Welcome to the WHAT THE TRUCK?!? newsletter. In this issue, logistics of milk crates; shipping crisis impacts DTC brands; gridlock at sea; and more.



WHAT THE TRUCK are you doing? — While ocean containers may be in short supply these days, there’s one type of shipping container that nearly everyone in America has access to: the milk crate. If you’ve been on TikTok or Twitter in the past week, you’ve likely seen videos of a viral sensation that’s being milked for all its worth. The concept is simple: You arrange 36 crates in a pyramid and attempt to walk up and down both sides. The execution is what’ll send you to the ER.  

The humble milk crate — The modern milk crate is the product of Australian inventor Geoff Milton. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, he was part of a team at the Dairy Farmers Cooperative Milk Co. that was tasked with solving final-mile delivery for rapidly accelerating residential milk sales. During a trip to Europe in 1962, he found inspiration in plastic containers that could carry a pint of cow juice. After a few iterations, the modern modular and stackable milk crate was born.


Odd laws — Even the most law-abiding of us have likely been scofflaws when it comes to removing tags from furniture or absconding with the random milk crate. But, do such acts actually come with any real-world penalty? In Pennsylvania the law is printed right on the side of every crate: “Unauthorized use of milk cases illegal. Fine of $300 or imprisonment up to 90 days, Pennsylvania Law Act No. 37 1987.” When you’re serving hard time, you may want to come up with a better cover story to tell the other inmates. 

Spilled milk — The International Dairy Foods Association even has a webpage set up asking, “Are you a victim of milk crate theft?” According to the IDFA, “In 2009, dairy companies surveyed said they lost an estimated $80 million on milk crates annually.” Although they haven’t updated this figure in 12 years, one can only assume that number goes up as a whole generation of TikTokker rushes to set up their own challenge pyramids. Don’t try this at home. 

DTC brands and the shipping crisis


Rise — June of last year, Totem Media surveyed 89 DTC brands and discovered that most reported growth during the early days of the pandemic. Lockdowns and store closings sent buyers online and fueled massive e-commerce growth. According to Retail Wire, “the Top 500 companies generated $849.5 billion in online sales in 2020, a 45.3 percent increase year-over-year and the biggest jump since Digital Commerce 360 began tracking the statistic in 2006.” But, what if you’re a small DTC brand like the one Eli Weiss is at that sells cases of organic seltzer? 

“DTC companies have to have something beyond a good product. They have to have values that are aligned with new consumer preferences and, in some cases, very strong content marketing, as well as a distribution advantage.” — Susan Lyne of BBG Ventures in Glossy

Trucking rates through the pandemic via SONAR

Fall — While the largest shippers, like Best Buy, have enjoyed massive profits, the SMB and DTC consumer brands are bearing the brunt of a shipping crisis that is hitting them with rates and surcharges from every direction. When shipping networks weren’t disrupted, DTC brands benefited from the agility that a digital storefront provides, but in the current market that distribution advantage has become a disadvantage.


A day in the lifeMichael Patrón is an eight-figure Amazon seller who builds in public while chronicling his business’s journey on Twitter. Last week, after a two-week delay at the Port of Savannah that cost him $2,000 and two cancellations by his truckload carrier, his most recent shipment finally arrived. There was just one problem: It belonged to someone else. Patrón tweeted, “They brought the wrong container over 300 miles. So now my container will be delivered tomorrow (maybe) and I will pay another 1K+ in fees over the weekend since they won’t return it to SAV port until Monday.”

A parking lot at sea


Waiting to wait — This week, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have set new records as more than 40 container ships sit at anchor and wait times exceed a week. Before freight from Asia can even get ensnared in that pileup, container ships have to contend with oceanic gridlock at origin. 

By the numbers — Using data from Danish liner consultancy eeSea highlights, Splash247 reports: “Today’s map shows 48 boxships waiting at Ningbo-Zhoushan and a percentage of 65% of vessels waiting versus in port. Shanghai is inching upwards, at 52%, and Yantian (68%), Hong Kong (55%) and Shekou/Chiwan (67%) are also on an upwards trend. Busan, usually quite low, is now at 70%, with 14 vessels waiting outside.”

Next-gen truckers

Collin Spilinek/Fremont Tribune

Touch a truck — Last week, nearly 800 students from Fremont Middle School got to get up close and personal with some big rigs. The tour was set up by FMS and the Nebraska Trucking Association with participation from Fremont Contract Carriers, Hill Brothers Transportation, Greater Omaha Express and Werner Enterprises. 

“They enjoy the blowing of the horn, of course. It’s the biggest thing.” — Bryan Shirley, a 3-million miler for Werner 

Inspiration — The idea for the tours began last year when students were looking online for content to fill their virtual learning. A truck tour was set up over Zoom that went over so well, an in-person version of the event was held just as this school year kicked off. Students got to meet the drivers, learn how the trucks work, see inside the cabs and hear about opportunities that a career in trucking could one day afford them.

WTT this week

WTT airs live M-W-F 12:00-1:00 PM ET and is on podcast players everywhere

Wednesday — Bringing the industry together with events; the story behind SHE Trucking on Disney+ hit-show “Breaking Bobby Bones”; managing mental health; the benefits of mock trials for trucking cases; OOIDA aims to debunk driver shortage. With special guests Sharae Moore, founder, SHE Trucking; Lewie Pugh, executive vice president, OOIDA; Brian Runnels, vice president of safety, Reliance Partners; and Nate Shutes, VP global fulfillment and logistics, Blue Dot

Friday — NASA returns to WTT to talk space logistics! With special guests David Bush, biomedical engineer, and Michelle Lamoia, Astronaut Rescue Team, firefighter and driver, NASA; Brian Rice, CEO, Dray Depot; and Dusty Dean, founder and CEO, BIDCADET 

Catch new shows live at noon ET Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on FreightWavesTV, FreightWaves LinkedIn and Facebook or on demand by looking up WHAT THE TRUCK?!? on your favorite podcast player. 

Now on demand

Lighting up the marijuana supply chain

Anarchy in the SC

Cord cutting

Will wireless charging change trucking? — We asked Jennifer Grenz at Ossia. Take a listen

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