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Savannah perishable volume triples on Wal-Mart rerouting
American Shipper
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Containerized perishable volume through the Port of Savannah has nearly tripled in the last year-and-a-half, with Wal-Mart shifting cargo from Florida and other importers rerouting cargo from the Northeast to the Georgia coast.

In 2015, Savannah cleared the last hurdle for special federal approval, so it could handle South American citrus fruit, grapes, blueberries, and other produce items, that has allowed agriculture importers to feed the Southeast directly without sping more time and money to route through Northeast ports. Since mid-2016, when PortFresh Logistics ed a 100,000-square-foot cold-treatment facility, the first of its kind in Georgia, chilled imports through the port have surged nearly 300 percent, to as many as 600 TEU each week, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.

“Currently, more than 90 percent of imported fruits and veges entering the US East Coast arrive via Northeast ports,” said Brian Kastick, CEO of PortFresh Logistics. “That means cargo headed to the Southeast must be trucked down, adding time and expense to the logistics supply chain.”

The perishable import market is dominated by the Port of New York and New Jersey, Delaware’s Port of Wilmington, and the Port of Philadelphia, according to data from PIERS, a sister product of within IHS. Philadelphia has seen the most growth in recent years, with its market share growing 0.2 percentage points in 2016, to 13 percent. Wilmington, with a 20.8 percent reefer market share, experienced no increase between 2015 and 2016; New York-New Jersey’s market share declined slightly from 26.66 percent in 2015 to 26.25 percent last year. Savannah ranks sixth among East Coast ports importing reefer cargo, and its share of market among the top 10 has fluctuated between 4 and 5 percent for the past five years.

Taking into account only Latin American reefer imports, Savannah has not fared as well. The port ranks seventh among East Coast ports importing reefer cargo from Latin American states.

“Essentially, most of that chilled cargo is coming to the Southeast from other ports,” Griff Lynch, GPA utive director, told “When you’re talking about speed to market with cargo like berries, or what have you, that’s a pretty far stretch to bring cargo down and over.”

The trip from the Port of Philadelphia to the Southeast, Savannah, in particular, adds another half-day to any shipment. And half days matter even more when the cargo being moved is aging and deteriorating en route, as is the case with so many fruits and veges even when properly chilled.

The reason many perishable importers choose ports farther away from their markets is two-fold: Not every port sports a cold-treatment facility that can keep fruits at the best temperature for storage and shipment, and storing and shipping perishables requires special US Department of Agriculture approval.

The Port of Savannah cleared a USDA pilot program in 2015. and shortly thereafter, PortFresh began construction on its cold treatment facility, which ed the next year. That facility, specifically designed to allow for multiple climate zones and engineered to maintain cold chain integrity, sits on 20 acres of a 182-acre site at the port. “So, there’s room for expansion,” Griff Lynch, GPA utive director, told

Wal-Mart starting storing and shipping fresh fruit — tangerines, pears, apples, and pineapples — from South America this past April. It has now become the facility’s primary user.

“In the past, Wal-Mart had gone through different ports in Florida, and Wal-Mart said they wanted to be close to our population center. They said, ‘We don’t want to import through Florida and have to transport another 1,000 miles,’” Lynch said.

Since PortFresh ed its cold-treatment facility in 2016, refrigerated cargo imports through Savannah have more than tripled, according to Lynch, up from just 100 or 200 each week a year ago to roughly 600 on a good week.

Wal-Mart was not immediately available for comment.

“That 600, that’s a high week. Right now, we’re seeing a definite spike,” Lynch said. ⍊But, we think this is going to grow. Wait, we don’t think, we know.”

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