The many industries that make up the world of freight have undergone tremendous change over the past several decades. Each Friday, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.
The following is an excerpt from the May 1979 edition of The Jacksonville Seafarer.
Maxwell House Coffee Still Receives Its Green Coffee In Bags; Another Test Of Container Shipping Is Being Studied
Containerized shipment of green coffee was tested at Jacksonville about 15 years ago by Grace Lines and General Foods, but the effort was abandoned due to problems of condensation inside the containers and labor, which feared the loss of jobs.
Containers are widely accepted nowadays, however, and with the rise of coffee imports in the U.S., it may be that Jacksonville stevedores may soon see it coming to them in boxes once again.
Richard Piper, operations manager for Netumar Lines, was in Jacksonville recently supervising a 55,000 bag shipment which arrived in three ships at the Talleyrand Docks and Terminals (TD&T). Stevens Shipping is an agent for Netumar in Jacksonville.
Piper says that many lines are experimenting with putting the bagged coffee in containers, but that several problems have yet to be solved before it becomes the accepted practice.
“Poorly ventilated containers mean the possibility of damage to the coffee because of wetness,” Piper said of the main difficulty in using containers. This is especially the case in transporting the beans from the heat of tropical Brazil to the U.S. during the winter months. Condensation because of the severe change in climate South to North makes for a healthy environment for mold and rot to occur in the valuable cargo.
Coffee is at the present time selling for about $2 per pound green, said Piper, compared with the U.S. shelf price of close to $4. He says that, even with the possibility of moisture damage, what an importer would save on claims to longshore or ships stowal damage makes containerizing the cargo an appetizing proposition.
However, another obstacle to containerizing the coffee beans is how stateside roasting plants are set up to receive the cargo once it comes from the ship. “For instance, in New York, a number of the plants receive the coffee from barges which are loaded from ship and then unloaded by special facilities at dockside,” Piper pointed out. Without truck docks and complementary back-up marshaling territory, the container approach might be prohibitively expensive to the U.S. consignee. In addition, the cost of specially built containers for the trade is also prohibitive at this point, says Piper. “The ‘Coffeetainer’ is just too expensive a proposition at the present time,” he said.