International fresh produce logistics for urgent, sensitive and perishable goods

Avocados from Mexico, mangos from India and salmon from Norway: the origin labels reveal the long journey taken by fruit and seafood to the supermarket since the items were harvested or caught. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that they will arrive on time for purchase and be ready to eat after being transported over what are sometimes enormous distances. Food items from distant countries can only be available at any time if complex fresh produce supply chains work properly.

Cut flowers normally have two to three days to reach a florist from a field. If the transportation takes longer, the freshness increasingly declines, even before the items are sold. Looking at the classic growing countries and the associated travel routes illustrates that this time factor should not be underestimated. Cut flowers come from countries such as Columbia, Ecuador and Kenya, which rank 2nd to 4th after the Netherlands among the largest exporters. Alongside agricultural products such as flowers, bulbs and seeds, food items such as meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and dairy products are other examples of goods that need special transportation in order to reach consumers in a fresh, undamaged and high-quality state.

Challenges when handling perishable cargo

Transport of cheese

Climatic conditions, hygiene regulations, shelf life and seasonality: there is a long list of factors that play a role when transporting fresh or perishable products. The different criteria affect the type of transportation, the container category and packaging, the temperature settings and the transit time, to mention just a few. In principle, the great logistics challenge is to keep the goods cool during the entire supply chain and deliver them to the right place quickly so that they are as fresh as possible. In practice, this means that it is extremely important to book the delivery quickly and plan it precisely. An end-to-end cool chain means preventing any temperature fluctuations during storage and shipping – which is essential for guaranteeing reliability and quality. Hygiene is also crucial when loading, transporting and unloading meat and fish. By using temperature checks and traceability, it is possible to prove that the products meet particular standards or fulfil the sector regulations.

What needs to be considered for intercontinental fresh produce transport operations?

Transport of fresh cut flowers

Air and ocean freight are the most common means of international transport used for fresh products and they primarily differ in transport time and price. Road freight also plays an important role, especially for shorter distances on land as well for cross-border movements. However, the product itself mainly determines which means of transport is most suitable. As air freight is faster and more secure than ocean freight, it is the obvious choice for fresh, perishable or sensitive goods. Fresh fish is the commodity that is most frequently shipped by air, closely followed by fruit, flowers and vegetables. Bulk goods such as bulbs and seeds or products, which can be stored, are normally transported by ship. As food items are generally subject to special protection and controls, transporting the goods by air or sea requires extensive customs clearance. Shippers of fresh products must guarantee that they meet the export regulations – for example, in their role as an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO). Among other things, plant health certificates are important documents and are necessary to export agricultural products.

Quality management is essential in fresh produce logistics

Fresh food logistics for oranges

Not only the documentation but also various types of certification are important elements in quality assurance. After all, transporting perishable goods by air is constantly increasing in line with consumers’ growing demand to have healthy products on the shelves all year round. Time and temperature management are crucial aspects when transporting perishable goods by air to prevent any loss of food items. In order to counter the lack of standardised procedures and tried and tested practices, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set up its CEIV Fresh programme. This gives companies the opportunity to become a centre of competence for logistics for perishable goods. The ISO 9001 quality management standard as well as the guidelines for road freight from the National and International Road Transport Union (IRU) are other important regulations and statutory requirements.

Logistics specialists guarantee that cool chains are maintained

Temperature controlled containers

Working with a logistics specialist, which has the necessary sector experience, is crucially important for transporting goods in an end-to-end cool chain. It is not only a logistics expert but also specialises in handling sensitive products and transporting them in temperature-controlled conditions. The employees are specially trained to handle perishable goods and treat the sensitive products with the greatest care – from the time that they are collected to their delivery at their destination. They keep up with the latest developments by attending seminars and international trainings, visiting import and export companies as well as attending business-related exhibitions. Contacts with airlines and shipping companies guarantee that capacity is available for booking cargo. Handling customs formalities, checking imports and transport insurance are some of the other tasks involved. The correct equipment is essential too: some fresh goods are packaged in thermal shells or temperature-controlled containers in order to keep them at the right temperature. Temperature-measuring equipment and sensitive monitors check the temperature in transit. Warehouse sites with roomy, well-functioning refrigeration and freezing chambers guarantee that the shipper can deliver its time-critical consignments as quickly and as fresh as possible.

„Carefully monitoring the quality of the goods and detailed, personal support are indispensable in fresh produce logistics.“
Boudewijn van der Veld | General Manager, Rhenus Fresh B.V.

Best practice scenario: handling fresh products in the Netherlands

Transport of frozen fish

Most aircraft and ships, that transport flowers, have just one destination: the Netherlands. The country is also one of the leaders in importing and exporting fresh products. One of the world’s largest logistics specialists has two business sites there to handle perishable goods – in Aalsmeer and Schiphol. They have freezer (-18 degrees Celsius) and refrigerated warehouses (+2 to 8 degrees Celsius and +15 to 25 degrees Celsius). The Schiphol branch is located airside at the airport and is therefore the obvious choice for preparing domestic and international shipments. The cross-dock warehouse with its refrigerated unit in Aalsmeer is situated in the largest flower auction market in the world, the Royal Flora Holland. It has been organising the international marketplace for producers and purchasers for more than 100 years. The value-added services there include refrigerated transport operations with temperature-controlled trucks, consolidating, palletising, packaging, screening and inspecting goods. Thanks to having a global network, it is possible to transport fresh and perishable products to any destination.

Trouble-free exports of fresh products boost competitiveness

Handling of fresh products at the airport

Companies in the food or agricultural sectors not only specialise in growing, producing or processing their fresh items but also selling them. By outsourcing the storage and transportation to logistics specialists, which have experience in their sector, they can focus on their core business and therefore strengthen all their internal divisions. The logistics specialists have the expertise, experience, equipment and network to export fresh produce in the right manner and add value by offering door-to-door solutions. As a result, customers benefit from an efficient supply chain and obtain fresh products with the highest quality and at competitive prices.

Would you like some more information?

Rhenus Fresh specialises in handling perishable cargo. It focuses on imports and exports, using both air and ocean freight.

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