Growth in Perishables Sector Creates Opportunity for Logistics Providers

Brad & ColinBy Colin McRae and Brad Harmon
Special to the Savannah Morning News 2015 State of the Port Maritime Section

At the recent Savannah Logistics Lunch, a sold-out crowd of more than 200 logistics professionals, business leaders, educators, and elected officials gathered to hear a panel discussion on the growth of the cold chain and perishables industry sectors in the Coastal Georgia region. Throughout the event one word came up again and again: opportunity.

Panelists Chris Logan (senior director of trade development for Georgia Ports Authority), Ross Maple (director of business strategy for Nordic Logistics and Warehousing), Lee Woodham (president of FreshPoint Atlanta), and Bo Warren (director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Agribusiness) discussed the potential increase of perishables through the Port of Savannah and what it could mean to the Savannah logistics community.

Fueling the growth in cold chain and perishables is America’s increasing appetite for fresh fruits and vegetables, which continues to expand despite limitations on availability due to local growing seasons. This year-round demand for fresh produce has created an expanding market for cold chain imports from abroad. Although it will come as no surprise that Georgia’s agricultural strength is reflected in strong frozen and perishable exports, it was a surprise to many at the Logistics Lunch to learn that most fruits and vegetables imported from South and Central America come into the United States through ports in Philadelphia and Southern Florida, where they are then trucked to destinations in the Southeast. This has resulted in a large disparity between cold chain exports and imports through the Port of Savannah. Currently, approximately 75% of the refrigerated cargo through Savannah’s Port is export and only 25% import.

The Georgia Ports Authority has been working with the USDA, CBP, and other stakeholders to reduce that disparity by creating a perishables gateway at the Savannah port. However, not yet in place are the landside operations—the refrigerated warehouses, distribution centers, transport, and other supporting providers needed to handle that cargo upon its arrival—and that is where the opportunity comes in.

There is currently a “greenfield” environment in this sector, as one panelist put it. Opportunities exist for service providers, entrepreneurs, and investors to create that landside support. This is not just an “if you build it, they will come” moment, but in fact, perishables cannot come through the Port of Savannah without the specialized infrastructure needed to preserve and protect them in transit. So perhaps it is more of an “if you do not build it, they will not come” moment.

As panelist Chris Logan put it, “it’s a wonderful time to come to Savannah with perishables on your mind.”

The Savannah Logistics Lunch is a regional, in-depth focus of the Georgia Logistics Summit, presented by the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics and HunterMaclean. Podcasts of the perishables panel and other presentations at the event can be heard at: http://bit.ly/Podcasts-SLL-2015.