Christopher Columbus first shipped tobacco to Europe as a partial load. Today, 500 years later, around 8 million tons of tobacco products are produced and transported all around the world. We talked with AsstrA Drinks and Tobacco Logistics Specialist Maria Pobolovets about how modern logistics work with regards to tobacco, cigarettes, and cigars.
Maria, describe the process of transporting tobacco products door-to-door, from manufacturer to customer.
Sure, I can illustrate it with the example of one of our interesting recent projects. In March, AsstrA received a request for a Belarus-Russia-Azerbaijan shipment. For us it is not the most commonly requested route, since most cigarette exports from Belarus go to Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, or Lithuania.
Since cigarettes are easily resellable on the black market, we always offer an escort. In agreement with the client, it was decided to organize escorts not only across Belarus, where such an escort is obligatory, but also across Russia. The Belarussian security services have standing agreements in place with AsstrA. In Russia, it was possible to source an appropriately priced agency with the possibility of pre-ordering, adequate payment terms, and good availability of accompanying units.
The search for a reliable transport partner followed. The choice was made in favor of an Azerbaijani supplier with an acceptable price. To ensure the reliability of the new partner, we conducted a standard full check involving a request for registration documents, recommendations, CMR for previous orders, customs database verifications, etc. In Europe this vetting process does not surprise anyone, but due to the realities of Azerbaijan we first had to explain to the supplier why these procedures were necessary. After all, business there is often built on the principle that "a good friend of my good friend always does everything well, just trust me." That is why, in order not to expose cargo to danger, AsstrA specialists performed a thorough background check on the supplier. Also, the AsstrA Insurance Department selected the best coverage option for the client. After agreeing the final price, in April the first machines were loaded.
Did this client have any unique characteristics?
There is no fundamental difference between a client in Azerbaijan or France, for example. For everyone, peace of mind and secure transportation of such easily resellable cargo as tobacco products or alcohol are especially important. Therefore, the AsstrA Drinks and Tobacco team always emphasizes proactivity: information about the status of the cargo is provided before the client asks for it.
During the execution of this order, we were in touch with the convoy, the client manager, and drivers around the clock, 24/7. Due to the client’s time zone, we adjusted the working hours of the AsstrA staff involved. This approach immediately showed the client our interest in long-term cooperation and, as a result, a significant increase in monthly shipments is planned.
Maria, what is the key to success in tobacco logistics? What would be your top 3 rules for excelling in this business?
The first is to work with reliable transport partners. They must quickly and adequately perceive information and instructions and, most importantly, deliver cargo in the right condition to the recipient.
Second, cars should be in good technical condition. Imagine that if a car stops, then the whole column stops along with it. The results are lost time, additional risks, and extra financial costs – not to mention client dissatisfaction. When transporting cigarettes, depending on the volume of cargo, preference is given to cars with an all-metal trailer not older than 10 years.
And finally, transport and logistics company staff should understand the logistics process at every step, know all the technical and legal nuances, and be aware of the responsibilities involved during transporting such easily resellable cargo.
Of course, it is impossible to be prepared for everything all the time. That is why AsstrA’s teamwork is so important here. In every project, staff have the confidence that comes from shared knowledge and experience.