Improve perishable transport service quality to avoid losing share to ocean

Airfreight must improve service quality if it is to minimise the impact of customers with perishable goods switching to seafreight.
Kuehne & Nagel‘s global business development manager for perishables logistics, Natasha Solano, said that over the last few years there had been a trend for perishable cargo to transfer over to ocean transport.
She said this was partly down to the reduced cost of using ocean transport — on a Columbia-Europe service flower transport costs are reduced by 40% — environmental concerns and also shipping lines opening new routes serving perishable-producing markets.
However, it was also because of improvements in refrigerated sea container technology which mean that temperature fluctuations during transport were greatly reduced.
The temperature of goods when being flown tended to be more volatile than shipping because of the number of times it is handled, she explained.
In contrast to seafreight, where goods are loaded into a container at an early stage in the supply chain and then not generally handled again until delivery, airfreight goods are exposed every time they are loaded and unloaded onto trucks and aircraft.
While there are temperature controlled ULDs on the market, the low margin nature of much of the perishable industry meant these were too costly and more suited to pharmaceutical transport.
Solano said airfreight can reduce the risk of losing customers by making sure staff are educated about the impact of temperature fluctuations on perishable cargo.
She gave the example of flowers that were going bad during air transport because they were stowed close to the cargo doors, meaning when a waypoint stop was made for more cargo to be loaded, they were exposed to heat.
Another example is perishable cargo being left on the apron for long periods while the aircraft is being loaded and unloaded.
Qatar Airways senior manager cargo products David Beecham said it had avoided this problem by using temperature controlled vehicles to take cargo directly to and from the loading ramp. This meant perishable cargo would be exposed for as little as 40 seconds.
It had also introduced uniform standards of practice across its network.
Solano added that the quality of transport service was becoming increasingly important because retailers, as opposed to producers, were taking charge of the supply chain.
It wasn’t all bad news for air cargo though, both Solano and Beecham agreed that there were many types of perishable cargo would never be able to transfer over to seafreight, for example softer fruits.
Also, the perishable industry continues to expand due to population growth, a growing middle class wanting more luxury produce such as salmon, and people becoming more health conscious.
The volume of transported horticulture and floriculture produce is expected to increase 460% by 2050 while foodstuff volumes are expected to increase 260%, Solano said. 

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