Twenty-foot containers are better than 40-foot containers for many ag products, and for machinery. Neither of these completely fills a container, and the smaller size means less blocking. But the containers are in short supply in the Midwest.
Twenty-foot containers are also ideal for products like soybeans, which have considerable Midwest-to-Asia container trade. They are a better size for shipments, because they are a bit smaller. We can’t always get a full forty-foot container because of the order size, which for premium products tends to be smaller. High-quality non-GMO beans often are not grown in the large bulk quantities.
Fewer products are shipped to the Midwest in 20-foot containers. And apparently, many of the 20-footers from the Far East are simply reused in California and Washington, rather than moving east. Goods could even be transshipped there to 53-footers for the ride into the Midwest. There’s no shortage on the West Coast.
This kind of problem is what plagues logistics operators of all kinds, as well as shippers. A simple little issue, very hard to do anything about. How do we cope with it?
It’s clear that Maersk is making bets as a venture capitalist on young firms with unique value propositions. They have made an investment, via Maersk Growth, in ZigZag, a London-based firm.
I had never heard of ZigZag before. They offer a SaaS (Software as a service) that allows manufacturers and retailers to manage returns in a one-stop manner. Their services include hard logistics assets like access to warehouses and sortation centers and access to carriers, as well as just the software.
The story indicates some of what they do. We all know that returns are a unique type of operation, whose nature differs with the type of industry. HP has been doing it for many years in the printer division. But I was interested to find out that there is a lot of interest among clothing manufacturers or retailers.
Apparently people buy clothes, use them for a while, and then return them, even for no refund. There is also a temptation for retailers to get rid of stale inventory by simply throwing it in a landfill, a sustainability issue. Easy returns offers an opportunity for a firm that can handle these problems efficiently and in a sustainable manner. (I presume there might be an incentive to cheat; but certainly a specialist could do a better job because it’s their core business).
I doubt that ZigZag will be merged with Maersk. However, the bet makes sense when you understand that a lot of what Maersk carries is clothing manufactures from the Far East. If ZigZag can help these clients it could make a difference in the clients’ bottom line, and Maersk would be able to say they helped with the supply chain problems.