In the current scenario where there is a surge in exports of cut flowers and fresh fruits, the industry, as a whole, needs a more integrated approach and global regulation similar to that in the pharmaceutical industry. This would also help with the necessary investments, says Colin Wells, global head, Specialty Vertical Perishables at Panalpina in an exclusive interview with Renjini Liza Varghese.

Export of perishable commodity form Africa is on the rise, therefore, what are the challenges pertaining to perishables handling?
Carriers need to start having a meaningful discussion with their handling agents about perishables. Many still have a reactive approach. Carriers and ground handlers, in fact, all parties including shipping agents, need to be more proactive and should be discussing the future requirements and necessary investments in order to move the business forward.

What is your take on the infrastructure for perishable handling at airports?
An investment in specialised infrastructure is required at many airports. There are not enough vacuum coolers, reefer dollies and reefer trucks for tail-to-tail transfers etc. As a forwarder, specialised in perishables, we add a lot of value for the perishables industry. Other players in the cool chain will be forced to focus more on perishables too. Aircraft manufacturers and operators, for example, should discuss more how the ground handling of perishables can be improved. The industry, as a whole, needs a more integrated approach and global regulation (similar to the pharmaceutical industry). This would also help with the necessary investments.

Give us some insights into technology adaptation in perishable cargo handling. What kind of investment is going to into technology up-gradation?
Investment in active temperature loggers has reached a peak and there are several good economical solutions now available. The ground handling agents and carriers should now embrace their use, because the widespread use of active loggers in the mass transport of low-value perishables will lead to the biggest improvement in cold chain management in many years. Active loggers will bring transparency to the whole chain, from the growers and manufacturers all the way to the customers and consumers. It also means that every partner in the chain will have to be fully accountable.

Panalpina is investing heavily in automated goods receiving facilities and focusing on bulk handling techniques. We believe air transportation of flowers and perishable foods is a long-term business opportunity with a bright future, but only if sustainable investments are made. Nevertheless, it is not solely about technology. We work closely with growers, shippers and receivers to identify hot spots where solutions need to be found. A lot can be achieved and optimised by mapping processes, identifying root causes, engaging with all stakeholders and then using available technology where necessary to improve the cool chain.

Furthermore, technology is not only limited to cargo handling. General cargo has already benefited from sophisticated optimisation tools and this kind of technology will enter the consumable markets. Better prediction of demand is one keyword. This will lead to more sustainable ordering and as a result less wastage. The younger generation is demanding fresher produce and we as an industry should do our best to deliver it sustainably. If better products make it to the shelf, then people will also pay for quality.

Panalpina recently made important acquisitions demonstrating its focus on temperature controlled supply chain segment for perishables. What’s company’s forward planning?
As part of our corporate strategy, we will continue to expand our perishables network. Acquisitions are complimentary to Panalpina’s organic growth in the perishables sector and will further strengthen our end-to-end capabilities. By 2020 we aim to be the preferred global supplier of perishables logistics, offering customers in both origin and destination countries complete end-to-end solutions on a global scale. With end-to-end solutions we can better maintain the integrity of the products which results in less wastage and claims. The success factors for this accelerated and concentrated push into perishables are the company’s global coverage and competency, dedicated perishables experts in key markets and the unique Panalpina Charter Network. Our goal is to establish a very high global standard for the services we offer to shippers and receivers of perishables.