Continental Fresh seeks protection for high-value mangos from Mexico
Mangos are a popular fruit commodity in the U.S., with sales having increased 12% over the past year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 65 percent of mangos consumed in the U.S. are imported from Mexico. For Continental Fresh, a Miami-based produce importer that operates a warehouse in Edinburg, Texas, mango is their main commodity. The company runs a year-round mango distribution operation from this location, dealing with peak volumes during the growing season from March to September.
Continental Fresh specializes in imports from Latin America to retail, food service and wholesale customers in the U.S. market. The company receives fresh truckloads of mangos at its Texas warehouse and then distributes them to customers throughout continental U.S.
Alberto Perez, Continental Fresh CEO, leads an expert quality control (QC) team of produce specialists who are committed to delivering fresh produce — providing communication, and ensuring buyer satisfaction. From the moment they purchase mangos free on board (FOB) from various growers throughout Mexico, the onus is on the QC team to ensure freshness and quality.
According to Perez, maximizing mango freshness requires tracking shipping locations and arrival times while maintaining consistent refrigerated container temperatures between 48–50 °F. “It’s very important for mangos to stay within this temperature range during shipping,” he says.
Depending on the Mexican grower’s location, mango shipments can take up to four days to travel to the Texas warehouse — with load values that can reach $25,000. But these shipments can be fraught with many potential challenges that put freshness, quality and customer satisfaction in harm’s way, including:
- Drivers turning off refrigeration to save fuel
- Trucks deviating from established routes
- Stolen or tampered-with cargo
- Border inspections holding up or delaying deliveries
Once the produce arrives in Texas, it has essentially only finished the first leg of its journey. Next, it must be distributed to Continental’s retail and wholesale customers throughout the U.S., where they are subject to many of the same in-transit quality risks.
For the first 10 years of its operation, the QC team relied mainly on pulp temperatures and visual inspections to check mango quality. But without proper tracking devices — that have location software, temperature monitoring and security sensors — Perez says that his team had been working with limited information.
“We were unable to tell if temperatures had been altered during transport or see where shipments were in real time,” he says.
What’s more, if shipments were rejected or insurance claims filed, the Continental Fresh team lacked the data insights to properly identify the root causes or protect themselves from taking a loss.
Implementing a real-time tracking and temperature monitoring program
Knowing that Continental Fresh needed to upgrade its QC capabilities, Perez reached out to the cargo tracking specialists at Copeland (formerly Emerson’s Climate Technologies business). The robust solution utilizes Copeland’s* GO real-time 4G/5G trackers with temperature monitoring, humidity, and light detection sensors — plus built-in integration with its web-based Oversight software platform.
Perez explains that both import and domestic shipments are now equipped with Copeland tracking devices, which feed into Oversight to provide real-time visibility to shipment locations and temperatures. The devices also provide a recorded history of the data captured with each shipment, which the QC team can access and share with other stakeholders as needed.
Since the implementation of the monitoring and tracking solution in 2019, Perez says Continental Fresh has been able to significantly upgrade service levels to its U.S. customers. Among the most important benefits is their ability to check estimated times of arrival (ETAs) and let their customers know when mangos will be delivered.
“Now we have the ability to help our customers make decisions by providing an accurate ETA and giving them the confidence in knowing their shipment is on its way,” he says, adding that he can even send screenshots from Oversight to provide proof of a shipment’s current location.
The QC team can also see when temperatures are drifting outside the specified range, and quickly contact the drivers or their trucking companies to correct the issue.
An insurance policy that pays dividends
In terms of the overall impact of the tracking and temperature monitoring program, Perez explains that it has “been an incredible improvement to Continental Fresh’s business.” The QC team can check the pulp temperatures when a shipment is loaded and then validate that the perishable produce stays within the specified range throughout the cold chain journey to customers.
Perez says that every year, there are a few instances where the trackers have saved them money and protected their reputation. He recalled one high-value shipment where a $25,000 load of mangos traveled for four days through Mexico to the warehouse in Texas. Although the fruit arrived at the correct temperatures, it had the appearance of ripening much more than was typically expected.
“When we reviewed the tracker’s shipment record, we could see that the driver’s refrigeration unit had been broken for 36 hours, allowing the temperature to rise above 70 °F,” he says.
Then the shipment record showed that the driver turned the refrigeration temperature down to 36 °F for the last day prior to arriving in Texas, in order to pull the mangos’ temperature back down to 49 °F.
“Without the Copeland tracker, we would never have discovered the ordeal the fruit had been through,” he notes. “This was a clear-cut error by the trucking company, and we were paid in full.”
In addition to protecting mango shipments from Mexico to the U.S., Perez says that the company has integrated Copeland GO real-time trackers when shipping various types of fresh produce — from multiple countries and in numerous points of entry.