PhilaPort executives bullish on coming fruit season

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PhilaPort executives bullish on coming fruit season

Fresh fruit and vegetable imports into Delaware River Valley seaports should reach an all-time high this fall and winter.

Driving the key growth are increased volume and more varied production from growers in Peru and Chile.

But since the start of the Chilean deal 50 years ago, the port has long attracted more growers from many countries because of trained expertise in handling high-value, highly perishable products.

Sean Mahoney, executive director of PhilaPort, said the river’s reputation builds with one cargo victory after the other. Thus, global fruit suppliers look at what is happening in Philadelphia and face an easy decision.

The port’s reefer container cargo has grown by an average of 12 percent since 2012.

PhilaPort is the brand used by the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, a Pennsylvania agency located in Philadelphia.

Nomenclature and statistical references for the Delaware River are complex because there are major port facilities in three neighboring states.

Thirty miles south of Philadelphia, the Port of Wilmington, Delaware, offers a huge and expanding fresh produce import trade. In Gloucester City, NJ, facing Pennsylvania from across the wide river, are massive dock and warehouse facilities owned by Holt Logistics Corp.

Countless businesses along the river and scattered throughout this sprawling metropolitan area smoothly coordinate with state and federal agencies to build their fruit business.

Mahoney credits family businesses owned by the Holt’s, Manfredi’s, Procacci’s and Kopke’s, and other families, for their investment of countless millions of dollars to boost port cold storage and other infrastructure.

Americold, Lineage, and other cold warehouses are also expanding to meet demand.

Based in Kennett Square, PA, Manfredi Cos., Inc., offers extensive cold storage space, as well as transportation, logistics, and repacking services to all Delaware Valley docks.

Third-generation Frank Manfredi, Jr., said Manfredi once focused on “filling the pie slices” to fill gaps between various shipping seasons. But production and source expansion throughout the calendar made “importing is a year-round deal now.”

Furthermore, Zach Quast, Manfredi’s business development manager, notes offshore growers are describing “significant investments” for volume growth for the next 15 years.

Quast notes that summer citrus imports historically preceded a market void before Peru filled the market. Now for Manfredi, imported citrus is in its warehouse12 months a year, creating a different approach to warehouse planning.

Peruvian fruit production has been arriving earlier and earlier into the Delaware River, with the first ships of 2022 arriving in July. Peru grapes came into the market this September as a precursor to the Chilean deal.

Grapes and blueberries are Manfredi’s largest-volume Peruvian products. Avocados rank third. Peruvian citrus and mangos are also up for the cold storage.

Moroccan Clementines arrive in the fall and winter. For this season, Manfredi awaits Moroccan growers’ projections, although they are expected to “mimic last season.”

Manfredi has recently been working with Brazil mango growers to have a new program into the Delaware River. Refrigerated containers of Brazilian grapes are to begin arriving here late this summer.    

Dominic O’Brien, PhilaPort’s senior marketing manager, notes that Brazil, South Africa’s Western Cape, North Africa, Spain, and Portugal, are all looking to increase volumes for discharge in the Delaware River.

PhilaPort on April 27 announced the maiden call of a new MSC service to the Port of Philadelphia. Running the route named “Indus 2” is the 6,730-TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) container vessel MSC Michaela.

Indus 2 embarks from Mundra, India. Subsequent calls are Nhava Sheva, India, and after the Suez Canal, there are stops in Gioia Tauro, Italy; Barcelona, Spain; Sines, Portugal; and then on to Halifax, ending at Philadelphia’s Packer Avenue Marine Terminal.

Mahoney noted at the time that PhilaPort’s Packer Avenue Terminal operator, Holt Logistics, “has really done a great job with the customer base and made Indus 2 a reality.”

Indus 2 offers opportunities for cold chain produce volume increases from Mediterranean countries. O’Brien suggested these may include frozen Egyptian vegetables and Italian gourmet meats.

For the ports of the Delaware River, Manfredi understated, “Last year was a little bit of a challenge for a lot of folks. There were warehouse space issues, with ships arriving back-to-back-to-back. We were under constant pressure.”

In 2021, most U.S. seaports saw decreased volume. Manfredi said a large percentage of their fruit trade losses were shipped to the Delaware Valley. So, despite Covid, in the past year imported fruit volumes rose in the Delaware Valley. At Manfredi and elsewhere in this region, “you throw everything you can at putting volumes up and getting product moved.

Just to have done the same volume would have been a big task, but to do this with an increase greater than any port in the nation was staggering feat. Every terminal operator, customs brokerage, drayage company - and firms like us - everyone works toward the same goal. Everyone takes ownership. Obviously, as the terminals added capacity, we had increased space for our customers. This industry has grown.”

Manfredi said the port collectively realizes that their service is ultimately geared to support growers from halfway across the world. These growers make huge leaps of faith by trusting the fruit of their labor to operators in the Delaware Valley.

He added that such trust is hard to imagine, but its existence gives a deep sense of urgency to the port community’s work.

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