We are actively seeking any and all solutions to the pallet/wood shortage

All indications are that the wood (lumber) situation will continue (most likely) through this entire year, and potentially beyond.  That is a frightening indication, no doubt.  There are numerous reasons why, and most of them are out of our hands to resolve.  The major cause of the void is lumber prices that are being paid by home builders and construction.  Lumber futures have skyrocketed to prices that are 6-10 times higher than the norm of the 2015-2019 era.  The Wall Street Journal article about lumber futures provides a great deal of background.   

The NWA, in cooperation with a number of our colleagues, is shaking every tree to seek solutions.  We suggested to our F&V colleagues that a national letter be sent to the executives of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and National Grocers Association (NGA) by United Fresh Produce Association.  See United’s letter HERE.  Our friends at the Texas International Produce Association have issued their own letter, and we anticipate that other colleagues will follow suit with similar sentiments.   

The National Watermelon Association (NWA) has written a letter for your use with your watermelon buyers and shipping contacts.  Here is your chance to help us to seek solutions.  The United Fresh letter will potentially reach some retailer executives, but it will be vital to make sure that the buyers, category managers and shipping contacts are aware of this situation - - they are on the front lines of product purchasing, receiving and distribution.  Please, if you will, share the NWA letter with your contacts – every one of them!  Please do so Today!  You can access the NWA letter HERE.    

Local and state politicians have engaged to help, where they can.  Our local Congresswoman contacted the President of Publix, asking for his retail chain’s support and to encourage the National Grocers Association to help solve the problem.  She also talked with the President of Pallet One to hopefully help.  Nikki Fried, Florida’s AG Commissioner, is now getting involved.  As the watermelon season moves northward, we anticipate that more retailers, more politicians and others will engage, and that’s good.  The more trees that we can shake, maybe some solutions will be the result.

A good example of how a retailer can help is the conversation I had on Wednesday with the gentleman at Publix Super Markets that is responsible for the pallets in their distribution centers and stores.  They became aware of this issue recently and began a company-wide effort to communicate the need to return all pallets, hold weekly calls with the pallet companies, and have them pick them up for return them to the pools.  In some cases, he indicated that Publix has used their own trucks and drivers to return pallets to the pooling systems.  This response is extraordinary, mind you, and it is very welcome.  If we could get other retailers to do half of that, we would be headed in the right direction. 

Retailers and wholesalers can help to diminish the severity of this issue by releasing pallets back into the pooling systems as soon as they are emptied (rather than holding them or sending them internally to packaged goods suppliers).  Perishable products like F&V crops should take precedence - - crops cannot wait!  And, the retailers that have specific pallet requirements can be lenient by providing ‘waivers’ during this crisis.  In fact, one of my counterparts has arranged for the CEOs of both United Fresh and PMA to contact one major club store operator to apprise them of this issue and suggest a waiver of their pallet requirement at least until November 1st.  We’ll see what happens soon.     

Let’s be frank about this: this situation is, in fact, a crisis.  The magnitude of the issue is potentially different from region to region, but it is coming to your area if it has not already, so please get ready ….. This is not an issue to be unprepared for.

Across the years we’ve seen you surf through labor issues, audits, raids, food safety outbreaks, cost variations, increased competition, trade pressures, trucking issues, and so many more ….. and every time you were resilient and got through it.  But this issue …. this crisis …. is something that is not easily solvable.  We don’t own a timber forest or a sawmill to manufacture pallets for you, nor can we go backward to the days of trailers lined with beds of hay for direct-store delivery, or the age of railcars.  The fact is we need pallets with bins filled with fresh watermelons on trucks to get watermelons to market - - there are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.

Please join us, get yourself involved, and seek solutions everywhere and anywhere.  Send the NWA letter to your buyers and shipping contacts.  The United Fresh letter will reach the executives, but let’s make sure that everyone in the supply chain knows what the problem is, and get them to help find solutions.  We cannot say with any certainty what the solutions are, or when we will find them, but if we all try together, maybe we’ll be blessed and get through this.  
The power of this association (the NWA) is that we try - - we try really hard - - to solve problems.  That’s what we do - - and that’s why we are here.  We will keep you informed every step of the way – we promise that to you.  In a case so severe and threatening like this, we need your help too - - we cannot do this alone.  Let’s get the word out, do our best, pray too, and maybe, just maybe we’ll get through this season okay.  There are no promises to be made; no commitments to be reviewed; it’s just us doing our best, and being what we are – a caring family – and a great association.  We’re in with both feet and up to it as far as we can be.  Can we count on each and every one of you too?  I think we can.  Let’s do this Together! 

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United’s letter

NWA Letter