For Full Story: The Produce News

Article By: Rand Green


Cargo at the Port Tampa Bay

In the aggregate, PortMiami and nearby Port Everglades may be the busiest ports in Florida. A significant volume of produce arriving by ocean vessel to the southeastern United States from Central and South America is offloaded at those ports.

However, a new state-of-the-art refrigerated terminal that opened earlier this year in port Tampa Bay, half way up Florida’s Gulf Coast, may offer some strategic advantages for produce shipments destined for markets or distribution centers in the Southeast, and particularly those along the thriving, populous I-4 corridor of central Florida.

Port Tampa Bay, the new 135,000-square-foot warehouse, operated by Port Logistics Refrigerated Services, received its first shipment of perishable products in mid-February, consisting of more than 3,900 pallets of Chiquita bananas from Ecuador delivered by the CoolCarriers container ship MV Wild Lotus.

At the time, Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay chief executive officer, said, “This is an important milestone for port Tampa Bay and our strategic partnership with Port Logistics Refrigerated Services by offering a new cold supply chain solution to customers in Florida, the Southeast and beyond. It enables us to provide significant savings in their truck delivery costs.”

Added Manrique Bermudez, logistics director for Chiquita Brands International, “Chiquita is very pleased with this first shipment of bananas through port Tampa Bay as a new entry port for the distribution of our fresh fruit into the continental U.S. market.”

Since the arrival of the first shipment of bananas, “we have received mangos, limes, avocados and malanga coco,” largely from Mexico, said Rick Sharp, chief operating officer of Port Logistics Refrigerated Services. He expected pineapples from Costa Rica in the near future.

Talking about the strategic advantages of Port Tampa Bay, Sharp said that the I-4 corridor, which runs across central Florida from the Tampa-St. Petersburg area through Orlando to Daytona Beach, is “the second-largest growing area in the United States,” with a population of about 20 million people. “We also have upward of 80-85 million tourists a year that come through the I-4 corridor,” he added.

There are about 20 million square feet of distribution centers and e-commerce fulfillment centers, including Walmart and Amazon, within an hour-and-a-half drive of the port, Sharp said.

Truckers can drive from Tampa to Charlotte, NC, or Atlanta within the U.S. Department of Transportation-mandated 11-hour hours-of-service window, which no longer can be done out of Miami. “So strategically, we think we are in a good spot,” he said. “We need some of the carriers to recognize where we are and what we can do in terms of proximity to markets and distribution centers.”

The facility is also in close proximity to Florida’s principle growing areas, which is advantageous for outbound cargo.

Sharp said the PLRS facility has 6,324 “gravity-fed rack positions. Our racking system is not the standard three high or four high, three deep or four deep push-back type.” Rather, it consists of 86-foot-long gently sloped tracks, with rollers and brakes. Pallets are discharged two at a time onto the higher end of the rack, and they roll down slowly toward the other end, up to 23 pallets deep. “The first pallet takes about a minute 45 seconds to go that 85-foot distance.” The system assures a first-in, first-out rotation of inventory, he explained.

But there is much more to the facility than cold storage. “We have a fumigation building that is separate from the actual storage facility,” Sharp said. “We are able to do fumigation up to about 220 pallets, or basically 11 container loads at a time.” The room is outfitted with high-speed fans that enable air changes in less than four minutes. The fumigation room has its own refrigeration unit so that product can be fumigated at optimum temperature and then brought down to the desired storage temperature rapidly.

In all, “we have eight different areas where we can control the temperature of products,” he said. They are the fumigation building, two separate loading docks, and five rooms for storage.

“We also have one room that can be dedicated to a ripening room for bananas or avocados or plantains,” he said. “Currently, we have not put the infrastructure in to do the ripening. We are looking for a partner that wants to take advantage of the very significant savings to be able to do ripening right on the port, versus having to transload it one or two hundred miles to be ripened.”