Trans Coastal Supply Company Inc.: The Last Piece of the Agricultural Exports Puzzle

Trans Coastal Supply Company Inc. (Trans Coastal) is one of the United States’ largest exporters of agricultural products via ocean containers. The business, based out of Decatur, Ill., was founded in 2007 by Pamela Moses and Robert Briscoe, who both have decades of experience in the industry. “I started loading with Bob back in 2004,” says Moses, who is president of sales and marketing.

Moses further recalls when she and Briscoe (who currently handles operations) then went out on their own. “One day he said to me, ‘You know, I’ve got the operations and you’ve got the marketing. Why aren’t we doing this together?’” So the pair set up a business plan by looking at what had already been accomplished in the industry and improving upon it through quality service and competitive pricing to major cost & freight destinations.

Moses and Briscoe had established solid connections within the industry before opening the doors at Trans Coastal, as both spent 20-plus years working for major agricultural supply business sectors before combining forces. Moses gained experience in grain and feed ingredient trading, logistics and management, while Briscoe learned the trade in businesses ranging from drain tiling, elevator management and trans-loading operations.

“We had support from previous customers overseas, too,” says Moses. The executive team set a three-year plan for the business and in the first years had done unexpectedly well. “At the end of our first year we had already surpassed our second-year goals on volume and activity,” says Moses. “And at the end of our second year, we were ahead of our third-year goals for the business.”

Better Boxes

Trans Coastal came into fruition during a time of transformation in the agricultural shipping industry. “A lot of people were making the switch from bulk vessel to sea container,” explains Moses. Her company has exclusively used sea containers for shipping since its inception, and she says the difference is huge. “With sea containers, the shipments arrive by the week, at a competitive price, and there’s no need for storage.”

Trans Coastal and its 25 direct employees export a variety of products from dozens of plants, the staples being grains such as yellow corn and yellow soybeans. Trans Coastal supplies processed products like corn gluten meal, a byproduct of corn processing that is used for animal feed and as an organic herbicide. Soybean meal is another source of animal feed that the company exports as well as Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS), a corn residue from ethanol plants.

All of the company’s products are fully tested by a third-party laboratory owned by Mid-Iowa Grain Inspection (MIGI), a subsidiary of SGS, an international testing and inspection service. MIGI provides Federal Grain Inspection Services (FGIS) to ensure that the grains meet USDA standards. “Everything that comes through here, in-bound and out-bound, is tested,” says Moses. Trans Coastal is the only container loading facility in the United States with on-site laboratories for quality control.

Partnerships

Earlier bulk vessels could drop off a supply of commodities that could last months, meaning clients were receiving more product than necessary, which would have to be stored as it was sold. Trans Coastal’s primary market is Asia, which is a region that prefers the model of smaller, but more frequent deliveries facilitated by Trans Coastal’s multiple facility partners and use of the major rail ramps in Chicago, Ill. (the largest intermodal ones in America). Moses says, “Some of these countries have a 15- to 25-percent interest rate. Bulk is expensive to finance, but just-in-time inventory from the container market is much cheaper in interest costs for the buyers or end users.”

Trans Coastal’s main office in Decatur already markets to most of Southeast Asia, but the company has established an additional branch office in Brea, Calif., that focuses mostly on China and Korea. The marketing team in Brea communicates prices and helps the exporter build relationships for new business in that area, and the staff is multilingual, providing some of the best international communication in the industry.

Trans Coastal has contracts with several major international ship lines, allowing the business to expand its market reach, increase volume and ensure timely delivery of product. The company currently serves ports in Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, China and South Korea, as well as a handful of smaller ports. Trans Coastal’s partners are continually expanding reach and adding ports to the list of locations served.

The company also has a longstanding relationship with Prairie Creek Grain Company (PCG), which provides Trans Coastal with grain origination and trans-load services. PCG works directly with farmers as a buyer, and uses Trans Coastal to organize exports. PCG loads grains and receives grain and product deliveries for loading at its terminal in Elwood, Ill. This container-loading facility is the largest in the United States, with capacity to crank out 1,000 containers every week. The location sits on a 62-acre compound and PCG has room to store 4.5 million bushels of grain, if it isn’t moving right away, and it usually is. Volume is the key indicator for the business’ success. Moses explains, “Because we work in commodities, our margins vary by year. Growth in tons is more indicative for us than growth in dollars.”

Despite economic woes in other industries, Trans Coastal Supply Company Inc. is seeing this positive indicator. “Agriculture has seen a boom over the past few years,” explains Moses. Everybody needs to eat, and agriculture isn’t going anywhere. “There will always be an opportunity for exports, and we’ll continue to be competitive,” says Moses.