DMers Have Mixed Luck With Food Shipments During Blackout

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The power didn't go out on Cape Cod on Aug. 14, but Jo-Von Tucker still faced a potential disaster for her small business.


Tucker owns Clambake Celebrations, Chatham, MA, which sells lobsters, clams, mussels, corn on the cob and everything else for a traditional Cape Cod clambake. And she knows that Thursday is her company's biggest shipping day with 50 to 60 outgoing shipments scheduled to arrive on Friday.


"Our packages are designed to be in transit and to be received within 24 hours," she said. "After that, the seafood will die and the contents are no good."


When she learned that afternoon that tens of millions of people were without power because of the blackout, she could do only one thing: call FedEx.


"A lot of their planes were late on Friday and Saturday due to the blackout," she said. "Normally [the shipments] would have missed the trucks, but since some of the freight came in late, they sent trucks back out. We ship exclusively with Federal Express, and they extended themselves beyond the call of duty."


Tucker estimated that about one-third of the Aug. 14 shipments were headed for areas without power.


"Fortunately, we had only one shipment going into New York City, so we were able to head that off and arrange for a different day for delivery," she said. "It was for someone's birthday, but they completely understood."


Orders typically accommodate two to 10 people and cost from $146 to more than $700.


"We had grave concerns until they got delivered, but they all got delivered," she said. "When you're shipping a package with live seafood, dependability is of the utmost importance to maintain your day-to-day operations.


"A lady had a dinner for 16 going to a resort in Arkansas. We thought it was in trouble on Friday. That order was over $800. If those packages didn't get [to their destinations], it could've been a huge loss for us since we're a small company."


A much larger DMer, Omaha Steaks, was less fortunate in getting its deliveries through.


"Our carrier, UPS, had a lot of difficulty making deliveries [Aug. 15], so we had a significant number of deliveries going to that part of the country that arrived late," public relations manager Beth Weiss said. "Because Omaha Steaks is a perishable item packed with dry ice -- according to the number of days that it would take to arrive, on average, and the season of the year, and because those deliveries arrived late -- some of them were beginning to defrost.


"We don't like our product to arrive any way other than rock-hard frozen. So about 85 to 90 percent of the orders that were scheduled for Friday delivery in the affected areas arrived late and will be reshipped at no charge. Some of the shipments were not affected, but most of them started to defrost."


Weiss said 500 to 700 shipments will be reshipped to the affected areas. She had no hard numbers regarding the average order amount from those shipments.


"The company is large enough to absorb the costs when things like this happen," she said. "When there are blizzards or hurricanes that affect delivery schedules, we experience the same kind of thing. We have an unconditional guarantee in which we will refund money or send replacement product, no questions asked, if they're not thrilled."


Other direct marketers of perishables were luckier. Figi's -- which sells perishables such as chocolate, cheese and sausages as well as cookies, wreaths and gifts -- does not ship perishable items in hot weather.


"We make chocolate unavailable for shipment during extremely hot weather," a representative said. "Generally, around the first part of September, it would be available for shipment as we come into our fall season. We're very seasonal, and our new fall season is just beginning, so we would have had minimal shipments to the East during the blackout period."


Fairytale Brownies, Chandler, AZ, a direct marketer of brownies, also was unaffected.


"In the summer months we don't ship on Thursdays or Fridays, except for overnight shipments," shipping team leader Kim Harris said. "We are very seasonal, so Christmas is our peak time."


Drs. Foster & Smith, Rhinelander, WI, a direct marketer of pet supplies and live aquatic life also had unique challenges in coping with the blackout.


"As soon as [staffers] heard about the blackout, they called our supplier in Los Angeles and told them to hold all shipments of live fish to the affected areas," said corporate communications manager Joe Voellinger, adding that 80-100 shipments of live fish were delayed, about a third of the company's daily volume. "It's always overnight delivery. If somebody orders fish before 9:30 a.m. Central time, the order goes to California and they ship them next-day air via FedEx," he said. "Our fish is sent to people with home aquariums - and if the delivery is any longer than next-day shipping, it compromises their health."


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