South Africa citrus upgrades logistics
by Tad Thompson | May 31, 2010
Two independent and significant transportation developments will be helping
the distribution of South African citrus in the United States this summer.
These involve new contracts between the Western Cape Citrus Producers
Forum and the reefer steamship line Seatrade, as well as an agreement with
the rail service Railex. The Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum is the South
African grower group that is the leading supplier of Southern Hemisphere
citrus to the Uunited States.
The Seatrade agreement will provide smaller volumes of fruit on more
regularly scheduled ships than in the past.
The Railex agreement will give South African citrus efficient and fast access to
markets in the western and northwestern United States.
The grower group announced the changes in a May 24 press release,
indicating that the developments came through "an extensive process started
at the end of the 2009 season which addressed every aspect of WCCPF
“2010 is the first time in the 11 years we have been exporting to the U.S. that
we will be able to extend our geographic footprint to include the West Coast,”
WCCPF Chairman Gerrit van der Merwe said in the release. “An arrangement
with Railex will enable retailers to have our fruit available and consumers to
enjoy our citrus within six days of leaving the port in Philadelphia.” Railex
operates a regular rail service from the Northeast to the West Coast and to
the Pacific Northwest.
Historically, the bulk of South African citrus has been sold east of the
Mississippi River, particularly along the Eastern Seaboard. “It is our intention
to increase sales to the Midwest and the western part of the country so that
about 50 percent of our total exports are directed to consumers in that
expanded market,” Mr. van der Merwe said in the release. The value of South
African exports to the United States is expected to be between $70 million and
$80 million in 2010.
The Seatrade contract gives flexibility to logistics operations, according to
WCCPF Chief Executive Officer Joretha Geldenhuys.
“Seatrade provides smaller reefer ships, enabling the forum to ship our citrus
more frequently. This results in a more constant supply to importers, retailers
and consumers in the U.S. This is a milestone breakthrough,” Ms. Geldenhuys
said in the press release. “Along with our importers, we are excited to make
our products more readily available in these new markets. In addition, we are
able to do so with a reduced carbon footprint by having Railex's trains
transport our citrus cross-country.”
Of the Railex contract, Marc Solomon, president of Fisher Capespan, based in
Gloucester City, NJ, told The Produce News the last week in May, “We think it
is a good thing. It is a cost-effective way to move fruit across the country. We
look forward to using this for the first time this season.” The Railex service
will benefit both shippers and their customers, he said.
The season’s first shipload of South African citrus is slated to arrive June 22.
Mr. Solomon expects the first Railex shipments to begin in early July when
there is more volume. After that, “We should be able to utilize it throughout
the season, until the season’s end,” he said.
Normally South Africa distributes its citrus in the United States until
Thanksgiving, according to Mr. Solomon.
Bill Welker, Railex’s vice president of national accounts, said in the WCCPF
release that this is the first time that large citrus volumes will be transported
east to west by rail. “The advantages to the WCCPF and their importers are
significant as it opens new markets for them from San Diego through Portland
to Seattle, as well as the inland cities.”
The temperature-controlled Railex trains leave the East twice each week from
their Riverhead, NY, facility, arriving a few days later in Delano, CA, and
Wallula, WA. “Rail is supremely efficient in getting produce and other goods
from point to point,” Mr. Welker said in the release. “Adding the delivery
capability from our warehouses to supermarket retailers enables Railex to
provide door-to-door service for WCCPF.”
Howard Posner, Seatrade USA’s general manager, said that his company’s
“ability to offer smaller vessels ensures WCCPF a more regular and constant
supply of their fruit to importers, retailers and consumers.”