Fifteen years ago, one had to wait for certain produce to come in season in order to find it on the local grocery store shelf. Those days are over as consumers in industrialized countries, as well as increasingly in up-and-coming developing markets such as China, demand their favorite fruits and vegetables year around. Many people are willing to pay a little extra to eat healthier.
Surface transportation and logistics services providers are paying close attention to this consumer trend and responding with multimillion-dollar investments to facilitate worldwide trade in fresh produce, which has experienced annual growth of 3.3 percent for the past 10 years. Even global trade in exotic fruits has increased by an average of 9.1 percent, according to industry statistics.
This trend has initiated technological leaps in mobile refrigerated technologies, like reefer containers and truck trailers, to preserve fresh produce from farm fields, seemingly anywhere in the world, to food retail outlets globally. Wireless telematics devices tell the customer where the shipment is and sensors constantly monitor the internal temperature and other environmental conditions within the conveyance so response can be initiated. Technologies even monitor and manage the pace of ripening of fruits and vegetables while they’re en route, helping to eliminate the age-old problem of spoilage during transits and reaction to severe climatic changes.
Some commodities with short shelf lives, such as flowers and fresh fish, require expensive air freight to ensure freshness. But refrigeration technology and supply chain techniques have advanced so far in recent years that modes once thought too slow, or unreliable, for temperature-controlled shipping are now being utilized by large sourcing organizations at great savings.
In the ocean sector, containers allow for faster, more efficient delivery of produce, rather than relying on conventional reefer ships to dump large volumes of a particular fruit or vegetable all at once on the destination market. Hence, as American Shipper’s trade and transportation editor, Eric Kulisch, reported in this issue, containership operators are profiting from the shipper shift to 40-foot reefer boxes over traditional reefer ship services.
Also in this issue, Kulisch analyzes how a whole new cottage industry is springing up to move perishable products by refrigerated boxcar and intermodal containers instead of truck for long-haul moves. These companies offer sophisticated transport services catering to time-sensitive fruits and vegetables and delivering them expeditiously by truck or rail to key markets throughout the country.
It all begs the question of what the consumer will demand next and how the carriers and logistics services providers of this industry will respond.