“We’ve grown too large regarding our fruit and vegetable department,” says René Baan, Commercial Manager Fresh Produce of air freight agents IPHandlers. Since the company was founded in 2013, the freight operator has grown by an annual volume of about 100 million kilos, about a quarter of which consists of fruit and vegetables. “That’s an extensive range from asparagus to sweet potatoes.” But the shipping agent is also involved in the air transport of sugar snaps, snow peas, French beans and herbs from Kenya, asparagus from Peru and Mexico, and soft fruit from South America, to name just a few.
René explains that the increase of fresh produce in air freight comes from the fact that people are introduced to tree-ripened exotic fruit like, for instance, mangoes, during foreign trips more and more often. “Tree-ripened fruit can’t be transported via the oceans, it would take too long. It has to be flown.” For that matter, customers call on IPHandlers to handle seaborne freight containers more often as well.
IP Handlers has grown too large regarding their fruit and vegetable department
The finishing touches are currently being added to the Amsterdam Perishable Center – a logistic hub of 6,000 square metres near Schiphol Airport – where IPHandlers will take care of storage and handling – clearing, planning phytosanitary inspections and transport if necessary – for the fruit and vegetables of IPHandlers as of 1 July.
Because not all products can be optimally stored at the same temperatures, the new building offers four different temperatures. For example, mangoes and pineapples do best in tropical storage at about 13 ºC, but soft fruit does better when stored at about three degrees Celsius, according to René. He says it’s all about speed and efficiency in air freight. That was also the starting point when designing the new warehouse. “We don’t work with racks, everything is placed on the floor so it can be quickly put in place and taken away again.”
Cooling back down
The shelf life of fruit and vegetables is partly decided by the temperature of the products. René mentions that products on board of an aeroplane are barely cooled. On average, the temperature of fruit and vegetables rises by one degree Celsius on board of a plane every hour. “That’s why we’ve become really devoted to conditioning,” René explains. With vacuum coolers, it’s possible to cool a product back down to a core temperature of 3 ºC within 25 minutes. Vacuum cooling isn’t suitable to all fresh produce, but it can easily be used for asparagus and herbs. IPHandlers cools soft fruit or packed salads, which explode due to the decrease in air pressure, using flow coolers. “Cooling really is our added value, it can increase shelf life by at least three days.”
The new building also has office space that can be rented. It’s one of the services provided by IPHandlers. René has noticed that providing services is playing an ever more important role. “Exporters remain more involved in their products. Exporters supply to final consumers directly more and more often.” When that’s the case the shipping agent stores the goods at the right temperature and makes sure the pallets are delivered to the right customer according to instructions of the exporter. Customs documents, shipping lists, quality reports and invoices are available online via a mobile app or at the office of the client. Having a look at the files of delivered shipments is possible for years after delivery thanks to the APC track and trace system.
“APCHandling is a frontrunner in the world of fresh and fast forwarding because of that,” René concludes.
Milestone Fesh has grown considerably in last four years
New in fruit and vegetables
After shipping agent Milestone Fresh – mostly focused on the seaborne freight of plants, fruit, vegetables and flowers and air freight of flowers and plants – started handling air transport of flowers and plants in 2015, they can now report a gradual increase in the air transport of fruit and vegetables as well. “Milestone Fresh Airfreight is fairly new in the field of fruit and vegetables. Four years ago, we started from scratch, and I can now say we’re grown considerably,” says Henk Duijn, responsible for air freight for Milestone Fresh.
Continued growth is definitely a goal, but Henk says they’re not striving to be the biggest air freight shipping agent. Milestone Fresh prefers striving to be the best shipping agent. “We focus on quality considerably more than on quantity.” A focus on quantity would require a very different and larger organisational structure as well. “It’s a completely different manner of working than we’re interested in,” Henk says.
The quality originates from years of experience in the field of air freight. Henk, for example, has been working in the sector for 30 years. Organisation also plays an important role in that. “We have short lines, our people are approachable and they know what they’re talking about.” The quality is also guaranteed because the shipping agent works with well-known airlines that they have good experiences with. “If we support it, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we’re happy to let other people do the job. As a result, we won’t always be the cheapest. Quality is appreciated and paid for particularly in flowers and plants. It’s often more of a price matter in vegetables,” Henk explains. “Customers aren’t just a number for us.”
Milestone Fresh Airfreight mostly focuses on handling and taking care of air transport for flowers, plants, fruit and vegetables. For the import, it mostly concerns plant material from Central and South America. At the moment, Henk’s noticing an increase in applications for air transport of other types of perishables, such as dairy – mostly cheese – and fish. In the field of seaborne freight, Milestone Fresh has been active in the field of fruit and vegetables for years, and they’re now one of the most prominent companies.
Henk mentions that the mass air transport of fruit and vegetables is mostly focused on major markets like the Middle East, such as Dubai or Doha, and as a result, these markets are now being faced with capacity problems. These markets are also divided and difficult to enter. Milestone Fresh therefore prefers focusing on smaller and more difficult air freight destinations for fruit and vegetables, such as export to the Far East, including Kuala Lumpur and Singapore or import from Sri Lanka.
Cooling and inspection
The fragile goods are cooled in a cold store that’s part of the company’s own Milestone Fresh customs warehouse at Schiphol Airport until it’s time for the product’s departure. Deliveries happen day and night. After that, the customers are informed that their products have left, and if necessary, they receive updates regarding delays and when their products have arrived at their destinations.
Henk mentions that Milestone Fresh can provide all necessary certificates, such as a certificate of origin or a EUR1 certificate, for their customers, as well as clearing the goods and taking care of the phytosanitary inspection, which can be conducted on site.