PhilaPort thriving despite world crisis

philaport In the first half of 2020, ocean container volume for Delaware River seaports was up 4 percent.

This is the only seaport on the U.S. Eastern seaboard to see more business than it enjoyed a year ago, according to Sean Mahoney, director of marketing for PhilaPort. Declines for other ports on the eastern seaboard average five percent this year. U.S. trade as a whole is down 8 percent.

“That is really significant,” Mahoney said. He added that this shows the durability of international fruit and vegetable trade, which is the backbone of the seaport. “It really signals that what we’re doing…is driven by the strength of perishables.”

Furthermore, it is an indication that in this year of Coronavirus, consumers have stayed home and are consuming more fruits and vegetables, Mahoney noted. Recipes for higher-end dishes are popular, which is a strong complement to the ports core competency.

On June 30, Mahoney noted that the national economy was “softening a little, which shows the rebound is not v-shaped as predicted. It looks like the rebound will be more u-shaped.”

Mahoney expects the U.S. economy will come back in early 2021.

A strength of Delaware River fruit import trade is that the Chilean portfolio has expanded to be a 12-month deal. This is complemented by Peru, which has also grown in breadth and scope. Peru’s grape exports are “spectacular,” he said. “They are doing it right.”

Dominic O’Brien, senior marketing manager for PhilaPort, said that “our whole port is oriented to fresh produce. But our main focus, because we’re not as big as some other ports, is to customize and have rapid customer service.”

Mahoney elaborated, noting the ports’ quality and growth are enabled by “our three critical advantages: velocity, proximity and flexibility.”

Velocity, he explained, relates to speed.

Proximity includes hundreds of thousands of square feet of cold storage located either beside or very close to the Delaware River. These are privately and publicly operated.

Mahoney said PhilaPort nears the end of the $300 million project that was supported by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Now all five new dockside cranes, which each cost $12 million, are all in place in the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal. These can accommodate super post-Panamax vessels.

In the next 12 to 15 months, PhilaPort will complete a 200,000-square-foot dry storage on the site of the old Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, which was demolished a few years ago. The $50 million dry warehouse can be used for produce fumigation. PhilaPort’s warehousing project in a few years will double in size, with the addition of 200,000 square feet of cold storage. This second phase will come with power plugs to hold reefer ocean containers. This site is less than a half-mile from Philadelphia’s largest port facility, the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.

Mahoney said that in the first half of 2020, 24 percent of PhilaPort’s produce volume has arrived from Costa Rica. Twenty-three percent is from Guatemala. Another 38 percent has come from Chile, Peru, and Colombia.

By tonnage, grapes are PhilaPort’s second largest import after bananas. Melons, pineapples, apples, pears, and kiwi are other important commodities.

Mahoney offered a “shout out” to their terminal operators, who led port efforts to protect dock and warehouse workers from coronavirus. Quick action along the riverfront kept infections to only two people. He added that part of the success was attributable for food-safety precautions that were in place years before coronavirus made the news.

“We didn’t miss a ship” because of COVID-19. “We didn’t have a shut down.”

Photo: Sean Mahoney, director of marketing for PhilaPort, in the Philadelphia board room of the state agency.

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