"Despite the current corona crisis, it's clear that we'll continue to have our work cut out for us. Even though 2020 was a tough year for our banana importers," says Jakob Van Poucke of Luik Natie Coldstore. This Belgian company focuses on the conditioned storage and logistical handling of banana containers, among other things.
The global shortage of reefer containers is another of the pandemic's consequences. "The corona crisis has led to a worldwide shortage of these containers. So, people are looking for other solutions. They're booking space on reefer ships too. This should be temporary. That's because products like bananas' quality is always better when they arrive in a reefer container rather than on a reefer ship. There's also less chance of damage."
Jakob sees that aspects like CO2 neutrality and organic and fair trade are important to his clients. That's why Luik Natie takes these factors seriously in its business operations too. "We're working very hard on this. We're trying to convince certain clients to work with us. These are those who believe in organic, fair trade, and carbon neutrality too. We want to partner in such a way that the chain is truly 100% this way. We're trying to be a pioneer in this area in Antwerp Port."
Luik Natie has a rainwater tank, windmill, and solar panels on its roofs. They will soon also start storing power in a battery. This makes the company CO2-neutral and should be certified to this effect later this year. They have plans to switch part of its truck fleet to electric vehicles within a few years. "Not our entire 25-strong fleet. But we want a few electric trucks. These can drive around the port and have enough time to charge."
"We know the current banana market isn't ideal," admits Jakob. "That puts pressure on the whole chain. Cost optimization is therefore important for our clients. We're the shortest link between the quay, our cold store, and the client. Luike Natie is located on the port's left bank, a few minutes' drive from the large container terminals. We use our own transport so can be very responsive and move large volumes."
"Our speed is our trump card. We manage everything ourselves, so offer competitive prices." Van Poucke considers this speed as well as service as the most important aspects in handling bananas. "You won't find drivers waiting with a container of bananas here. Our own drivers transfer the containers from the dock to the cold store."
"They collect these up as soon as they arrive at our site. That saves us a lot of time and allows us to optimize the banana handling. On the banana market, it's vital to save time. The faster a banana can be loaded and delivered, the better." Ripening schedules and deliveries to retailers are, after all, often planned in the nick of time.
Jakob points out that Luik Natie recently opened a new frozen foods warehouse. A specific ICT system was developed for this new warehouse, which has been operational since February. This new system will soon be applied to the banana warehouse as well. It allows the company to follow every incoming pallet throughout the warehouse. So, incorrect loads can be excluded.
"The next step is to allow clients to check their stock online and give loading instructions from there. They can quickly see what's in stock and what's already gone. This is quite a step forward for the Luik Natie Group. There's the risk of error if someone types in loading instructions. If the load can be selected online, we can follow that online. Then you avoid these risks of errors and incorrect loading," Jakob concludes.