Counting on perishables

THIS summer Korean Air was gorging itself on Canadian lobster. Between late May and the end of August the carrier extended one of its Seoul-Toronto all-cargo flights to Halifax once a week to load up some 40 tonnes of crustaceans worth US$532,256, writes Ian Putzger.
KAL made it clear from the outset that putting a B777-200F into Halifax was a temporary move. CAL Cargo, on the other hand, intends to keep its new freighter operation to the Canadian east coast as a regular feature. Since April it has inserted a stop in Moncton en route from New York to Brussels for its B747 freighter.
"Looking forward, we forecast significant growth in our Canada business, and we are developing the infrastructure to support future sales and business development activities in the region," declared Eyal Zagagi, chief executive (CEO) of the Israeli carrier, at the launch of the operation.
Lise-Marie Turpin, vice-president of cargo at Air Canada, has misgivings. She points to a string of carriers that have launched international freighter flights to the Maritimes over the years. None of them has lasted.
"Is the product really there in the quantity they expect? I think people’s expectations are too high," she reflects, adding that weather and other factors make seafood from the area a highly unpredictable commodity.
Industry veteran Ram Menen shares these reservations. Some perishables streams, such as lobster, are seasonal and not conducive to sustained freighter operations, he remarks.
He calls such freighters "opportunity services", as they are typically used to re-allocate under-used equipment from other sectors that have marked peaks and valleys in shipping volumes.
Still, perishables have come to be viewed as a promising source of income for carriers. While much of their investment in special capabilities in recent years have gone towards pharmaceuticals and life sciences, perishable foodstuffs like fish and seafood, fruit and vegetables, as well as flowers have drawn a lot of efforts to stake out expertise in this segment.
Read Ian Putzger’s full piece in Air Cargo News 8 September 2014  – Issue No.785

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