It’s common for perishables to transition from air to ocean transport modes and vice versa. However, the tendency is that products or programs that successfully shift from air to ocean rarely return to air. Let’s take a look at the reasons why this happens and why we have to look at air and ocean freight more holistically.
Naturally, more competitive shipping costs in the case of ocean freight are a decisive factor, but this alone isn’t cause for a permanent shift from air to ocean. Container technology has advanced over the years and now offers many reliable reefer, controlled and modified atmosphere applications that yield good results. Some products are actually better off travelling in a perfectly working ocean reefer container with an uninterrupted cold chain. And there’s a nice by-product – much lower CO2 emissions. (Learn more about the carbon footprint of perishables)
Ocean freight is well suited for particular stock items and varieties that can withstand longer travel times, and by far the greatest volumes of perishables travel by sea, not air.
However, air freight is still the way to go when other variables need to be considered, such as the beginning or end of seasons, different quality levels for some product varieties, or pricing swings at destination during different times of the year. Not to mention that a shorter transit time often translates into a faster cash flow. Moreover, a lack of infrastructure such as cold storage at ports can hinder the shift to ocean freight.
Perishables such as fresh fish and berries have traditionally been flown. Bananas, tomatoes, apples and pears are instead transported by ship due to price sensitivity and because they can be harvested before ripening and kept in storage longer.
How does a multimodal operation work in practice?
In some cases, it makes sense to combine the two modes of transport to get the best of both worlds. Let’s take a look at Panalpina’s perishables center at Miami International Airport (MIA), which has direct access to the tarmac.
Not even a year has passed since it opened and the Panalpina perishables center has seen operations spike with its air freight, handling, and in-transit operations.
The center also serves as a consolidation hub for shipments from multiple customers. For example, different flower consignments from Colombia and Ecuador can now fly on as a single shipment to final destination in Europe, Asia and beyond.
By managing all processes in-house, Panalpina ensures the best possible control of the cargo at all times. If needed, pre-cooling and re-packing can be organized on the fly. This means corrective action to deal with exceptions can be taken if necessary and according to customer and product requirements.
Approximately 56% of the tonnage cleared at Miami International Airport is shipped in transit to a third country. (Photo by @ebergustavo on Unsplash)
Multimodal transport to satisfy today’s consumer appetite for perishables
Supply chains are becoming more efficient, manageable, and sustainable. The perishables industry overall can benefit from a more agile transition —or rather interaction— between transport modes according to market needs. This will help producers, shippers and other stakeholders get the best bang for their buck while the end consumer receives more varied, fresher, and better-priced products with the lowest possible carbon footprint.
At Panalpina we facilitate any necessary transition between air and ocean freight for perishables. We love shipping perishables – and caring about the products and how we transport them, be that via ocean or air, is very important for us.