Key considerations for succeeding in your logistics for exporting fresh produce

Exporting and transporting goods is a complicated endeavor and more so when it comes to sensitive products, such as perishable goods. Keeping imported agricultural produce in excellent condition when it arrives at the consumer’s table is not an easy task. It requires a complex quality and compliance system throughout the entire logistics process, from the point of harvest to the final point of distribution.

There are many aspects to consider when selecting the most suitable modes of transport to get products from point A to B.  Depending on the final destination, goods consigned to a foreign market can be transported by road, rail, air, sea, inland, waterways or a combination of any of these. The effective use of transportation equipment and modes reduces shipping and logistics costs.

However, export planning doesn’t finish with transport planning. Additional factors directly related to the destination market—such as product compliance regulations and certifications, export documentation, duties, and taxes, among others—also need to be considered.

When deciding on a logistics plan for your fresh products, the following factors should be taken into consideration:

Efficient logistics

Transportation is often the most costly factor in the marketing channel of perishable goods. With fresh fruits and vegetables, agribusinesses will consider a combination of factors when deciding what method of transportation—ground, sea, air or intermodal transport—to use. These factors include distance to market, as well as the perishability and the value of the product. Whatever the method used, however, the principles of transport remain the same:

  • Loading and unloading should be done as carefully as possible.
  • Transmit times should be as short as possible.
  • The product should be well protected—for example, in cardboard cartons or packages—so as to prevent physical injury.
  • Jolting and movement should be reduced as much as possible.
  • Overheating should be avoided.
  • Water loss by the produce should be limited.
  • Keep an eye on costs: with airfreight, for example, the cost of transportation may exceed the cost of production.

Constant preservation attention

Fresh products have short lifespans, and are highly susceptible to severe and irreparable damage during transport, especially if the temperature is not kept consistent; even small variations in temperature can significantly impact the shelf life of fresh produce and its value. The required conditions of preservation should be obtained and maintained constantly, regarding in particular temperature, relative humidity, and air circulation.

Pre-cooling refers to the rapid removal of field heat from recently harvested produce and is an essential step for maintaining and extending the freshness, quality, and shelf-life of fresh fruits and vegetables. Ideally, pre-cooling occurs near the point of harvest so that harvested produce quickly achieves its optimal storage temperature. Currently, pre-cooling is often handled by reefer containers or larger cold storage facilities near urban centers. These facilities, however, are designed to maintain the temperature within a predetermined range, not to cool it down. This implies that the cargo must be brought to the required temperature before being loaded into cold storage or refrigerated container.

Selecting a freight forwarder

Most exporters prefer not to manage the logistics themselves, and instead opt to contract a freight forwarder, who offer a wide range of expertise and services including: 

  • Consolidate smaller shipments for exporters so as to save time and money
  • Detailed knowledge of the export and import rules and regulations that your business must comply with
  • Act as an intermediary when transporting to a new territory
  • Arrange for and operate several different transport methods—multi-modal—for a shipment as required
  • Assist in duties and taxes calculation

It’s important to make sure the selected freight forwarder suits the needs of your business. When choosing a freight forwarder, it’s important to consider:

  • Is the freight forwarder a member of an international freight association? And does the freight forwarder follow standard trading conditions and best-practice procedures?
  • Do they have experience transporting the types of goods you export?
  • Are they experienced in shipping to the countries you are targeting?
  • If you need to use several different modes of transportation, can they handle this?

For a successful partnership with a freight forwarder, you need to make sure your respective responsibilities are clearly understood and set down. The use of Incoterms, an internationally accepted system of trading terms for the delivery of goods, is recommended to avoid any ambiguity.

Common compliance requirements

Regions such as Europe and the US are very demanding when it comes to food safety, which is why dealing with fresh agricultural products is subject to various legal and buyer requirements. The main requirements are:

  • Limited use of pesticides: Products containing more pesticides than allowed—i.e., above the maximum residue levels (MRLs)—will be withdrawn from the market.
  • Marketing standards: these establish general and specific standards for the minimum quality and the minimum maturity of all fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Labeling & packing: cartons of fresh fruit or vegetables must mention information such as the name and the address of the packer or the dispatchers; the name of the produce; country of origin; and the lot number for traceability.
  • Certifications:  As food safety is a top priority in all food sectors in the EU & US, many buyers require the implementation of a food safety management system based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and GLOBAL Good Agricultural Practices (G.A.P) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) global standards for hygiene and safety (North-Western EU market).