AIR21 is looking at upgrading its trucks to suit the logistics demand of the food industry, especially in the countryside where the lack of commercial produce to deliver to Manila is costing the company in maximizing its fleet.

The firm’s Regional Business Development Head Maria Rhona R. Begonia said the company is looking at upgrading its fleet for this shift in strategy, a move which will “definitely” require a “big expense for the company.”

“Most SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are farmers. Right now, we’re in the process of reflecting our trucks because we want it temp[erature]-controlled for food-grade because we want to be of service to the farmers,” Ms. Begonia said in an interview on the sidelines of the Ureka Forum on Monday at the Philippine Trade Training Center in Pasay City.

Air21 currently has 600 trucks. About 300 are stationed in provincial hubs and the remaining 400 in the National Capital Region. Of the total, about 270 are eyed to initially undergo upgrading, with the company planning to upgrade more of its trucks in the future.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that we are preparing the company to serve the local industries, especially food logistics,” she added.

The move is being piloted with products that are not highly perishable such as virgin coconut oil, among others. Delivering fresh vegetables and fruits will be next. The firm has also established a provincial division to focus on addressing the low utilization rate in deliveries from Manila to the provinces.

Ms. Begonia said that currently, Air21’s trucks are fully utilized from Metro Manila out to the provinces, but for the return trips, the utilization rate is just at 10% to 20%.

At present, about 80% of the firm’s total manpower is concentrated in the National Capital Region, while the remaining account for the provincial work force. Ms. Begonia is looking at striking a balance between the manpower allocation in the next few years as Air21 shifts its focus to rural areas.

To bolster efforts in its shift to the provincial areas, Air21 signed in December 2017 a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Science and Technology in the Cagayan Valley Region. The province has become active in adopting the services of Air21 to send agriculture-based products to Metro Manila.

Air21 is set to sign a similar pact with the same agencies in the Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) region next week. — J.C. Lim