The new guidelines were issued in the form of a sixty-eight page report published by the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) and the National Tax Agency.
“Surveys have revealed that the amount of waiting time for cargo to [be transported] was particularly high in several fields [including those of] processed foods [and beverages] since 2018,” said MLIT via the report.
“Furthermore, since 2020 beverages and liquor were also found to have long waiting times and also a similar structure to processed foods, hence efforts have been made to [search for solutions to make improvements] in all three areas.”
Food safety was considered an important element of shortening the waiting times in trucks or other vehicles, as leaving products waiting for long periods before reaching proper storage facilities leaves these more at risk from factors such as temperature and weather changes.
“[One main issue in the industry is that inspections are currently not optimised] as the lead times given are often too short so advanced shipment notice (ASN) information is often not prepared in advance,” said MLTI.
“As a result, there is often no digitised information at the point of arrival so inspections of the delivery and documentation needs to be performed manually, driving up longer inspection times and waiting times.
ASNs are electronic data messages commonly sent from shippers to recipients even before shipments leave the shipper’s facility, which contain complete information about the shipment’s contents that by right can be obtained by the recipient upon scanning a code or label.
“[Firms] should send ASNs in advance and utilise technologies such as QR codes or other labels such that inspections upon arrival can be done by just scanning and reading these – this would lead to a reduction in inspection time,” said MLTI.
“For example, a case study was conducted with Asahi beer and the KOKUBU wholesale food group using compulsory ASN, and it was found that once Asahi’s ASN sent to KOKUBU was confirmed to match its arrival schedule, inspection at the recipient’s end was omitted, waiting times were shortened, berth turnovers were optimised [and products] reached storage much more quickly.”
In addition to increasing digitisation, another guideline issued by the report was for food firms to implement a joint transportation or shared vehicle use system
“Currently deadhead journeys (truck journeys with no cargo) are an issue [and a financial burden] on the manufacturers, and one way to reduce this and secure return loads is to match up different manufacturing firms based on product characteristics, timing, handling conditions and so on,” said the ministry.
“Mutual cooperations and sharing data is important here to improve efficiencies and we have already seen good results in a case study between Asahi and wholesaler Itochu Foods – usually a total of four trips would need to be arranged by each firm to deliver their products to locations in the same vicinity, but by mutually utilising their vacant vehicles a 50% to just two trips was seen.
“Importantly, conventionally these deliveries would only give about 90km of vehicle use per vehicle, but the experiment gave double that at about 180km, reducing deadhead distance. The reduced number of vehicles also gave advantages such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions and alleviating the problem of driver shortage.”
The report also highlighted that a phenomenon dubbed ‘distribution waves’ was also adding to logistical issues, calling for food firms to stop tightly adhering to conventions such as compulsory product delivery in the morning.
“There are six major distribution waves in Japan: In the morning, on Fridays, at the start of the month, at the end of sales incentive calculation deadlines such as end of the month, seasonal changes, and long vacations,” said MLIT.
“It is important for firms sending products to work together to level out the wave – for instance, a lot of designated delivery times are concentrated in the morning, causing truck congestion, but there is no need for this, it is possible to spread out through the day.
“Similarly because retail stores do a lot of sales on weekends, a lot of deliveries are concentrated on Fridays – instead of delivering all the bargains together on Fridays, food firms should work to spread this out e.g. delivering in multiple batches across Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.”
Challenges and uncertain future
Despite these guidelines being important for the immediate future, the report also stressed that Japan needs to make major systemic changes to its logistics system as a whole due to demographic concerns – data also revealed that most drivers in the trucking business are between the age of 45 to 59, and there are no replacements lining up for these jobs moving forward.
“These 45- to 59-year-old individuals now play a central role in the industry, and after they retire over the next 10 to 15 years, it is not expected that any demographic, women or younger people will emerge to take over these roles, so if left unchecked, the labour shortage will become very serious,” said MLTI.
So part of the impetus of improving the state of the industry also lies in making truck drivers’ jobs less strenuous - getting drivers to stay in the job for longer or making the industry attractive enough to attract new talent is important to ensure that there will continue to be a functioning logistics system to deliver food and beverages in the future.