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There was simply no prior known experience of shipping kiwifruit for 85-90 days

Georgian company sucessfully re-routes kiwifruit shipment due to Red Sea situation

Georgian company Nergeta started to grow kiwifruit near the country's Black Sea coast in 2011. Over two years Nergeta established a 20ha orchard and also built their own cold-store and packhouse. Its first trial export shipments were sold in a German retail chain but the company soon found its main market: Japan.

"The Japanese market now represents 100% of our exports. This market is important because it mostly pays attention to taste and shape of the fruit and rewards with higher prices," explains Konstantine Vekua, Co-founder of Nergeta. "The European market requires too many certifications and regulations and paperwork while paying less."

But according to Konstantine the biggest challenge for serving the Japanese market is logistics.

"Georgia does not have a deep-sea port and is not served by big vessel lines, we rely on transhipments via Piraeus and Istanbul. We learned from leading kiwifruit post-harvest experts and implemented procedures to ensure the longest possible storability. This includes curing, cooling, ethylene management, correct type of packaging, humidity retention, right type of containers with right settings of cooling and ventilation."

Normally the transit time between Georgia and Japan takes 60-65 days. From November 2023, Nergeta shipped 13 containers to Japan from the Georgian port of Poti. Seven of which passed peacefully through the Red Sea but then on 17th December, when the last six containers, (around 75 tons of green Hayward kiwifruit) were approaching transhipment port of Piraeus, the company was informed that these six containers may have to be rerouted round the Cape of Good Hope instead of usual Red Sea route.

"Initially there was a shock as nothing was clear: how many extra days does it mean? Any additional transhipments? What if the shipping line decides that the situation in the Red Sea has calmed and redirects the vessel from near Gibraltar back to the Red Sea and then again something happens and again it decides to sail round Africa? Will we even get the next available vessel or we have to wait in Piraeus for 3-4 weeks due to disruptions in supply and availability of vessels. All of these questions were united in one question: what will happen to the fruit if there are 20 or even 30 extra days shipping time?"

The decision had to be made in one day and Nergeta and its shareholders went through a checklist, the most important point of which was to check the firmness of the kiwifruit from the same lots that were in the containers.

"We kept about 200kg of kiwifruit in our Georgian cold store and, after checking, the average hardness turned out to be 4.6kgf. Each container had several ethylene scrubbers mounted on inlets of cooling systems of containers, which gave us confidence. We also consulted with our long-time New Zealand post-harvest expert Nagin Lallu about the situation and together we decided that it was possible to sustain at least extra 30 days of shipping duration. So the decision was made to accept the re-routing offer from CMA-CGM."

In the end it took extra 25 days instead of the original 60, the containers departed on 29th November 2023 and arrived in Tokyo and Kobe respectively on 20th and 24th February 2024. Despite our confidence in post-harvest protocols, there was no 100% guarantee that the fruit would arrive in a good condition because there was simply no prior known experience of shipping kiwifruit for 85-90 days.

"On 22nd February we were waiting for customer feedback and we got good news: Firmness was on average 2.5kgf, with brix up to 17% and the whole shipment was accepted and marketable.

"In a way we are glad that this has happened because now we know that if the Red Sea disruption is not solved for next season, we have experience and know what needs to be done to sustain 90 day long shipping durations for future."

For more information:
Konstantine Vekua
Nergeta ltd
Mob/whatsapp: +99 557 776 6752
Linkedin: konstantinevekua