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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 supply-chain logistics."

“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.”