While the US fruit and vegetable market is worth over $104 billion, the industry relies on some rather antiquated logistics practices to get produce from field to table. Santa Clara-based Hwy Haul is hoping to modernize the entire supply chain with its freight platform that connects shippers directly to carriers.
“With Covid-19, the word is out that you have to go digital for you to really be building a profitable and sustainable ecosystem,” Hwy Haul CEO and co-founder Syed Aman tells AFN. “Right now, everyone is hauling so many loads but they are not capturing the data in a meaningful way and deriving actionable insights from it. Hwy Haul is going to do that.”
The startup today announced a $10 million Series A round led by Eileses Capital and BluePointe Ventures. Other participants in the round include AgFunder, True Blue Partners, and angel investors like Dheeraj Pandey, founder, and ex-CEO of Nutanix, Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshworks, Rajiv Batra, founder of Palo Alto Networks, and Vivek Mehra, partner emeritus at August Capital.
Launched in 2018, the startup has created what it describes as an end-to-end digital platform for resh produce that eliminates the need for middlemen. It aims to link farmers, distributors, wholesalers, and relaters to its network of pre-vetted carriers.
For carriers, the system eliminates the antiquated process of making daily phone calls and instead provides them with notifications through the platform. Using algorithms, the platform also aims to help carriers maximize their income by identifying the best rates. It can be customized for a carrier’s preferred load types, expected earnings per mile, and more. The goal is to reduce paperwork and cut down on the number of empty miles a carrier travels.
The platform allows shippers to find instant quotes and book shipment loads while the platform’s focus on visibility enables easier load tracking. It also generates real-time humidity and temperature monitoring as produce moves across the country. It also provides data insights around important cost-related metrics like wait times and detention costs.
“We have access to tens of thousands of reliable truck drivers on our platform that are available at the click of a button. You can wake up in the morning, ask if you have the capacity to move loads of avocados or tomatoes to Walmart, see that the answer is yes, and click a button to find out how much capacity you have and what it will cost. Then, you can book it with the click of a button,” Aman explains.
One of the benefits of enhanced efficiency in produce shipping is reducing food waste, according to Aman. Produce spends half of its life in transit and more than $15 billion of fruits and vegetables are wasted or rejected as they travel through the supply chain.
“Inefficiency in the fresh produce supply chain comes at a high cost, not only economically, but in terms of food waste and sustainability,” said Tom Shields, partner at AgFunder. “We are excited to support Hwy Haul in their journey to dramatically improve this key part of our food system.”
Modernizing an entire industry is a serious mission
Convincing an entire industry to adopt new practices isn’t always an easy endeavor. A number of other efforts are currently aimed at upgrading antiquated sectors like the global shipping industry. Tractor Zoom is aiming to modernize farm equipment buying while a number of players are targeting the global commodities shipping industry. Bringing key players to the table, agreeing on universal standards, and finding the right people to keep the ball rolling are all critical to any mission for modernity.
“Education is one of the biggest challenges because this industry has been run in a very traditional way for decades, maybe even a century. That mindset needs to change. Shippers are already locked in with their brokers and brokers are already locked in with their current carriers. It needs to be shaken up a little bit. So, we have to spread the word that you either adopt digital or you will die,” Aman explains.
Fortunately, Hwy Haul’s founders bring deep industry expertise to the produce supply chain table, which could go a long way towards building momentum throughout the industry. Before founding Hwy Haul, Aman served as the director of supply chain at Walmart, where he played a key role in building the foundation for Walmart’s online grocery platform.
Hwy Haul’s CTO, Sharan Grewal held various engineering leadership roles at WalmartLabs while COO Zahed Khan had a 30-year career in produce and logistics, where he built and exited multiple produce and trucking businesses.
Moving forward, Hwy Haul is on a mission to digitize as many aspects of the produce supply chain as it can while squeezing as much insightful data out of it in the process.
“Today, every step is manual. Instead of picking up the phone and calling several people several times throughout the day, we are seeing that people want a dashboard. All the information you would have picked up the phone to get is going to be there,” Aman says.