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Mon 11 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Perish the thought

The growing trade of perishables from Africa to other markets around the world has created a logistical opportunity for the Middle East, explains Jack Mwaura, general manager of Swift Perishable Logistics (SPL).

Perish the thought
(Nemanja Seslija/ITP Images)
Perish the thought
(Nemanja Seslija/ITP Images)
Perish the thought
(Nemanja Seslija/ITP Images)

The growing trade of perishables from Africa to other markets around the world has created a logistical opportunity for the Middle East, explains Jack Mwaura, general manager of Swift Perishable Logistics (SPL).

The logistical headaches involved in the transportation of perishable goods have often proved troublesome for the freight forwarding community, which has traditionally grappled with the movement of highly sensitive products, such as flowers, fruit and vegetables, in a timely and cost effective manner.

The shelf life for perishables in very limited, especially in the Middle East, where the products are faced with extreme temperatures and humidity.

However, despite the unfortunate clash in supply chain demands, the situation has experienced a dramatic turnaround in recent years, with progress being heavily pushed by greater efficiencies in technology and material handling equipment, together with a better understanding about the nuances of perishable transportation within the logistics industry.

"By its very nature, the shelf life for perishable products in very limited, especially in the Middle East, where the products are faced with extreme temperatures and humidity," explains Jack Mwaura, general manager of Swift Perishable Logistics (SPL).

Ensuring a smooth supply chain, where the product reaches its final destination on time and in perfect condition, is therefore quite a complex affair and requires very specialist knowledge.

SPL, which was launched by the Dubai-based logistics player Swift Freight International, has successfully tapped into the niche market for perishable logistics, utilising the growing status of Dubai as a transit hub to move a variety of perishables from Africa to key markets throughout the world.

"We have a dedicated team with years of experience in this field and can handle the entire process, from start to finish, taking care of the storage and cool chain transportation, in addition to value-added services such as the assembly, packaging, labelling and price tagging of bouquets," says Mwaura.

"We have also established a trusted network of airline partners that we use for the transportation of perishables and we can rely on them to match the same level of quality service that customers receive from the Swift Freight family of companies," he adds.

One of the biggest challenges involved in the transportation of perishables is keeping the product safe from damage or spoilage throughout the supply chain. According to industry standards, approximately 20% of the product's value is lost during the distribution process and a range of protective measures are enforced to keep these statistics as low as possible.

In particular, the use of temperature-controlled containers has become commonplace and can be supported by sturdy cardboard packaging, insulated blankets and specially designed gel packs.
As part of SPL's niche service, customers receive an unbroken supply chain for products originating in various African countries, with a primary focus on Kenya, in addition to the likes of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Lusaka, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana.

The perishables are transported by airfreight via the company's Dubai Flower Centre headquarters onto key markets in Europe, the Far East, CIS, Australia and other countries within the Middle East.

"Statistics show that Kenya is the leading producer of flowers in the world and with a growth rate of 12% per annum, the Kenyan perishable industry is playing an important role in boosting the country's economy," says Mwaura.

"We have an enviable position in the this market for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we have enjoyed a wide presence in Africa over the past 18 years and the continent is the leading producer of perishables in the world. Secondly, our company is based in the United Arab Emirates, which also shares a symbolic relationship with countries such as Kenya, helping to further strengthen our trade in the continent.

The Middle East has only recently established itself as a stopover for perishable goods travelling from Africa to other parts of the world, thanks largely to the continued upgrading of the regional infrastructure and developments such as Dubai Flower Centre. This has created a host of benefits, according to Mwaura, including a significant reduction in the cost and time of transportation.

"In addition, by redirecting the traffic from Kenya through Dubai Flower Centre, we have encouraged the growth of alternative markets for Kenyan perishables other than Europe and addressed the transport imbalance that exists between the Middle East and Africa - Swift freighters are typically full of consumer goods from Dubai to Africa but return empty, despite the fact that Africa is a leading international producer of floriculture," he says.

The company's headquarters in Dubai Flower Centre, which is strategically located at Dubai International Airport, has played a valuable tool in SPL's rapid growth over the past few years, supporting its business model and general ethos on the marketplace.

In terms of storage, the facility has segregated storage chambers with varying temperature zones to suit the individual requirements of each product. This is supported by value-added services, such as rapid cooling and hermetically sealed bays for ethylene producing products.
The centre is also equipped with eight loading docks for full-size refrigerated trucks, which allows non-interrupted access to the domestic market or other key destinations in the Middle East.

"Each seasonal change will inevitably create challenging conditions for perishable products, including flowers.

By working in a closed-loop cool supply chain system at Dubai Flower Centre, we can ensure the right temperature from aircraft and ground handling to the climate-controlled zone. This means the products arrive on time and maintain their market value as long as possible," says Mwaura.

"Of course, this is ultimately the benefit that customers want to receive from a highly specialised service such as Swift Perishable Logistics.

We want to match the very highest international standards in perishable logistics and have joined a number of global associations, such as the Cool Chain Association and Global Perishable Logistics Group, to boost our presence and support our ambitious expansion plans for the future. It's a very exciting stage in our development.

Preserving Perishable ShipmentsThe International Air Transport Association (IATA) defines a shipment as perishable if its contents deteriorate over a given period of time if exposed to harsh environmental conditions, such as excessive temperature or humidity. Some examples of perishable shipments include flowers, seafood, dairy, meat and fruits, as well as medical and chemical products.

Perishable products may be subjected to extremes of heat or cold on the way to their destination. In addition to temperature controlled containers, you can protect your products and ensure appropriate temperature stability with careful packaging. Materials most commonly used for this purpose include insulation and refrigerants.

Insulation materials can be used to maintain products with known allowable temperature ranges (chemicals, good, medical drugs), keep products frozen (seafood, dairy products, medical specimens), minimise the effect of extreme temperature variations (plants, flowers, sensitive electronics) and prevent products from freezing (chemicals, seafood, blood specimens).

Perishable products should be packaged with enough insulation to prevent or reduce the transfer of heat through the container walls. The most common insulation materials are expanded polystyrene foam, rigid high-density polyurethane and reflecting surface material.

Refrigerants, such as dry ice, wet ice and gel packs, also keep perishable products cold or frozen.

Dry ice, which is a solid form of carbon dioxide, has a surface temperature of -109°F (-78°C) and is used to help keep products frozen. Because it can change from a solid to gas in transit, space may be created in a package, allowing the product to shift. Alternatively, wet ice can be used, although this normally requires the prior approval of freight forwarders and airlines, because of disadvantages such as weight, thawing, leaking and the need for expensive water-resistant packaging.

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