APL's reefer fleet

The growing popularity of Japanese fresh produce across Asia is creating new opportunities for reefer shipping, while a government-led initiative to increase sea exports could pose a threat to the dominance of air cargo.

Ocean carrier APL, recently acquired by CMA CGM, told The Coolstar the globalisation of Japanese food culture had helped fresh produce exports gain popularity with increasingly affluent Asian consumers.

“Japanese produce is appealing to many Asian consumers with its fine quality, exquisite taste and excellent presentation,” said Fujita Yasuhiro, head of commercial, APL Japan.

He added: “More Asian consumers have become aware of Japanese fresh produce as Japanese food exporters step up on marketing their products in overseas markets. This phenomenon is consistent with the Japanese government’s plan to double food and agriculture exports to ¥1trn by 2020.”

In response, APL recently expanded its reefer services in Japan to support exporters looking to explore markets such as Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. Current exports include strawberries, peaches, grapes and leafy vegetables.

Fujita Yasuhiro, head of commercial, APL Japan

Fujita Yasuhiro, head of commercial, APL Japan

The carrier, which has steadily increased its deployment of 40ft reefer containers, has also strengthened its technical support in Japan, offering customised reefer solutions based on shipper requirements, import protocols and the unique characteristics of each perishable cargo.

APL’s atmosphere-regulating reefer technology, SMARTcare+, allows the quality and presentation of fresh produce to be preserved over longer distances and durations than ever before, in some cases tripling the post-harvest life of certain perishables compared with conventional methods.

According to Mr Yasuhiro, this technology is providing new logistics options to exporters traditionally limited to air cargo.

“While air freight is faster, Japanese exporters with a large shipment of perishables will find sea freight with the right reefer solutions a more economical and practical option,” he said.

As an example, Mr Yasuhiro said, APL successfully shipped premium strawberries and leafy vegetables from Hakata to Hong Kong in March, and that the application of controlled-atmosphere technology “enabled these fruits and vegetables to reach Hong Kong in pristine conditions at a fraction of air freight charges.”

Following the CMA CGM acquisition, Mr Yasuhiro said APL would have access to a reefer fleet of 315,000 teu, and would continue to operate as an independent brand.

APL is currently only offering full-containerload (FCL) services to large-scale exporters. However, two major Japanese logistics companies, Nippon Express and Yusen Logistics, are teaming up to offer less-than-containerload (LCL) reefer shipments to smaller merchants. The joint-venture will begin with a regular service between Nagoya and the Taiwanese port of Keelung.

Yusen Logistics is also part of a government-led programme to boost fresh produce exports by increasing reefer shipping services, rather than air cargo.

According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Yusen, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, known as Zen-Noh, plan to increase reefer shipments of strawberries and grapes, starting with a trial to Malaysia.

In an attempt to reduce transport costs by as much as 10% of that currently spent on air cargo, the ministry plans to raise the ratio of strawberry and grape exports shipped by sea from just 0.1% and 26%, to 20% and 50%, respectively.

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