Air freight, timing of vessels could pose problems

10/27/2010 04:46:53 PM
Andy Nelson

Finding enough planes and predicting how long it will take boats to make the journey to U.S. ports are among the problems facing exporters and importers of Chilean blueberries this season.

There should be plenty of boats and containers to get Chilean blueberries to market this season, said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc.

But there could be some complications related to the speed at which those shipments are delivered.

“It could be a major problem,” Bowe said.

The problem, he said, comes down to how shippers and importers balance the competing interests of saving money on transportation and getting fruit delivered in good shape.

“Some people have been sending it up the water fast, but it’s costing a lot of money,” he said. “But what some other people have done is ship it in slow motion, and it may take an extra seven days to arrive in Miami, or New York, or California.”

Seven extra days could pose quality issues, Bowe said.

“We don’t know when it was shipped,” he said. “It may have been good when it was packed, but seven days is a very, very long time when you’re talking about something that’s been on a bush.”

Bowe has a clear-cut take on what he’d prefer, though he admits that as an importer, it’s easy for him to say.

“From my point of view, I’d just as soon have it as fast and cold as we can get it here,” he said.

One company that may not have the logistics headaches of other importers of Chilean blueberries is Tampa, Fla.-based Sun Valley International.

That’s because Sun Valley’s parent company is Boca Raton, Fla.-based Cargo Transport Inc., a logistics specialist.

With its own dedicated shipping lanes and trucking contracts, Cargo Transport is ideally situated to provide Sun Valley, now in its second year in business as a fruit importer, with smooth transit of blueberries from Chile to U.S. destinations, said Bob Ritchart, Sun Valley’s vice president of sales.

“It cuts out a lot of costs,” Ritchart said. “We’re involved from beginning to end. With a lot of chains wanting to be more direct and cut out the middle man, we’re able to offer that.”

With peak vessel volumes not expected until January this season because of cool weather, Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc. will have to rely heavily on airfreight to get Chilean blueberries to U.S. markets in time for the holidays, said Janice Honigberg, the company’s president.

It won’t exactly be easy, she said.

“Airfreight is very firm,” she said. “It’s hard to get. December is always a scramble.”

Another input that continues to weigh on shippers and importers is fuel costs, Honigberg said.

“Fuel costs continue to go up,” she said.

In addition to tight airfreight and rising fuel costs, Honigberg said Chile’s robust economy also affects blueberry exports to the U.S.

“The exchange rate is strong,” she said. “It makes it more expensive to export.”

In early October it was still too soon to tell exactly what transportation costs would be during the Chilean season, but Nolan Quinn, berry category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, was optimistic heading into the deal, which for Oppenheimer was expected to begin in the first week of December.

“I don’t think there will be any significant difficulties,” he said.



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