Perishables experts seek improvements
An estimated 30 percent of all global perishables shipments never reach consumers because of a variety of supply chain issues, and the companies involved in perishables movements need to work together the prevent waste and inefficiencies.
That was the message of a panel of experts on perishables shipping Wednesday at the AirCargo Americas Conference in Miami.
Speakers from supply chain management, freight forwarding, air carrier and inland distribution companies addressed the problems with perishables, which include major product groups ranging from foodstuffs and medicines to flowers. Perishables represent a particularly important segment of the Miami air cargo market, because Miami International Airport is a primary hub for perishables moving between Latin America, the Caribbean islands, and North America.
Improper handling practices is a key problem, as perishables move from South America to Miami International by air and then are distributed by truck to destinations as far away as California or Canada, said Raul Aragundi, president and chief executive officer of the Quito, Ecuador-based freight forwarding company Panatlantic Logistics.
In a supply chain that includes growers, forwarders, airlines, inland distribution companies and importers, one weak link can damage or destroy a product, with results ranging from rejected shipments to shortened shelf lives that hurt sales.
'Dry cargo really has supply chain solutions,' said Christian Helms, secretary general of industry group the Cool Chain Association, and the CEO of Rungis Express, a German forwarder that specializes in handling perishables. 'With perishables, we can't really do it from farm to shelf.'
Experts say there are several common problems that affect perishables movements, including:
' Temperature controls.
' Lack of uniformity in the packaging sizes.
' Decreasing 'burst strength' for boxes.
' Poor training for handlers throughout the supply chain.
' Infrastructure problems in developing countries.
' Inconsistent computer communications.
' Disagreements over shipping practices within the industry itself.
There are also market-related conditions that challenge the industry. Carriers generally have a low return on investment for perishables. There are generally imbalances in the Americas between northbound and southbound movements. Increasing fuel costs are also threatening to price some thin-margin products out of the market.
Temperature controls could be the worst problem, the experts said. Perishables that should be moved at temperatures in the 30s Fahrenheit may stay at that level through most of a shipment, but end up sitting unprotected on an airport tarmac for an hour at 90 degrees.
In developing countries, the available trucking services often lack reefer equipment, and even the ones that do have reefer units sometimes fail to have equipment set at the proper temperatures.
There are also tremendous differences in boxing and packaging, especially for products like flowers, that make it hard to build uniform pallets and air freight containers, slowing the process and driving up costs.
In an interview with the Florida Caribbean Connection, Helms said there is a lack of agreement on how the industry can police the supply chain.
For example, he said that if air waybills contained instructions on temperature requirements for a product, that would ease problems by handlers that simply do not know the right temperature requirements. What's more, if there were temperature records built into the perishables supply chain, it would be easier to find out where products are being damaged.
He said many large air carriers and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have opposed air waybill temperature requirements and temperature records, in large part because of liability concerns.
But air carrier Martinair Cargo has built temperature monitoring into its records system and handling processes, and found it has been a useful tool in protecting themselves from damage claims.
Helms said the industry needs to take it upon itself to reduce the incredible waste in perishables shipping.
'People in perishables say 'That's the way it is.' But that's not the case. We can eliminate this. It's not the fault of the farmer. The problem comes in transport. We are the ones that cause the damage, and we are the ones who can fix it,' he said. ' Jim Dow