Adelantex has Turned Perishables Logistics into a Craft

The Brussels-headquartered company Adelantex is, amongst other things, one of Europe’s leading specialists in perishables logistics thanks to well thought-out collaboration agreements with Brussels Airlines and DHL Aviation.  The next step is bringing the benefits of air cargo forwarded products to the attention of the consumer, says business manager Frank Van Gelder.

Frank Van Gelder, Business Manager Adelantex /  source photos: ms
Frank Van Gelder, Business Manager Adelantex / source photos: ms

Adelantex was set up in 1992 and is still controlled by the 4 original shareholders. Its core business as a pure air cargo oriented perishables logistics operator is supported by its subsidiary AD Handling, which takes over the consignments where airside and landside meet. “This enables us to guarantee quality,” says Frank.On top of that, the shareholders support some freight forwarding and GSA business in most perishables exporting countries in West-Africa, such as Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon and Togo. “We focus on the niche activity of time and temperature-sensitive air cargo consignments by offering fast and qualitative handling and customs clearance.”
The company employs a staff of about 50, divided over its Brussels headquarters and its offices at Liege Airport and Leipzig-Halle Airport. Prior to the day that Frank Van Gelder joined the company, Adelantex also had sea-freight related subsidiaries in the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge, which in the meantime have been divested. “Today we focus on European imports of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and flowers. On the average, we handle between 50,000 and 70,000 tonnes of air cargo annually, accounting for some 15% of the entire perishables volume import in Europe.”

Number 1 at Rungis
Adelantex handles the perishables in the Brussels Perishable Center (BPC) warehouse, conceived as a one-stop entry point for perishables, including fyto-sanitary inspection and a Border Inspection Point (BIP). Frank likes to point out that the company’s core business is more far-reaching than what is to be expected from a logistics services provider. “Our core business is in supporting the logistic process of perishables, sent by air cargo, covering both sides of the market end-to-end. We deliver a tailor-made customer-driven product right to the wholesaler’s doorstep.” As an example, Frank likes to mention the fact that Adelantex  – based at Brussels Airport – is the largest provider of perishables to Rungis (in the backyard of Paris-CDG), the world’s largest wholesale and fresh market.
Frank Van Gelder estimates the total size of the ‘airborne’ global perishables market at 550,000 tonnes into Europe. Of this volume 350,000 tonnes originate in Africa, 100,000 tonnes in South- and Central-America, 80,000 tonnes in North-America and 50,000 tonnes in Asia.

Together with Brussels Airlines, Adelantex set up its ‘Fresh to shelf’ product, resulting in a one-stop hub role for Brussels Airport for the import of perishables from Africa. Van Gelder: “We are working with all the major customers that are involved in worldwide imports of perishables by air. We have shifted our focus to the mindset of the importers. It is we who maintain contact with the exporters in Africa, and we also support the contracts the importers have with their customers. We share responsibility for the quality of the end product, but we also demand a similar commitment in this respect from the airline. We organise handling at origin and monitor an unbroken supply chain system. Thanks to fast handling and fyto-sanitary inspection, we are able to truck away the consignments 3 hours after touchdown.”


Brussels outpaces Paris CDG
Getting back to Rungis, this means that Adelantex is able to guarantee faster delivery from Brussels Airport than if the aircraft had landed at Paris CDG. The strength of  Fresh-to-shelf as a product is further enhanced by the fact that Adelantex takes over the financial risk vis-à-vis the airline. “We ‘charge-collect’ and include trucking in our pricing. The latter allows us to optimise consolidation. In this way we stimulate cargo growth for Brussels Airlines, which clearly shows in the carrier’s figures. Total Northbound cargo accounted for 4,500 tonnes some 5 years ago, increased to 7,300 tonnes in 2014 and even to 8,500 tonnes in 2013.”
Another collaboration model was set up with DHL Aviation, which connects Brussels Airport with Lagos daily using a 767F. The entire return capacity on these aircraft is made up of perishables, brought into Lagos through DHL’s dense network on the continent. Volume growth is not the only indicator for the success of these collaboration products, so it appears: “The average claim rate in the air cargo business on the African continent is between 6 and 7%. We manage to keep it down to 0.4 and 0.6%.” The DHL scheme is, however, in no way responsible for the set-up of an office at Leipzig Airport, says Van Gelder. “This has nothing to do with the African market at all, but is meant to explore new markets.”

Adelantex HQ at Brussels Airport
Adelantex HQ at Brussels Airport

From air to sea
Van Gelder is aware of the fact that, even in perishables, there is a modal shift from air to sea-freight. “Of every 12 kilograms of perishables only 1 kilo is going by air. On the other hand, speaking about product identification towards the consumer in front of the supermarket shelf, there is - as yet - no way of distinguishing airborne from seaborne products. In other words, today I still do not know if the pineapples in front of me have been travelling by ship for about 10 days and, thus, had to be picked unseasoned, or if they were picked only yesterday.”
He is convinced that the perishable volume of the air cargo industry will never be down to 0 kilos. “First there is the economic aspect. As Adelantex we have been directly responsible for the growth of export markets in Togo and Benin, from 1,800 to 3,000 tonnes and from 2,000 to 3,500 respectively, just by capacity optimisation. For many countries perishables actually keep the economic engine going. Between 70 and 90% of exports from Africa and South-America are perishables. In Cameroon, for example, it is 95%. If you take that away, their economies will come to a complete standstill. As everybody is keen to export to these countries, the bellies and freighters are full on the outgoing trip. We are able to keep the balance, by filling up on the return trip, adding ‘the ice on the cake’.”
Environmentalists will be eager to point at the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from air cargo, but their arguments can quickly be parried, Frank thinks. “We load on integrator freighters and in the bellies of passenger aircraft, which are flying anyway. In fact, we help dilute the Co² emissions.”

B2C information
Frank Van Gelder also thinks that –from the end consumer’s point of view – ’flown in’ perishables will always find their own quality-oriented market and may even evolve into a niche consumption market in their own right. And that’s where information and intelligence come in. “We have always been trendsetters, by anticipating to changes and maintaining good and close contacts with our customers. We are supporting a project for the enhancement of transparency within the logistic chain and the validation of the chain. This can be achieved through the optimisation of the communication between the various stakeholders on the base of information that is always available, combined with temperature control and geo-fencing. In this way you can trace the entire trip of a product, not only in the perishables segment, but also in pharma and valuables logistics.”
The concept also has a link to B2C, as it will enable the consumer-by-the-shelf to learn the history of the product through his or her smart-phone. It was first introduced at the latest IATA World Cargo congress in Shanghai.
Even then, competition remains fierce in the market, Frank admits. “Of course, we have competitors, who keep us on the alert. Pricing, however, can never be an issue. We think that it makes no sense to fly something in very cheaply, to find it rotting on the shelves the day after. We feel that we have to be an integral part of the final quality of the consumer product.”

Marcel Schoeters in Brussels

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