U.S.: Florida’s fruit importers brace for Hurricane Matthew

October 05 , 2016

The U.S. East Coast is set for a supply gap in fruit imports due to port and airport closures in parts of southern Florida as the state prepares for the powerful Category 3 Hurricane Matthew. Papaya final

The hurricane belted Haiti and Cuba yesterday, and today is moving through the Bahamas as it makes its way toward the U.S.

“The biggest impact is in terms of logistics – PortMiami and Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale are the two biggest ports in the region and they move a good amount of perishables,” HLB Specialties operations director Andres Ocampo told www.freshfruitportal.com.

“Ports are closing this afternoon after 5pm and most of them are going to remain closed tomorrow, only reopening on Friday.

“So the shipping lines are trying to get out as many containers as they can prior to closing, but inevitably some delays are expected due to rerouting of vessels and some containers getting left behind.”

For HLB Specialties, the main fruits set to be affected will be papayas, pineapples, Chinese vegetables from Central America, and Peruvian asparagus.

“Luckily at the moment the mango supply is coming from Brazil and those vessels dock in the Northeast so the mangoes shouldn’t be affected much by the situation,” he added.

Source: NHC

Source: NHC

Regarding airports, he said as a general rule they stayed open until sustained winds hit 55mph, which gives a wide margin above the 45mph speed of some storms.

“The airports are expected to close at some point but they are expected to close for a shorter period of time because of the nature of the airport,” he said.

Ocampo said trucks headed to the Northeast and the Midwest usually loaded in Florida between Thursday and Friday.

“Obviously or those loadings chances are that in a best case scenario Friday evening they might be able to send something,  but losing 36 out of the 48 hour window to load will affect the volumes leaving south Florida to supply the rest of the country.”

While berries are not an important import product for HLB Specialties, Ocampo said it would likely be the most sensitive to the shelf life effects of delays, along with tropical fruit to a lesser degree.

“Papayas also have a shelf life that’s not very long; it’s not as short as berries but definitely something that should be considered. Chinese vegetables are also perishable. Asparagus probably is a little bit sturdier.

“For tropicals we’re talking refrigerated temperatures of 50°F instead of the usual temperatures of 40°F and below – , they tend to be more perishable because of the way they’re preserved.”

The importer said there could be a shortage later in the week, followed by traders stuck with more product than usual on Monday.

“Combine that with two more issues that are going to effect – Monday is a Federal Holiday, it’s Columbus Day, and then later in the week is the PMA and that grabs a lot of attention.

“A lot of people will be out of the office heading to Orlando probably mid-week.

“In a way it was fortunate that the PMA Fresh Summit is only happening next week. If this had happened next week, I think the PMA itself would have been at risk of not happening because even in Orlando they’re expecting strong winds and rains,” Ocampo speculated.

Leslie Simmons, who is vice president at berry company Dave’s Specialty Imports, said in preparation for the hurricane the company was ceasing pick-ups and deliveries as of 10am, tomorrow Oct. 6.

“Our plan is to resume deliveries on Saturday, October 8th,” Simmons said.

“We are working with customers to take care of any berry shipments out of Miami in advance. We are hoping for the best, but this storm is definitely of high concern and we are doing everything we can to maintain safety.”

Not all Florida-based importers expect to be as affected however, as is the case with Chestnut Hill Farms.

“Our farms are in Costa Rica so we don’t anticipate any supply issues, it’s just a matter of the logistics of the shipping of the fruit and delays at the port. But as far as the supply it’s not impacted at all,” said Chestnut Hill’s program sales coordinator Carlos Granda.

“The fruit that’s been packed will be in a water-locked room – we’ll just reroute around the storm, and it’s just a matter of the logistics of the ports being open to receive, and that would only right now be in Florida.”

Granda said the company actually only imported a small portion of its pineapples in Florida.

“The big majority is into the Northeast and Houston in Texas, which is not affected, so we don’t really expect a big impact at all,” he said.

“The fruit for this week has already arrived, and the next vessels are not due until after the weekend, and we expect the ports to be open by then again.

“So barring any damage from the actual storm hitting – that would be something that you can’t really tell right now – but otherwise that’s not an issue.”

Warehouse preparedness

Ocampo said another point to consider from a logistics point of view was the effects on fresh produce if power is lost in southern Florida.

“Back in 2005 when we had the last Hurricane-related event, there were areas of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area that were without power for a week,” he said.

“If you don’t have a generator, if the product is not sold quickly, inevitably it’s going to get warm, even if the coolers are closed and they try to maintain the temperature as much as they can.

“As a rule of thumb many of those facilities have generators, there might still be some that don’t….it depends on how quickly power is restored if it’s lost.”

Headline photo: www.shutterstock.com



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