Tom Krajewski is bullish on the future of ocean freight for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Krajewski, head of refrigerated sales at Sealand, a Maersk company, said the growth in exports from Peru, Colombia and other countries are adding increasing volume to ocean shipments of fresh produce from Latin America to Europe and the U.S.
In addition, he said U.S. ports are increasing their investment in facilities to handle imported fresh produce.
Ports in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Newark., Del., and south Florida have always been big perishable ports, mostly because of banana imports in bulk reefer ships. Those ports also have cold storage facilities to handle perishable cargo.
Now, he said, additional U.S. ports are investing to handle fresh produce imports.
“This is gradually changing the infrastructure around the U.S.,” Krajewski said.
One example is Savannah, Ga., which has long handled big volume of frozen poultry exports. Now the port has invested in more cold storage facilities for fresh produce imports, he said. The Port of Wilmington, N.C., also is investing in its cold chain to handle more fresh produce.
“We’re starting to see ports working with investors to develop (greater volume) of imports into their ports,” he said.
Sealand also is looking to encourage that investment, he said.
“Whatever port we’re in, we usually work with the business development and the port infrastructure, and the terminal itself to develop the infrastructure within the port to enable perishable products to move through the port,” he said, noting the importance of having sufficient staffing for U.S. Department of Agriculture and Customs and Border Protection inspections.
“We’re also working with the local custom brokers almost in a partnership to help the exporters and importers move their product through different ports,” Krajewski said. About 70% of Sealand’s cargo is fresh produce now, he said.
Just as produce packaging has made incremental gains, refrigerated container technology has improved, he said.
Containers have had controlled atmosphere technology since the 1980s, but it has improved over the years.
“I think the reefer construction is much better; the technology for the reefer to maintain more sensitive temperature (levels) is much better,” he said.
Frozen commodities like meat and poultry don’t require much nuance, but fresh produce requires more accurate temperature maintenance.
“Just the temperature maintenance of the units in terms of reliability is much better than it was 20 years ago,” he said. “I think the post-harvest technology knowledge that is out there today is greatly expanded, and in conjunction with packaging, is allowing more commodities to come into the U.S., and also to go further, for longer distances in different parts of the world.”
Compared with 40 or 50 years ago, the reach of perishable commodities has expanded everywhere, he said.
“I grew up in the Northeast, and I don’t think I had an avocado or a mango until I became an adult,” Krajewski said.
“Maybe you saw bananas because the fruit multinationals had their own transportation network, but you didn’t see (imported) commodities, and you didn’t even see a lot California-grown products working their way to the Northeast.”
Now, he said, avocados are coming from Mexico and even more recent sources of supply, including Peru, Chile and now Colombia.
“Now for the American consumer, there are year-round products available, and it’s not as much seasonal as it used to be.”
Krajewski said the growing world population should expand the trade of fresh fruits and vegetables even more. “As people try to eat healthier, I see that it will continue to grow,” he said.
“In the last 10 years, Peru has grown substantially and Colombia is growing more and more commodities including avocados, limes, oranges, and blueberries,” he said. “Maybe they’re not coming to the United States yet, they may be shipping to Europe, but eventually those commodities will come here.”
With substantial exports of apples, grapes, citrus and other commodities, he said, two-way trade will continue to build.
“I see the markets continuing to expand,” he said.
With trade from Latin America a good part of Sealand’s business, Krajewski said the company looks to grow with the business and perhaps invest in more port service businesses.
“We continue to also look at beyond the ocean, what type of services that we can supply to the customer to help improve their supply chain, the cold chain,” he said.
“There are a lot of companies that are established and have set up long-standing relationships with cold storages, but there are a lot of new companies who are startups and I feel our expertise can help them with their development for imports or exports. We’re focused on growing the cold chain.”