Wholesalers & Distributors

UNFI rolls out zero-emission trucks and cold trailers in Northern California

Deployment furthers the grocery distributor’s greenhouse gas reduction strategy for its fleet.
UNFI new zero-emission EV truck and cold trailer-Northern CAUnited Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) has deployed two battery-electric semi-trucks and five regenerative-electric refrigerated trailer systems in the Sacramento and Gilroy, California, markets
United Natural Foods Inc. deployed two battery-electric semi-trucks and five regenerative-electric refrigerated trailers in the Sacramento and Gilroy markets. / Photo courtesy of UNFI

As part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) has deployed two battery-electric semi-trucks and five regenerative-electric refrigerated trailer systems in the Sacramento and Gilroy, California, markets.

Providence, Rhode Island-based UNFI, which announced the new vehicles this week, noted that the move comes in time for the peak holiday selling season and advances its goal of a “zero-emissions future.” The grocery wholesaler has distribution and warehouse facilities in Stockton, Rocklin, Gilroy and West Sacramento.

For the deployment, UNFI worked with Penske Truck Leasing to secure two Class-8 electric trucks: the Freightliner eCascadia, and the Volvo VNR Electric models, which the distributor said offer easy charging and ample battery range and torque to meet its typical freight hauling and delivery needs.

Plans call for UNFI to pair the trucks with refrigerated trailers cooled by Carrier’s Vector eCool transport refrigeration unit (TRU). The all-electric Vector eCool uses power generated by ConMet eMobility’s nMotion TR 160-45, an in-wheel electric motor application that repurposes energy captured during coasting and braking, according to the wholesaler.

UNFI new Freightliner eCascadia electric tractor-truck

Two Class-8 electric trucks were provided to UNFI via Penske: the Freightliner eCascadia (above) and the Volvo VNR Electric. / Photo courtesy of UNFI

“The introduction of these efficient electric trucks and refrigerated trailers is a huge step forward, not only toward lowering our delivery costs-per-mile and achieving our own clean transportation goals, but also in helping UNFI achieve California’s ambitious goals on the adoption of zero-emission vehicles,” Nick Selders, vice president of transportation at UNFI, said in a statement. “Implementing this zero-emission delivery solution will enable us become more cost-efficient and prevent hundreds of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere per year.”

Combining the new electric trucks with clean, regenerated energy and Carrier’s Vector unit will help keep customer deliveries “cold mile after mile” while producing no carbon emissions, UNFI said.

“It was the combination of efforts from our partners at Penske, ConMet, Carrier and PLM Fleet that enabled UNFI to put this zero-emission delivery solution together,” Selders added. “They have all been fantastic to work with and we are looking forward to bringing more battery-electric rigs online.”

UNFI said it recently completed a CA Energy Commission-funded study of heavy-duty fleet electrification planning, and the results will provide guidance for implementing charging infrastructure and electric vehicles at multiple locations, including the Gilroy distribution center.

“We’re pleased to collaborate with innovative customers like UNFI as they implement their fleet electrification initiatives and advance their sustainability commitments,” stated Patrick Watt, vice president of alternative vehicle and emerging technology at Penske Truck Leasing. “We were able to accelerate this project with funding through California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). The availability of HVIP funding is important, as it helps fleets offset a portion of the incremental costs of implementing new commercial electric-vehicle technologies.”

UNFI new zero-emission EV truck and cold trailer-Northern CA-loading dock

In Northern California, UNFI's distribution and warehouse facilities include locations in Stockton, Rocklin, Gilroy and West Sacramento. / Photo courtesy of UNFI

With the new electric-powered trucks and eco-friendly cold technology, UNFI said it will be able to cut fleet fuel life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants while transporting cargo more efficiently and cost-effectively for customers.

Alice DeBiasio, vice president and general manager for Truck Trailer Americas and Digital Solutions at Carrier, called the project with UNFI a “testament to the creativity and collaboration that go into bringing truly sustainable transport refrigeration solutions to market.”

She added, “We’re excited to see our Vector eCool units, using energy recovery and storage from the ConMet eMobility system, improve UNFI’s efficiency and environmental impact.”

In mid-2021, UNFI unveiled plans to add 53 all-electric TRUs to the fleet at its distribution center in Riverside, California, noting at the time that the company was one of the first wholesalers to use the zero-emission TRU technology. The fleet transition follwed a January mandate by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to require zero emissions on TRUs sold or operated in the state by Dec. 31, 2029.

Similarly, in December 2020, UNFI announced that it was the first North American grocery wholesaler to commit to emissions reduction goals under the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), an international effort to steer private-sector companies toward a net-zero economy to help lessen the impact of global climate change. UNFI said its targets are a fixture of its “Better for All” 2030 environmental, social and governance (ESG) plan, which includes objectives to cut down on emissions, improve operational efficiency and invest in clean energy.

North America’s largest publicly traded grocery distributor, UNFI operates 56 distribution centers and supplies more than 250,000 natural, organic and conventional products to over 30,000 retailers in the United States and Canada, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice providers. The company’s also operates a supermarket retail business of more than 70 stores under the Cub Foods and Shoppers banners.



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