Kroger delivers fresh produce to Juneau with Alaska Air Cargo

Kroger delivers fresh produce to Juneau with Alaska Air Cargo
Mike Brennan is Transportation Manager for Kroger ’s Fred Meyer and QFC grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest.

Mike Brennan is Transportation Manager for Kroger’s Fred Meyer and QFC grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest. He works out of Kroger’s almost one-million-square-feet distribution center in Puyallup, Washington. Kroger is the second largest retailer in the United States, and Mike’s job is directing all the outbound delivery of grocery products to approximately 150 stores in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

Juneau, Alaska
Alaska’s capital city of Juneau is only accessible by sea or by air.

The Lower 48 stores are served by trucks, but it’s a different story in Alaska. Because of distance, weather, topography and roads (or lack thereof), Mike has to navigate multiple transport methods, especially for the capital city of Juneau. “Whenever I talk to anyone,” Mike says, “I make it a point to say we have nine stores in Alaska and one in Juneau. The distribution is so different, the cities are not serviced the same way. You can drive from Washington State, essentially year-round, to the central Alaska locales around Anchorage and Fairbanks, but you cannot drive to Juneau in Southeast Alaska. The only way in is by sea or by air.”

Mike uses a variety of over-the-water transport for most products going to Juneau. But marine transportation is problematic for anything requiring quick delivery, such as fresh produce.  With limited barge departures and long transit times, items with short shelf lives are compromised. “It was tough for our Fred Meyer Juneau customers to get fresh produce. The salad dates would be nearly expired on arrival because of the time it takes to get there on a barge, for example.  In 2017, we decided to try something new and contracted with Alaska Air Cargo for produce deliveries.”

The air shipments were immediately noticeable, says Mike. “Shipments are delivered same-day or next -day. A customer can now walk into the Juneau Fred Meyer, buy fresh items like berries or lettuce and take them home and have an entire week to consume them. That just didn’t happen before. Customers would have to use produce the same day they got it and then wait days for another shipment to hit the store. For years when we sent berries to Juneau, it was a 50/50 shot if we going to be able to sell them. It’s totally the opposite today.”

In the Lower 48, “we take this for granted,” Mike says, “but it’s a huge deal in Alaska, especially items like berries and salad.”

Alaska Air Cargo ships fresh commodities twice a week to Juneau, every Tuesday and Friday out of SeaTac. Mike’s perspective is that the additional cost for air shipping is made up by delivering a better product and providing greater customer service. “We are the only store in Juneau using air freight for grocery items to this degree, and that encourages people to go to Fred Meyer.  It not only gives our sales a lift, but also our brand and reputation. If we can get people in the store initially for something fresh, they end up buying more. Customer feedback has been positive right from the beginning.”

Fruit
Fresh produce items, like berries and salads, are precious commodities in Alaska, especially Juneau.

Fred Meyer’s Juneau produce department is “ecstatic,” Mike adds. “I have a lot of interaction with the produce manager in particular. It’s a tough job up there, but he says his work life is much better now. He’s super excited about the program with Alaska Airlines. We’ve been able to increase the salad footprint in the store because we can ship more and have confidence it will stay fresher, longer.”

The relationship with Alaska Airlines has been very beneficial for Fred Meyer, Mike says. “They’ve been really good to work with. Remember, I’m a transportation guy, and I’m always wrestling with logistics and efficiencies, it’s constant. So personal service goes a long way.  The Alaska folks are very engaging. I’ve not once had a rude encounter with them in person or on the phone. Their hiring and training are  excellent.”

Whether by freighter or belly cargo, Mike says Alaska does a “fantastic job” getting cargo to Juneau. “Mostly it’s on the freighter. But circumstances might mean it sometimes goes in the belly. That changes the logistics dynamics, but Alaska Airlines has a ton of knowledge and expertise in perishable shipping, and they do a god job ensuring the customer gets the product, whichever way it goes.”

2020 has obviously been a volatile year, but according to Mike, Alaska Air Cargo has been steady. “It’s been seamless for us. I don’t know how they do it, but from my perspective, nothing has changed. That says quite a bit about their operation and organization. I have not had any hiccups during the pandemic.”

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