Air freight is more expensive than other transportation modes, but it is much faster. In the case of fresh produce, that can translate into valuable extra shelf life or product availability opportunities that justify the extra expense.
Air freight accounts for just 1% of all exports by volume, but those goods register 35% of global trade value. Not surprisingly, economics dictates that expensive goods are more likely to be sent by air. The nature of the product mix is changing, however, as fresh produce increasingly takes to the sky.
Good news for the air freight sector, fresh produce volume is filling a void at a time when the importance of electronics products continues to wane. According to an article in the Economist, air freight volumes of laptops and tablets have dropped 50% in the last two years. Overall, the air shipment of electronic goods has dipped by 10% since 2007 and continues to slide. The movement of perishables by air, on the other hand, has increased by one-third since 2007. In 2016 alone, fresh food shipped by air lept by 10%.
The Economist attributes the escalating air freight requirements for fresh produce and other perishables to the globalisation of eating habits. As another recent article noted, "More and more perishables from different parts of the world are shipped by air to ensure that the products arrive fresh and within a short span of time at the destination."
Increasingly, consumers have come to expect their their favorite items to be available on a year-round basis. "A decade ago the Chinese used to eat seasonally, for example, but now they can afford to fly in red cherries from Chile for the Chinese New Year (which falls between late January and mid-February)," the Economist wrote.
AeroTime Aviation News stresses that China’s demand for tropical fruit is affecting air cargo lanes. Chinese per-capita disposable income more than doubled between 2008 and 2016, having an impact on food selection, with shoppers favoring beef, finer cuts of meat, seafood and poultry, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. Current fruit consumption in China currently registers 77.4 kg per capita, up from just 8 kg per capita in 1978. With only 0.2 acres of arable land in China available to support each person, the importance of food imports, including air freight, is taking on a major role.
For their part, air cargo providers and airports are doing their part to better serve the perishable trade by fine tuning their offerings to serve various product categories. Providers such as Delta Air Lines and Emirates SkyCargo, for example, are offering multi-tiered service approaches, depending upon temperature requirements and other considerations. Such offerings can include the use of an active container, where required, as well as handling systems at the airport and on the tarmac to maintain cold chain.
Taking a systems approach is critical in terms of maintaining cold chain and eliminating delays or bottlenecks. Case in point, earlier this year, Miami International Airport became the first airport in Florida to introduce ocean-to-air trans-shipments. Perishables are delivered by boat to PortMiami or Port Everglades and then are transported to MIA for expedited air transport to Asian and European markets. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helped make the process possible by granting for the first time,approval for expedited processing of the marine shipments before they leave by air.
If you are moving perishable products by air freight, as with any other mode, be sure to work with forwarders and cargo providers who have the expertise and capabilities to best meet your shipping needs. Be clear in communicating your capacity requirements and handling expectations, and work collaboratively during the loading and unloading process to ensure that product remains at peak freshness. And finally, standardize your shipping process through the creation and consistent use of standard operating procedures (SOPs). As air freight of fresh produce grows in importance, don’t be caught with your approach still up in the air.