Much of Chile"s fresh produce needs two weeks to travel between home ports and Miami a distance of about 4,100 miles or Los Angeles about 5,500 miles.
Marketing agents say there are plenty of logistical hurdles to clear in getting high-quality fresh product from one port to the next.
A common obstacle is cost, particularly because of high fuel prices, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America with the Sonoma, Calif.-based Chilean Fresh Fruit Association.
"One of the continuing challenges is the increasing price of petroleum," he said.
Labor costs and other increases also limit the money exporters and growers get, he said.
A lot of planning is involved in shipping Chilean product to the U.S., said Dan Carpella Jr., director of sales and marketing for Pittsgrove, N.J.-based Nathel International.
"The biggest challenge, from what I can see, is finding the right vessel to get the product and making certain market periods without compromising the quality of the fruit," he said. "You need to make sure you balance the returns. Most containers jump ship at the Panama Canal from the vessel they depart Chile and Peru on. And, you"re talking about one-day transit, and it"s 13 from Chile."
Another major problem is "having the market understand there"s a cost to that transport, and that has to be translated to the f.o.b. market here," he said. "Fuel is part of that, but thank goodness, it"s been relatively stable the last year."
It remains a major cost, though, said Maggie Bezart, marketing director for the Aptos, Calif.-based Chilean Avocado Importers Association.
"As far as the East and West, logistically, it"s very cost-effective because of the amount of product that can be brought to the ports, but it"s the cost of fuel to transport the avocados, as with any country of origin," she said. "Fuel is definitely a major cost for any country of origin."
Logistics don"t present any bigger problems than other aspects of the business, said Chris Kragie, sales manager for Madera, Calif.-based Western Fresh Marketing Inc., which markets Asian pears and kiwifruit from Chile.
"We don"t have much difficulty," he said. "It"s pretty quick. Our growers book all the transportation, so for us it seems to be pretty simple. We haven"t had any hiccups with any logistical problems."
Getting the right ships and the proper shipping lanes is important, said Julio Ortuzar, Chilean consultant for Weston, Fla.-based Fresh Results LLC.
"Chile has such a traditional exporting country, we get to the U.S. in two weeks," he said. "Some shipping lines get here in 10 or 12 days. There"s usually a lot of availability and good periodical routes, so I don"t see any big challenges."
Fuel costs are uniform and affect everybody, so they aren"t as much a challenge as one might imagine, Ortuzar said.
"I think most of our cargo will go up by vessel, and it is what it is. Freight costs will be higher," he said. "I think we"re determining that right now. I just received the rates for the airfreight, and they"re almost the same as last year. I don"t see a substantial increase."
Some product is shipped by air, but that"s more expensive these days, said Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave"s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.
"Years back, the airlines were much more friendly to the fruit growers and had better rates. Now, the problem is it"s expensive," he said. "Air is definitely the logistical issue. Chile has the advantage to ship by boat, whereas Argentina doesn"t have the lanes that Chile has to ship by boat and are at a disadvantage there."
Veteran shippers have resolved most major logistics challenges, said Josh Leichter, East Coast vice president and grape category director for the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.
"With the amount of time Chile has been bringing grapes into North America, we"ve got a pretty good handle on all the logistics," he said.