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A Primer on Summer Freight Shipping Season

June 6, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Hello Summer

Freight shipping is, necessarily, a year-round business, but the summer season brings with it some unique elements. Summer freight shipping presents the somewhat obvious environmental challenge of hotter temperatures, but it also includes heavier produce, food and beverage volumes both due to growing/harvest seasons and typical higher demand, plus the specter of the general peak freight season toward the second half of summer. Add to that external factors still weighing heavy on the freight industry like a potential dock worker strike threatening west coast ports, the situation in Russia/Ukraine, COVID-19 port shutdowns in China, soaring gas prices and general equipment and capacity issues, and this summer freight season promises to be an interesting one.

What freight is busiest in summer?

Just as freight ebbs and flows throughout the year, the busiest summer freight depends on the location and the month. One of the most prominent freight types associated with summer is produce, especially through the first portion of the season. Produce season starts before summer, in fact, as early as February in some southern climates. It's generally considered to wrap up in July in northern areas that started later. But produce, which for logistics purposes in essence is "farm-produced crops," takes up quite a bit of freight capacity in season. What else accounts for a big chunk of summer freight traffic? You can also find it in grocery stores and restaurants - food and beverage.

While people need to eat all year round, perhaps due to summer party and grilling season, demand is greater in this sector. So products like beer, wine and soda along with meats, chips, buns, sauces and anything else you can think of for backyard eating and drinking tend to take up a lot of volume. There's certainly overlap between produce and the rest of the food and beverage peak, but often food and beverage jumps right in to take capacity as produce season starts to wane. Once July 4th celebrations come and go, there's a short lull before the tail end of summer, which brings the beginning of what's considered traditional peak freight season.

What is peak shipping season?

Peak shipping season for freight typically runs from the latter part of July all the way through early December - so it's more like peak shipping half-year. This peak shipping season is designated as such due to both the demand for back to school merchandise and of course, holiday stock being prepped and hitting retail shelves - which feels like it starts earlier every year. So after all the planning for other summer freight issues, it's all a climb to that peak shipping season. A key characteristic of peak season is demand for capacity outpacing supply, that means shippers should expect:

  • Freight capacity tightens.
  • Spot market pricing increases.
  • Service levels decrease.
  • GRI, general rate increases, instituted by ocean carriers.
  • Railroads call off various outbound markets, primarily SoCal and NorCal as constrained, which then brings intermodal box surcharges on every box over the agreed guaranteed capacity volume.

 All of these are considered typical impacts, but peak season isn't immune to real world events either. Both for better and worse, those can make a strong impression on capacity, pricing, etcetera.

Successfully making your way through summer freight season and peak shipping season requires planning and know how, and at InTek, we have both. Reach out to us to take advantage of our expertise for your unique shipping needs. 

Learn more about freight and logistics - and what we do at InTek - in our Learning Center. Or you can start with a few of the links below: 

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