San Francisco-based Veritable Vegetable is committed to being sustainable, from distributing certified organic fresh fruits and vegetables to using hybrids and fuel-saving strategies in its fleet of trucks.

As the nation's oldest distributor of certified organic produce, Veritable Vegetable
provides full service distribution to all of California and to parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

"Our transportation efforts are only one part of our environmental initiatives here at VV," said Bu Nygrens, one of three owners of the woman-owned company. "We want to maintain as small a carbon footprint as possible in every aspect of our work."

The Veritable Vegetable fleet consists of three modes of distribution. It has long-haul fleet tractors, many of them aerodynamic Kenworth T660s, which distribute and backhaul produce to and from neighboring states. Its in-state tractors go as far south as San Diego and as far north as the Oregon border, delivering produce and backhauling everything from bulk produce to micro-brews.

The third arm of distribution is local deliveries within a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. The company uses a Kenworth T270 hybrid straight truck for the hilly confines of the Bay area, while four Kenworth T370 hybrid tractors make regional deliveries.

The company received grant money for the hybrids through the California Hybrid Vehicle Incentive Program. The remaining premium difference is offset thanks to fuel improvement of 25% with its hybrid tractors and nearly 30% with its Kenworth T270 hybrid.

"We run our straight trucks, on average, 50,000 miles a year and with fuel averaging about $4 per gallon, we're saving about $8,000 a year in fuel with the T270," said Tom Howard, Veritable Vegetable's transportation systems manager. "That means the premium we paid is gone in two years. It will take longer on our Kenworth T370 hybrid tractors, since those average only 25,000 miles per year, but the payback is still very good."

Howard said Veritable Vegetable is also working hard to maximize fuel economy in its Class 8 trucks. "Our Kenworth T660s are averaging close to 7 mpg and we expect our new T660, with an SCR engine, to do better than that," he said. "Plus we're currently installing trailer side skirts on all our 48-foot trailers, which should give us around a 3% improvement in fuel economy. We're also in the process of adding hybrid reefer units for those trailers, which will help the environment while reducing our fuel consumption even more."

As Veritable Vegetable continues to grow, Howard said he and the company will keep an eye out for future developments that can save money while being environmentally conscious. "Natural gas vehicles in the long-haul segment could be the next big thing," he said. "If they build the infrastructure for fueling, we'll have our hand up with interest. And who knows, it might be sooner than we think. I look back to the early days of the food movement, and its roots in the Bay Area, and how it has grown into a national movement. Maybe the same will be said with alternative-fueled trucks."

From the January 2012 issue of HDT.