By Karen E. Thuermer

Dole Fresh Fruit Company—known to all of us as Dole—has long been an important customer at the Port of Wilmington in Delaware. For one, the port operates at the premier banana port in the United States if not the world.

Not only does Dole (as does Chiquita) import its bananas through the Port of Wilmington, shiploads of bananas and fresh fruit arrive weekly when its ships call at the port.

“Wilmington has been the Dole Fresh Fruit northeast port of call for more than 23 years,” says Marta Maitles, spokesperson for Dole Fresh Fruit Company. “This port offers Dole a congestion-free facility, with an experienced labor force, flexibility in operations, good access to the northeast markets and a responsive port management.”

For Deciduous fruits (tree fruit and grapes), Wilmington serves as a prime location for carriers given its easy access to Interstate 495. Interstate 495 also connects with Interstate 95 that offers access up and down the entire Eastern Seaboard, giving access to major markets such as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Washington, DC, Atlanta and beyond.

Dole Fresh Fruit, through its subsidiary Dole Ocean Cargo Express, also imports and exports from Wilmington over 10,000 FEU of third party cargo. Import volumes include tropical food products such as yucca, malanga and chayote.

“We also handle imports of fruit purees and juices,” Maitles adds. “Export volumes include consumer merchandise, vehicles and food products. Norton Lilly is the general agent for North America.”

To bring the shipments to Wilmington, Dole operates the M/V Dole Chile and M/V Dole Colombia in this trade-lane.

“These 1.000 FEU vessels entered into service in December 1999,” Maitles says. “They are the largest dedicated reefer container ship vessels in the world.”

The vessels operate on a 14 day rotation between Wilmington, DE; Pt. Everglades, FL; Santa Marta, Colombia; Moin, Costa Rica and Castilla, Honduras.

A strong labor force well versed in handling the fruit and banana trade is a strength of the Port of Wilmington, which many shippers recognize.

“The labor force at the Port is among the best in the industry allowing us to load trucks in a timely fashion,” adds Maitles. “The time issue is especially important to carriers facing the newly imposed hours of service regulations.”

While Dole Fresh Fruit does publicly list its volumes, the Port of Wilmington reveals that Dole is the port’s largest customer-tenant. In 2003, Dole’s total cargo moving across the Port of Wilmington aggregated over 973,000 tons. The company’s primary product imports are bananas and pineapples, which are year-round commodities.

“Currently a new warehouse cold storage facility is being built at the Port of Wilmington that will help us to expand our exotic fruit line, which Dole imports from Latin America,” Maitles reveals.

This warehouse, designated as Warehouse “H” is described by the port as costing $7.5 million and will be the sixth refrigerated warehouse to be constructed at the port. Warehouse H is significant in that it will increase the port’s refrigerated capacity to 760,000 square feet and will become, upon completion, the largest dockside cold storage facility in the United States. Completion of the warehouse is designated for February 2005.

Dole, the world’s largest fruit company, is planning to lease the new warehouse for up to 15 years to support the continued growth and market development of their pineapples, melons and other tropical fruit and vegetable imports through Wilmington.

Maitles explains that Dole imports via the Port of Wilmington conventional bananas, organic bananas, exotic bananas, plantains and pineapple. “These products are coming from Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru, and Ecuador,” she says.

Since 1982, Dole’s weekly container shipments of bananas and tropical fruit have increased five-fold. This business, coupled with the substantial growth in the Port of Wilmington’s Chilean winter fruit imports and related busin