The transport of perishable cargo as well as temperature-sensitive goods such as pharmaceuticals, has become a massive and lucrative business for transport companies around the world. This includes truck companies as well as the ocean carriers and airlines. But - who gives the better service in in the perishable transport?
Shipping lines need better logistics
The above is at least what the Cool Logistics Group would like to have as a central theme for their 10th Cool Logistics Global Conference which will be held in Antwerp from 2-4 October.
The worries that the Cool Chain organisation have about shipping perishables by sea seem to centre around what they term in their recent paper as ‘the current cost structure of the shipping industry is forcing increasing inefficiency and risk in the cold chain, with the potential to compromise quality for the end customer, is spurring some perishable shippers to reach out to shipping lines to find better logistical solutions.’
One of the main issues seems to be that perishables such as fruit and vegetables run the risk of becoming unsaleable because of a shortage of refrigerated containers which are often not on site where they are needed, thus ensuring that the cargo ends up being far from fresh. Another complaint is that although most shipping lines have printed schedules, some do not sail as scheduled, probably due to the fact that they wait for full loads.
Is air freight benefitting from this?
There are no reports or statistics which would show that some shippers are moving more towards sending their perishables by air.
The airlines have their own schedules for moving perishable goods and although these are large tonnages by airline standards, they by no means meet the massive amounts of fruit and vegetables which have traditionally moved by sea.
The Cool Chain guys also pose the question as to whether airfreight become a winner in this serious situation. Probably in the short term as shippers of highly valuable and temperature sensitive produce look towards using aircraft either on a full or part-charter basis.
Easier said than done, as freighter capacity is getting tight as the demand from the e-commerce sector continues to climb. This, as well as the fact that moving perishables by air compared to sea freight is a costly issue.
The airlines have the benefit of speed where perishables from countries in Africa, the Far East or South America can be delivered within hours when transported in temperature-controlled cargo compartments of their aircraft.
So - it seems that the ocean shippers will have to force the vessel owners to get their act together and update their systems to allow timely and proper temperature controlled transport. An air freight alternative is not the lever which would cause ocean vessel owners to rethink.
What about pharma volumes?
Here, maybe the shoe is on the other foot. There has been much criticism during the past couple of years on the so-called lack of initiative by the air cargo community to come up with a ‘watertight' end-to-end temperature-controlled supply chain.
Some experts claim that in the meantime a considerable amount of pharmaceutical goods which flew by air are now being switched to sea freight. Pharma is not perishable and will not go bad if it has a longer journey so long as the cool containers in which it is loaded are properly temperature controlled.
The airline industry (we reported) has been dithering over this subject for too long now. All sorts of conferences and workshops along with working groups have surely made some progress, but not that which the pharma industry needs. Don’t let us forget that the pharma suppliers are now also becoming more cost conscious as the global competition in their own back yards grows.
What the ocean shipping lines have for problems on the perishable side are mirrored by those which the air cargo industry has not mastered on the pharmaceutical side.
John Mc Donagh