There are old warehouses along Oude Leeuwenrui in Antwerp, Belgium. During the 19th century, bulk goods such as malt, barley, coffee, and grain were stored there. Over time, port activities shifted from these warehouses to container terminals, north of the city. These warehouses have since taken on a different function.
Steve Grosjean presents the performance of the cold chain
One of these historic warehouses is used as offices for the Remant Group, a maritime expeditor active in the niche market, with a major focus on Africa. One of this company’s latest achievements is the integration of Belgian logistics provider, Foodcareplus, that, while retaining its name, became part of this family business in September 2018.
“The integration of Foodcareplus into the Remant Group has increased our influence,” says Steve Alaerts, Foodcareplus’s Director. “There are currently many consolidations going on in the logistics sector. Our example is one of these. By becoming part of the Remant Group, we have grown in size, we belong to one of the biggest forwarders in the field, and we are taken care of when it comes to HR, Finance, and IT. Our logistics architectures can, therefore, focus on what is really important - contact with clients.”
Foodcareplus specializes in the refrigerated transportation of foodstuffs. Besides baked goods, dairy products, and delicacies, a large part of these products is made up of fresh fruit and vegetables. “Along with two other companies, outside of the Remant Group, we keep ourselves busy with reefer containers. More than half of the transported containers within the group, therefore, consists of reefer loads.”
Steve Alaerts inspects an avocado in Michoacan Mexico
Focus on Africa
This Belgian expeditor is active worldwide. “We were first on the market to open routes to China with Conference pears. However, the most significant region we are active in is Africa. About a quarter of our business is concentrated in this continent, followed by Eastern Asia and the Americas.”
The choice to concentrate business in Africa is not only dictated by the Remant Group’s history. "When the company was founded in 1981, it immediately focused on that continent. “We very deliberately choose Africa. It is, after all, a developing continent and, I think in the future, especially fresh fruit and vegetables from there will become important for the European market."
"Just as Mexico is important to the United States when it comes to fruit and vegetables, Africa can become that for Europe. Spain is often still considered as Europe’s fruit basket, but this focus will shift in the future. We have already noticed an increased interest in countries like Morocco and Senegal.”
The company’s focus may lie with Africa, but pears and apples remain the most important products for which Foodcareplus organizes transportation. “We consider knowledge of the fruit and vegetable sector to be of the utmost importance to serve our clients well."
"We also do inhouse training to supplement our staff’s knowledge about this. In this way, we can offer opportunities in the sector that would, otherwise, be difficult to get. For example, we will shortly be able to deliver pears to Mexico. The avocados share is also becoming increasingly important for us.”
Office of Remant in Antwerp, Belgium
This company wants to be at the forefront of many developments in the sector. For example, with the digitization and automation of its services. “We have designed a platform where clients and other involved parties, such as shipping companies, have quick access to all their relevant documentation."
"We can add customs declarations, so clients have these at their immediate disposal and do not have to mail around to find them. The entire platform uses blockchain technology, which makes its use transparent. It has been adapted to the client’s systems, so very little effort is needed to implement the platform into their business operations. The whole platform was developed in co-design by Dockflow.”
“Not only are all the documents in one place, but the shipper can also see where the container finds itself at any given moment, what its internal temperature is, and how fast the ship is traveling.” This information is collected by a device that Foodcareplus had developed for its services. This logging device, LiteTraxx, collects the data and forwards it to the Dockflow platform. “For us, these applications are tools that facilitate our service and, so, help us with client service.”
“We have noticed that people submit fewer damage claims, thanks to the sharing and compelling the sharing of information about the loading of a container,” continues Steve. “We do a pre-check of the container and load before we transport it. With the Dockflow data and the monitoring, we know for sure that the load’s quality is the same when it arrives as when it was sent."
"Thanks to this, we did not have a single claim on the load of fresh fruit and vegetables we sent to China last year. If there are claims on a load, we evaluate to see how the damage could have occurred and to see what can be done to avoid this in the future.”
“In Belgium, there is much more of a tradition of letting an expeditor handle a load. In the Netherlands, they prefer to do this directly, themselves. This seems to be more cost-effective, but, in general, there are much higher damage claims. We handle the load from beginning to end because fragmentation is detrimental to the cold chains used for fresh products. We talk of synchromodality - we try to find the best means of transportation to get a product from A to B within a set amount of time.”
Although less than 8% van the Remant Group’s total trade is situated in Europe, they have carefully considered the approaching Brexit. “Although we do minimal transport to those countries, we still have continuity plans in place, just in case,” says Steve. “Imagine you have a regular refrigerated trailer than goes from Belgium or the Netherlands to Great Britain. You could get stuck at the port, and you can also count on significant delays in the Channel Tunnel."
"We could transfer this trailer to a sea container in Antwerp and could use a shipping company to send it to the Port of Felixstowe. Then, as an exporter, you might be slightly more expensive, but your products reach the British shore faster. Here, the port of Antwerp offers more possibilities than Rotterdam because Rotterdam is a first port of call. It will, therefore, be more congested there than in Antwerp.”
Steve Alaerts takes a look at avocados in Michoacan, Mexico.