Perishables - Ports on the Delaware retain competitive edge for Perishables

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
Ports along the East Coast’s Delaware River have long been known as the destination for perishables coming from South and Central America. While the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority’s Port of Philadelphia and Port of Camden (operated by the South Jersey Port Corporation), as well as the Port of Wilmington, DE essentially compete for the business, executives with each port refer to the competition as “friendly.”
The goal is to keep the business in the Delaware River. Perishables are an important niche for the ports located here.
Big players in the perishables business are Del Monte, Dole, Chiquita, and Unifruitti of America. Years ago, before perishables were palletized, Unifruitti used to import through the ports of New York and Baltimore. But mishandling and labor concerns caused the importer to shift its operations to the Tioga Terminal at the Port of Philadelphia. Officials at the Port of Philadelphia and Camden agree that when the history of the United States port industry is written, the chapter on refrigerated cargoes will undoubtedly feature these ports above all others.
“Simply stated, our regional port system has, for over a quarter of a century, been the US leader in the handling of refrigerated cargoes such as fruit, vegetables and meats,” says Robert Blackburn, Deputy Executive Director, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA).
The Port of Philadelphia has long been a hub for perishables arriving from South America, particularly Chilean fruits such as grapes. For well over two decades fruit has been among the port’s largest commodities. Blackburn attributes this to the port’s ability to be customer driven.
“We have invested heavily in on-dock refrigeration that allows the shippers of fresh produce from South America to bring their product into the United States without breaking the cold chain and deliver fresh products from our docks to the chains stores for retailers,” says Blackburn.
Fifteen years ago when there was very little on-dock refrigeration, the Port of Philadelphia began to add on-dock refrigeration. As shippers’ requirements changed to wanting additional refrigeration space that offered a variety of rooms with varying temperatures within the same warehouse, the port responded.
“They wanted different temperatures and to (be able to) increase the humidification,” Blackburn says.
The next requirement became inventory control, such as bar coding. As a result, PRPA responded by investing in computer technology needed to meet customer demands. Today the Port of Philadelphia is adding 400 reefer plugs at its Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia so that the port can provide storage capability for refrigerated containers.
“We are investing in technology to store both breakbulk, as well as containerized commodities,” Blackburn says.
The new reefer plugs will not only benefit fruit coming in from South America, but also reefer cargoes from Australia-Asia markets.
In addition, last year the port installed two new Post-Panamax container cranes that will allow the port to service the largest, most modern container vessels that call upon the port from the East Coast of South America on weekly vessel sharing agreements. The two new $15 million cranes will have the ability to reach over the biggest, widest vessels in service today, as well as load and discharge containers faster than ever before.
Port of Camden
The South Jersey Port Corporation (SJPC) is keeping its big customer, Del Monte, happy by investing in a new 53,500 square foot temperature-controlled warehouse for Del Monte, scheduled to be completed by December 2004. The warehouse will help Del Monte grow its business through the next few years.
Del Monte imported 525,445.50 tons of fresh fruit (bananas, pineapples, melons from Costa Rica, Ecuador, etc.) in 2003, a 1.4% increase over 2002. By reaching 3,088,953.98 tons, Del Monte’s activity contributed to SJPC breaking its total tonnage record in 2003.
Figures supplied by Jay J

Karen Thuermer's avatar

American Journal of Transportation