More perishables move by sea

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"Aided by technology a new generation of refrigerated ocean containers is helping move perishables by sea more efficiently; thus opening up new markets to producers and letting everyone affordable access to fresh food from around the world.

Reji John...

Transporting perishable commodities like fruits, flowers and fresh seafood to the far corners of the world was once feasible only by air making the price of such products prohibitive for most consumers. Thanks to a new generation of refrigerated ocean containers, perishable goods increasingly are being shipped by more efficient water transport. This shift is opening up new markets to producers and provides a growing, global middle class with affordable access to the fresh foods they want to buy. Innovations in refrigeration equipment, controlled atmosphere technology, and more sophisticated monitoring capabilities are making it possible to extend the cold chain further than ever before, which in turn creates new market opportunities and transportation options for shippers. The life of blueberries, for example, is significantly extended when they are shipped in a controlled-atmosphere container set at the product’s optimal temperature and treated with an active injection of nitrogen. This environment slows down the ripening process, allowing the fruit to be shipped to more distant destinations. Similar technology gives bananas an additional three weeks of shelf life, compared with the old method of shipping the fruit on pallets in break-bulk vessels. As a result, 80 percent of banana shipments now are containerized and able to move longer distances to markets throughout the world. Even cut flower exporters and importers have come to rely on refrigerated ocean transport. Flowers on Waves is a prime example. As its name suggests, this company uses only ocean carriage to transport cut flowers from Africa to Europe. The key to this strategy is the ability of refrigerated containers to maintain a steady temperature. A special gel also is used to give the cut flowers necessary moisture and nourishment during transit, while preventing the formation of bacteria. However, there are several challenges in moving perishables by sea. “The main challenge is to have the right amount of reefer container at the right location at the right time. Extensive and close communication prior to any shipping or peak season is essential between shippers, receivers, carriers and forwarders to accommodate all volume needs. All containers have to be duly cleaned and inspected to be fit for loading and cooling during the voyage. If the reefer unit of the container is working properly and if the container is being plugged in at all times during transit the cold chain will be intact. Any equipment malfunction usually leads to a cargo claim,” said Markus Fellmann, global vice president, Hellmann Perishable Logistics. There is a broad list of perishables that move by sea. In terms of volume it would be apples, blueberries and cherries coming from Latin America. Besides lots of flowers coming in from different countries in Africa, all kinds of citrus and grapes come from South Africa. Global reefer shipments are a bright spot in foreign trade with forecasts calling for growth to hit 212 million tonnes in 2016, up from 172 million tons in 2011. According to Drewry Shipping Consultants perishables trade worldwide will continue growing 4.5 percent annually until 2016. Demand for frozen chicken, citrus fruit, fish/seafood and dairy is rising fast in virtually every world market, from Western Europe and North America to emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Africa. As the global cold chain continues its exponential growth, infrastructure projects at/near key ports are keeping pace to support it. In the past 12 months alone, Nordic Cold Storage has opened a new facility near the Port of Savannah; Millard Refrigerated Services signaled its intention to construct a new facility close to the Port of Charleston; and Crowley opened their Crowley Fresh facility in Miami. In October, PortMiami launched a pilot program with Peruvian shippers to move grapes and blueberries directly from Peru to PortMiami, opening up a new option for shippers who previously were restricted to move these fruits through certain Northeast US ports. Port developers and planners are accommodating increased reefer business with additional reefer outlets and other requirements necessary to sustain the cold chain. The Port of Rotterdam is building a cool port with a focus on the storage and transhipment of refrigerated cargo such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Refrigerated and freezer warehouses in Rotterdam Cool Port will be integrated with a container operation. Cross-docking facilities have also been realized, so that cargo can be combined swiftly and efficiently. It will soon also be possible to perform quality control of products and veterinary and phytosanitary inspections directly at the terminal. With the launch of cool port Rotterdam wants to strengthen its leading position in the European refrigerated and frozen sector even more. That is why it is imperative for Rotterdam Cool Port to proceed on the south bank in 2015. Talking about technology adoption in cold chain Fellmann talked about the Hellmann Smart Visibility tool. It is a device which is easily mounted in-between the container inside and door and which has the following features: full GPS function, live temperature recording, live humidity recording, shock measuring, registers open and close of doors. All information can be retrieved at any time or through pre-set reporting either via text or mail. Especially our customers with high value per container appreciated this product. It supports any possible claims handling, but also reduces transportation insurance premiums. We are expecting a similar device to roll out soon for airfreight packages/units. “Humidity levels can impact produce quality in two ways: too much humidity causes mold or fungi and not enough humidity results in dehydration and shriveling,” wrote Bill Duggan, vice president, Refrigerated Sales, North America, Maersk Line, in a recent article. According to Duggan, Maersk has designed its refrigerated containers to address these issues. For Fellmann, it is the increased knowledge in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) and Modified Atmosphere (MA) reefer container shipping which will allow for more products and at longer transit times to ship by ocean. 

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