March 20, 2019

The Globalization of Fresh Produce

Written by Garret Weigel | Food Safety, Connected Facility, HACCP, Supply Chain

"In the freight industry, the year-round produce that we enjoy impacts the supply and demand for trucks, affects capacity, and freight rates as well," writes FreightWaves Market Expert Michael Crosby on their website. "Strawberries and lettuce from California, tomatoes and oranges from Florida or grapefruit and pecans from Texas definitely influence the freight markets, but there’s more than inland transportation that goes into keeping every bin stocked at the local supermarket. Seasonality impacts what fruits and vegetables are imported and when, but unpredictable extremes in the weather such as drought, flooding and hurricanes also dictate responses to the ever-growing demand."

 

Over the years, the United States and the rest of the world have exerted new-found demand for fresh produce. The ordinary staples in the diet of yesteryear are being pushed aside to include more fruits and vegetables. The demand is partially driven by dietary concerns, as fresh, unprocessed food is a healthy alternative to many foods in the standard American diet.

 

Transportation and Technology Support Global Trade

This is a worldwide movement and would not be possible without a robust and advanced transportation network that supports global trade. Namely, the refrigerated transport via ocean shipping and containerized shipments of refrigerated cargo have grown. Food can be grown overseas, then shipped somewhere that wouldn't otherwise be able to consume or enjoy these foods. We often don’t know how produce moves and where it comes from; but we rely heavily on it now and into the future.

 

supply chain visibility brochure

 

Consider the market for bananas. The average American eats about 11 pounds of bananas per year. Bananas are the most consumed fresh fruit in the United States. However, hardly any bananas are grown in this country. Most shipments originate from Central and South America. Because of the increase in demand, the Port of Tampa, Florida recently built a cold-storage facility to accommodate imports. Approximately 4,000 pallets of bananas arrive each week to that port and await transport to other areas. Previously, bananas were shipped to another port that can accommodate the shipments, such as Philadelphia, where cold-storage facilities are commonplace. But that takes an extra three days.

 

The worldwide demand for produce is increasing. About 40 years ago, imports constituted about 20% of all fresh fruits and vegetables; today it’s closer to 50%. Over the same period, vegetables were a mere 5%; today, about 35%. In 2017, we experienced the highest number of imported fruits and vegetables on record at 33.6 million tons.

 

Logistics and transportation that supports the demand has evolved. So, too, has the technology that supports this supply chain. Telematics and sensors are especially useful to maintain the quality and safety of fresh food. Additionally, supply chain technology helps shippers and carriers conform to regulatory requirements such as the Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA), other food safety regimes such as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP).

 

Produce Accessibility

Advanced transportation and logistics for the produce supply chain provide accessibility to those regions that have not previously been able to purchase fresh produce for consumption. Researchers at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana published a study that shows how access to high-quality fruits and vegetables (or lack thereof) has a strong influence on whether healthy foods actually make it to a person's dinner table. The University of Montana researchers found that rural areas without access had poorer health than those with access to fresh produce.

 

Using what they called a produce desirability tool to assess consumer desirability of fruits and vegetables, they found that the desirability is lower in the more rural areas of a place like Montana. This lower desirability was linked to lower accessibility, and shows that transportation can improve accessibility.

 

Like Montana, other areas within the United States still don't get enough of the fresh produce made available through international trade. Transportation networks within the United States, however, are improving the situation, and so is the technology that helps enable that transportation. Despite this, there's still room to grow.

 

“It turns out that the overall quality of food available in a food environment really matters. Whether or not there's access to quality fruits and vegetables in a given area affects the daily choices people are able to make about what they eat. The food choices made each day add up to a person's overall dietary quality and impacts long-term health.”

 

That trumpets the importance of the globalized trade of fruits and vegetables, and that transportation systems matter in getting fresh produce to every corner of the world.

 

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