Fresh food air freight sees ‘biggest year ever’

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Chilled air freight carriers are being kept busy
Chilled air freight carriers are being kept busy

Related tags: United kingdom, Transport

IAG Cargo, the business formed between British Airways Cargo and Cargo Iberia back in April 2011, has seen a dramatic rise in its perishable chilled air freight business over the past four years as imports of fruit and vegetables from Africa and Latin America have risen.

The amount of perishable goods that IAG Cargo imports into the UK has increased by 18.5% from 54,000t in 2008/9 to 64,000t in 2012 “our biggest year ever”​, according to its manager for global products Darren Peek. Imports of fruit and vegetables from Latin America grew by 15% from 8,249t in 2010 to 9,525t in 2012 alone.

Peek puts the growth down to increasing consumer demand for year-round availability of produce and changing weather conditions in the UK. “Obviously​ [in addition], we have transhipping of perishables that go through our facility, as well as exports from the UK.”

Chilled imports

The chilled imports include flowers, meat, fish and dairy, as well as fruit and vegetables. However, fruit and veg is increasingly pre-packaged and labelled at source as shelf-ready supermarket packs. IAG's customers are freight forwarders serving wholesalers, supermarkets, food manufacturers, importers and exporters.

Around 5% (2,632t in 2012) of what IAG Cargo handles are fish and seafood exports out of the UK – primarily Scottish salmon, to destinations, including China.

“Temperature is key, but speed is becoming increasingly important and I get regular feedback from importers about the pressure they are under to deliver to supermarkets in a timely fashion,”​ said Peek. “For us, it is about supplying the solution that maximises the shelf-life in the supermarket.”

IAG Cargo’s Heathrow perishables handling centre, which has been operated by Norbert Dentressangle since 2009, has a capacity for over 140,000t/year, operates 24/7, 365 days of the year, according to Peek.

‘Only on-airport chilled facility'

The dedicated 6,410m2​ chilled handling facility “is the only on-airport chilled facility in the UK”​, said Peek. It has two blast freezers for temperature correction and X-ray facilities for security checks on exports. It serves Gatwick and Stansted airports, as well as Heathrow. It also features border inspection facilities for controlled items such as meat, fish and dairy.

IAG Cargo also operates similar dedicated perishable handling facilities at its Madrid hub.

“Air freight enables the movement of those perishable goods​ [particularly from Africa and Latin America] to market in order to meet the consumers’ need,”​ said David Shepherd, IAG Cargo’s head of commercial.

“The vast majority​ [over 80%] of our perishables move on what we call line flights – passenger flights that have spare capacity.”

Related topics: Chilled foods

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