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Millions of boxes of bananas handled in Vlissingen, The Netherlands
In 2015, banana giant Chiquita decided to no longer sail to Antwerp, but to land their bananas in Vlissingen. Last year, the service on the Bremerhaven was also discontinued. That was good for the port in Zeeland, and especially for Kloosterboer, who has been handling these bananas since then. The branch in Vlissingen, as part of the Kloosterboer group, has changed into a banana centre for an important part, thanks to the arrival of Chiquita.
By now, a large part of the shed for fruit and vegetables from Kloosterboer Vlissingen is meant for handling the bananas. A boat moors every week, and the bananas will have been stowed both below deck and on deck (in containers). Hundreds of thousands of boxes are unloaded through Kloosterboer weekly, and after, among other things, handling quality inspections, clearance and other necessary steps, the bananas are distributed from Vlissingen into Europe. “Bananas mostly land via conventional cooling boats in Vlissingen, but it is a clear trend that this product is also being transported in containers more and more often,” says Marco Vermet, commercial manager for fresh produce with Kloosterboer.
The logistics service provider has many branches at its disposal, both domestically and abroad. Within this network, each location has its strong points and its special responsibilities, so that those interested can choose the option that best suits their needs. “The location in Poeldijk, Varekamp Colstores, is an important hub for the distribution of fruit and vegetables with strong grouping options because of the combination of import and export flows.” The branch at the Maasvlakte is mostly used for frozen products such as chips. “That location has a lot of potential, but has an (even) smaller connection to the fresh produce category because of the required fine distribution options. For larger fresh produce flows that mostly use FTL shipments, that isn’t the case, and because of the proximity of large container terminals, bananas better fit that image.
“Vlissingen also has its strong points as regards the logistical service for bananas: For example, Vlissingen’s location compared to Antwerp, a shipping company doesn’t have to sail as far, and therefore saves time and costs, and moreover, they’ll profit from a high level of service. Besides, Vlissingen doesn’t experience congestion in the ports and at the access roads, which often happens in other ports,” Marco explains.
“When a shipment doesn’t arrive directly in Vlissingen but in one of the surrounding ports such as Rotterdam or Antwerp, we prefer picking it up per barge for further transport to Vlissingen. As a rule, barge transport is much cheaper than road transport, saves at least half in CO2 emissions, and is very efficient in handling,” Marco says. Furthermore, Vlissingen functions as a container depot for most of the container shipping companies, so that containers only have to make the trip to Vlissingen, instead of having to be returned empty to a depot elsewhere.
Bananas require adjustments
“Within the fruit segment, bananas are a separate category,” Marco continues. “The product is critical when it comes to storing conditions, with the correct storage temperature, air purification and circulation and protection from influences of ethylene. That requires precision and is hardly a sinecure.” Besides the locations in Vlissingen and at Maasvlakte 2, there’s also the new branch Cool Port Rotterdam, which will open in May, a new option within the Kloosterboer network to handle shipments of bananas.
The family company Kloosterboer, founded in 1925, is originally a fresh produce trade company from North Holland, and is by now managed by the third generation. The company developed from trade company to cold store company. In the 1960s, the first cold store was opened in Elst, and it currently is a complete logistics service provider.
Water, rails and asphalt
The logistical service provider is much more than just a cold store by now. Customs formalities, quality inspections, packing and transport are just some of the services provided by Kloosterboer. “In principle, we oversee the entire logistical supply chain and we are capable of directing the chain from, for example, the plantation in South Africa to the final customer in Germany, including all of the necessary logistical steps.”
Despite Vlissingen and the other Kloosterboer locations profiting from their strong points, there are also plenty of fresh produce flows that don’t pass by Kloosterboer. “From a clear growth strategy, we want to participate in this more often, and are therefore opening a new location in the Eemhaven area in Rotterdam, called Cool Port Rotterdam,” Marco explains the choice for the branch in Rotterdam. Although Kloosterboer has a cold store at Maasvlakte 2, that’s still about 50 kilometres from, for instance, a fresh produce hotspot like the trade centre in Barendrecht. With Cool Port Rotterdam, Kloosterboer opens a branch just a stone’s throw away.
“That results in cost saving, and all of the strong points of the other locations are combined in Cool Port.” Cool Port is trimodal connected: the front of the building faces water, the back is connected to the rails and directly behind that is the A15.
“You could say it’s the Vlissingen concept, but adapted for Rotterdam. We prefer connecting via deep sea terminals, as is the case in Vlissingen, per barge, which are expected to supply and remove containers a few times per day. Empty container depots from most of the shipping companies are in close proximity in the Eemhaven area. Furthermore, we expect to be able to generate the necessary return shipments, so that empty containers can immediately be loaded again. A win-win situation for all parties.”
Kloosterboer also expects that the importance of railway transport will increase. “After all, we now have a connection with Israel, which is connected with Rotterdam firstly via boat and then through, among other things, the Slovenian Koper railway. Furthermore, the Russians and the Chinese are investing in the New Silk Road, which should connect Europe and China via rail. There’s also an initiative, Cool Rail, that connects Spain and Germany (Cologne), but Rotterdam will be absorbed in this route as of next year as well.”
Ocean giants and inland shipping
Within the Cool Port Rotterdam concept, which is meant as centre where al necessary services can be found under one roof, a packing station will be provided where product will be packed according to current supermarket specifications. They are also dedicating themselves to handling bananas. Part of the building will be made suitable for this, and will amount to 4,000 pallets in the first stage. The total capacity will be good for about 40,000 pallets. All pallets will be stored in so-called mobile racks, so that each pallet can be picked individually and by number, optimising storage. “We are not yet talking about a ripening facility, but we are building ripening chambers for ready-to-eat products.”
Access to the building will be automatised. Part of that process is receiving and recognising a signal as soon as a lorry enters the Rotterdam area, so that the right pallets can be prepared within the parameters of the customer. This means a minimum stay at the terminal for the driver. “For the purpose of delivering the shipment, we will start working in shifts during weekdays, so that customers can pick up their shipments much easier outside of peak times.”
Under influence of the ever-larger ocean-going vessels, the original Port of Rotterdam became increasingly more difficult to access. The large ocean giants can go to Maasvlakte 1 and 2 by now. The ports more towards the city have been designated short sea hubs, with the occasional exception for some deep sea services. For the services arriving at the Maasvlakte, Kloosterboer will start a barge service that will continually transport containers from the Maasvlakte to the Eemhaven.
For now, the larger volumes of bananas will arrive in Vlissingen through Kloosterboer. Newspapers often write about drug smuggling via the Ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. That is much less the case in the port of Zeeland. “We cannot rule it out 100 per cent, but fortunately our sites are secured properly, and we have a good cooperation with customs.”
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