As Argentine blueberry dealers look to trim costs, many are looking optimistically at their transportation options.
Typically, blueberry importers bring in product via air from Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport, or increasingly on chartered planes direct from the northern growing region of Tucuman.
More cargo planes and lower fuel costs are giving importers reason to believe air freight costs will be lower this year, but some suppliers are looking to the sea either by shipping directly from the Port of Buenos Aires or by trucking product across the continent to ship out of the Port of Valparaiso in Chile.
Aside from the cost savings of using ocean carriers, suppliers can also avoid fumigating the blueberries, which takes a toll on shelf life, if they maintain strict USDA required cold treatment. Some suppliers say the requirements for the cold treatment are too difficult to keep and it is not worth the risk.
“We use all of the transport methods,” said Keith Mixon, president and chief executive officer of Sunny Ridge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla. “Each has its benefits and challenges. However, I believe we will see some market share fluctuations this year for each as carriers bid for business due to extra capacity due to various market and economic situations.”
There are conflicting opinions as to how the air space pricing will turn out this year, but most suppliers feel this will be their top choice for shipping Argentine blueberries, and prices will be lower than last year.
“This is the most convenient way to transport as long as the temperatures in the supply chain are maintained properly,” said Joe Barsi, director of business development at California Giant Inc., Watsonville, Calif.
Mike Hollister, vice president of sales and marketing at Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., explained that the obvious advantage of airfreight is overnight arrival but that some inconsistencies may contribute to a break in the cold chain.
“There is more variability on air shipments than vessels,” he said. “Quality is really about continuing to develop better modes of transportation.”
Hollister believes airfreight cost will drop relative to last year, which would contribute to making the product more affordable in the marketplace.
“There has been a huge drop in air freight costs and fuel costs,” said Bruce Turner, head of operations for Giumarra VBM International Berry LLC, Wenatchee, Wash. “The cost base should help out because retail has certain goals and certain price points they want to hit.”