Monday, 11 July 2011

What's in that truck?

Last week Tina and I drove from Exeter to South Wales for a two day break (it rained a lot!). On the motorway (M5) we started to pass the time by looking at the articulated lorries coming on the other carriageway. The first "game" was to look out for those labelled with the major British supermarkets. We decided that the rules were to see how long it took before we had a hand of five: Asda, Morrison, Sainsbury and Tesco, plus one wild card from Waitrose, Co-operative, Somerfield etc. We weren't sure whether or not to count M&S, as their lorries might be carrying clothes ... but decided that the big supermarkets also deal in clothes and much else. (Yes, British readers will know that Somerfield doesn't exist as an entity these days, but the Co-operative which has taken it over has not completed the conversion of its fleet. We even spotted a truck whose trailer read Somerfield, pulled by a tractor labelled Co-operative.)

In the first hour, we completed three hands of five, an indication of how much traffic there is into the south-west of England. But we were also interested in the other labelled food trucks. Once, when I was consulting for a major confectionery company, I remarked that you never saw lorries with their name on the side. I was told that when the company started in the UK, they linked to a local haulage company in the same town, and that haulage company continued to carry all the confectionery; the two companies had grown together. So there are many household names which never appear on the sides of articulated lorries in the UK.

But there were two companies we commented on, one selling yoghurts and dairy products, the other selling pasties and pies. How many yoghurts fit into a 40-ton trailer? Allowing for packaging and pallets, we suggested about 30,000 (assuming about 1kg each). And about the same time for the pies, possibly a few more. How many of these products would be sold in one day in a major supermarket? We estimated at least 10 and at most 1000, for both "large" and packages of four. So by the rules of guesstimation, we plumped for 100 per day (geometric mean). With two products, that meant each lorry carried enough for about 150 supermarkets. And with thousands of supermarkets across the country, one could see why it was economical for these companies to haul such large quantities of their products from factory to distribution centre in large trucks.

Next time we use the motorway, we'll be looking out for other named products on the move, and wondering whether the owners have made the decision to run their own fleets for commercial reasons or because it has "just happened".

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