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    Wholesalers Finding Myriad Ways to Conserve Fuel

    New survey finds distributors taking hard line to reduce costs.

    ARLINGTON, VA, — Wholesalers and self-distributing retailers are working hard to reduce fuel consumption, a direct response to record high prices at the pump, according to the recently released Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Transportation Benchmarks 2008 report.

    The Federal Energy Information Agency reported that diesel fuel prices peaked in June at an average of $4.64 per gallon. Transportation costs were 1.84 percent of sales for wholesalers in 2007, up from 1.59 percent in 2004.

    "Distributors can’t control the price of fuel, but they are conserving it in virtually every way imaginable," Jeff Rumachik, FMI vice president of wholesaler and member services, said in a statement. "This begins with planning the most efficient routes, limiting trips and loading trucks as full as possible. On the road, drivers are limiting speeds and reducing idling time. On return trips, they are looking for opportunities for backhaul or contract freight. Nobody wants to haul air in rigs that burn more than $4 every six miles."

    In the last four years, diesel fuel has more than doubled in price, which has companies looking for ways to cut costs. To this end, 99.1 percent of wholesaler and self-distributing retailers participating in the FMI survey cited the "cost of fuel" among their top five issues. Other leading issues were fleet costs (64.4 percent), on-time deliveries (50.6 percent), driver availability and retention (46.2 percent) and compliance with government regulations (37.2 percent).

    Nine out of 10 companies said they are conserving fuel through a wide variety of practices, including limiting the number of miles traveled per trip, often using software to identify the shortest routes and heavy traffic areas to avoid. In some cases, these initiatives decreased miles traveled by as much as 15 percent.

    Other steps include reducing road speeds and idling time and use fuel-saving shifting and braking techniques. Of those polled, 86 percent said they employ computers to aid drivers in those pursuits.

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