. It’s more economical to ship a full truckload of produce to a single warehouse or grocery store than it is to ship lots of small orders to a group of individual stores. When you’re small, you may not have the supply or demand to fill a truck, which leaves you having to ship partial trucks (less than a load, or LTL) at greater cost. Mid sized farmers may not have all the full distribution infrastructure - such as refrigerated storage, or docks that can handle both pickup and semi trucks - required to support their operations. As a result they must pay temporary and long-term storage fees, which can quickly add up.
For large sized farms, full truckloads are usually shipped to a grocery chain warehouse, and distributed from there to each individual store. Few stops and full loads mean produce can be shipped less expensively. This is why a cucumber from Mexico, or apples from Peru can show up on grocery shelves in the Northeast for a lower price than something grown a few miles away. This is where local logistics companies and food hubs like Red Tomato come into play. By working with many local producers, we are able to coordinate loads from smaller local farms into one truckload to a either a grocer's warehouse, or to another warehouse. From there, a smaller, more efficient truck delivers the cucumber to the grocery store. Where a single farm might not be able to achieve these efficiencies on their own, by working together local produce becomes more accessible, which is good for the farmer and for the grocer.
Enter Red Tomato’s logistics partners. Whether it’s Hudson Valley Logistics Department (HVLD) one year, Angello’s Distributing the next or Holden in 2017 we choose our partners carefully, and continually ask our growers who they use, and who they know. Red Tomato and grower needs, or those of the logistics company, can change in the blink of an eye. Logistics partners rely on finding efficiencies within their network. When a Red Tomato pick-up is close to another pick-up, the logistics company is better able to aggregate loads, saving the trucker, Red Tomato, and ultimately the consumer money.
Providing this value isn’t easy. Especially with food - it’s a race against rotting! Whether it’s aggregating loads, timing of trucks farther down the road, or tight regulations of driver hours, delivering produce is no small feat. Products have to be shipped in a timely manner, one of the biggest challenge for a logistics company handling many small orders and deliveries. Truckers are heavily regulated, legally allowed to drive only a certain number of continuous hours without a break. Warehouses accept deliveries only at specific times. Even with multiple shifts, product sometimes doesn’t arrive when you want it to.
At Red Tomato we champion logistics: the act of getting produce from one location to the next. Those that run a trucking connection for us, or any of the farmers we work with, are part of a team. Staff to unload trucks, receive product, perform quality checks, inventory, load outbound loads - the staff of a logistics or distributor partner are all key partners in a system that operates while we sleep.
The Last Mile Connection
The distributor is the team that delivers product directly to stores. They are the solution to what’s referred to as, “the last mile problem” - how do we get the product from warehouse or store to the consumers door. Logistics is simple when you need to move a whole truckload of product to one place, or maybe two. But when you have to make 50 deliveries in a morning, the complexity compounds. Sending one or two trucks to complete that many deliveries would take away too long, and be entirely too expensive.
The local food movement has tried many approaches to this problem, over many years. At Red Tomato we rely on a company that is already set up to make these types of deliveries. When these distributors are already making stops close to Red Tomato’s customers, they can offer delivery to our nearby customers at a relatively low price. With Red Tomato’s wide network of customers, using multiple distributors allows us to get the job done.