Food-service trailers are very mission-specific, says John Fershtand, director of fleet operations and energy management at Ben E. Keith Foods. “If you talk to 10 people in this business, you'll find that each has their own requirements. At the same time, everybody will be concerned with things like durability, in trailers in particular.”

The size of the Ben E. Keith Foods operation, and the steady growth the company experiences, means new equipment is added to the fleet on a regular basis. Currently, the company fields about 500 tractor-trailer combinations, including Great Dane and Kidron reefers and power units supplied by Freightliner and International.

“We take delivery of new trailers almost every month,” Fershtand relates. “That means we're constantly massaging our specs as we learn from experience, and address new needs that arise. Lately, because lead times for new vehicles are much longer than in the past, we're planning purchases and reviewing specs earlier.”

Ben E. Keith Foods' latest trailers include 28-, 36-, 48- and 53-ft. Great Dane Classic refrigerated units. All 28-ft. units are fitted with pintle hooks for use in doubles operations, and some 36 footers are also used as doubles in Oklahoma and Kansas. Two curbside doors, flat floors and Meritor P.S.I. Tire Inflation Systems are now standard specs on the fleet's trailers.

Also specified on new trailers at Ben E. Keith Foods is Carrier Transicold's Vector 6600 MT hybrid refrigeration unit. The multi-temp models have been in use at the company since they were introduced. The manufacturer's hybrid design combines a 4-cyl., 2.2L diesel engine and a 20-kVA generator.

“The hybrid refrigeration units are paying for themselves,” Fershtand states. “We know we're saving fuel but even more apparent is their reliability, which lowers our maintenance costs. Anytime you can eliminate 40% of the moving parts, including alternators, belts, idlers and shaft seals used in conventional units, you have a real success story.

“We tend to wear our trailers from the inside out,” Fershtand continues. “To protect trailers from all the pallet positioning that takes place during loading and deliveries, we spec Great Dane's PunctureGuard interior sidewall lining and 18-in.-high poly scuffbands. The PunctureGuard thermoplastic panels are not only very rigid, they're also a lighter weight option.”

Ben E. Keith Foods is also addressing ongoing tractor issues. “The 2007 emissions regulations created trucks with engines that have been a frustrating maintenance challenge,” Fershtand states. “The 2010 Detroit Diesel DD13 engines in our newest tractors appear to be much better, but it's still a little early to be sure. In addition, our 70 technicians, who currently work in four shops — a fifth maintenance facility is now under construction — are continually challenged to learn new things about the latest vehicle technologies we're fielding.”

Fershtand also notes that Ben E. Keith Foods has changed its specs from manual and automated manual transmissions to Allison automatics. “Our drivers are busy enough positioning trucks at delivery stops, many of which are made at the curb,” he says. “At the same time, driver retention is a huge concern, and the pool of drivers available today often includes people who aren't familiar with operating traditional truck transmissions.”

Changing equipment to meet its changing need has helped Ben E. Keith Foods stay in business and grow steadily for over 100 years. Founded as a small produce distributing company, the independent division of Ben E. Keith Co. based in Fort Worth, TX, has grown into the eighth largest major full-service, institutional foodservice distributor in the nation, serving customers from six distribution centers in 11 south central states.