By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT
One might think of produce shipments through Florida ports as primarily a seasonal inbound business, fueled by winter melons. But Merchants Export Inc., which operates out of the facilities of Port of Palm Beach Cold, keeps busy year-round by supplying fruits, vegetables and a full spectrum of other goods to Caribbean resorts.
“We look at it like we’re importing from the US,” said Terry Collier, Merchants Export’s president, of his firm’s approach to shipments from the Port of Palm Beach to resort properties throughout the Caribbean.
Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, the demand for provisions at Caribbean resorts has become less seasonal, too, with nearly as many North American tourists heading to island hotels during the summer as winter.
“I have a theory that, since 9-11, the Caribbean is America’s lake, and it’s someplace safe to take the family and kids,” Coller said.
That means a steady demand for frozen and fresh foods to put on resort restaurant tables.
With the extensive services throughout the Caribbean islands offered by Tropical Shipping, the Port of Palm Beach’s dominant container line, it is no wonder that Merchants Export executives chose the Riviera Beach seaport as home base. The company has quickly become Tropical’s largest dollar-volume customer.
Seven years ago, Merchants Export, which began in 1965 as a food market firm in the Leeward Islands, moved to a long-vacant, 100,000-square-foot warehouse that the port renovated and cooled to the firm’s specifications.
The warehouse, contiguous to water on port property, is under long-term lease to Merchants Export.
The company’s roots explain the import-from-US view taken by Collier, whose company owns warehouses in St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Maarten and Anguilla and also has two British Virgin Islands affiliates. Last year, Merchants Export finished a new St. Thomas warehouse, a year after opening a new St. Croix facility. The firm is currently completing a new warehouse in Anguilla and is planning to enhance St. Maarten facilities next year. An expansion at the Port of Palm Beach is also in the works.
Merchants Export facilitates financial arrangements through its trading membership in the Blue Book credit reporting service, while its membership in UniPro Foodservice Inc., the largest US food service distribution network, brings the company enhanced purchasing opportunities.
“Would you like fries with that order?”
Among popular items at Caribbean resorts are french-fried potatoes that, in frozen form, are transshipped through the Port of Palm Beach. The fries, made by No. 1 world french fries producer McCain, arrive weekly on a Tropical ship from New Brunswick, Canada, and are delivered to the port’s Foreign-Trade Zone. The boxes then are split at Port of Palm Beach Cold into loads headed to the various islands.
Collier noted that the waterborne move of the commodity along the Atlantic Coast is “an example of where we’re taking traffic off the railroads and highways.”
According to Collier, the goods are proudly shipped out as “french fries,” with no thought ever having been given to referring to them as “freedom fries.” The fries, with “pommes frites” and other French language on their boxes, seem to be especially in demand on French-speaking islands, he said, adding, “The French like to buy from the French.”
Meanwhile, US consumers continue to enjoy buying tropically grown melons, which come in during a six-month-long season. Since fall 1997, the largest melon-growing concern in the Dominican Republic has been bringing weekly shipments into Port of Palm Beach Cold - but they don’t stay at the facility long before heading to markets in Florida and all along the East Coast.
“As much as possible, we try to cross-dock stuff,” Collier said, noting that “Storage” is not part of the Port of Palm Beach Cold name. “In our business, he who has the least inventory wins.”
Citing the solid workforce at the Port of Palm Beach, Jarra Gould, the port’s director of busi
Perishables - Palm Beach firm moves produce on year-round basis in Caribbean
By: Paul Scott Abbott | Oct 10 2004 at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Liner Shipping
By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT