Port of Corpus Christi Receives First Imported Produce Load

Apples from New Zealand recently arrived at the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, representing a victory in the port's ongoing diversification efforts, as well as fresher product for HEB supermarkets. It was the first imported produce load ever received at the petroleum-dependent port.

“The ship arrived about 7 pm Friday, August 10, and about 25 longshoremen finished unloading 325 pallets of chilled apples by 11pm,” says Ed Altemus, the port's director of trade development. “The next day they unloaded 500 pallets of frozen meat. Everything went smoothly.”

In 2000, the port opened a 100,000-sq-ft refrigerated warehouse, anticipating an expansion of the refrigerated market. The warehouse is leased and operated by Berkshire Cold Storage. “We did quite a bit of market research for this facility,” Altemus says. “We concluded that there's a good market for on-dock cold storage for exports of beef, pork, poultry, and fruit, and imports of frozen vegetables.”

Prior to the apple shipment, the warehouse was receiving New Zealand meat and other frozen and chilled commodities. The August 10 shipment included more than 16,000 cartons of Braeburn, Fuji, and Pacific Rose apples. They were off-loaded from the M/V Columbia.

In the past, New Zealand apples were shipped to the Port of Wilmington, Delaware, and then trucked straight to Texas, says Dave Nelley, apple and pear category manager for the David Oppenheimer Group. The group distributes Enza New Zealand apples in North America. “With the addition of Corpus Christi's new chill facility, Texans can enjoy the freshest possible apples shipped directly to them,” Nelley says. “HEB will carry most of the apples. It was instrumental in stepping up to preorder fruit, allowing us to use the new warehouse.”

Oppenheimer worked with Kyokuyo Shipping Company of Japan to move apples to Corpus Christi, as it previously had worked with Kyokuyo to ship apples to Wilmington. In May, Kyokuyo designated Corpus Christi as the preferred US port on the Gulf of Mexico for refrigerated cargo. The M/V Columbia is the third vessel to call since then.

H E Butt Grocery Company, based in San Antonio, Texas, sources food from around the world, says Debbie Lindsey-Opel, director of public affairs and advertising for the Gulf Coast Region. HEB has teamed up with the Corpus Christi port on other initiatives, she adds, including transportation of produce from the Rio Grande Valley.

HEB also stores turkeys and bread products at the refrigerated warehouse. In November 2001, the facility will be used as a hub for turkey distribution to nearly all HEB stores in Texas.

The Berkshire Cold Storage facility has a 33-ft-high ceiling and three rooms, including two that are convertible for frozen or chilled product. The largest cold room has two blast freezers. Storage capacity is 11,000 pallets, stacked five high in racks. The warehouse has enclosed temperature-controlled rail and truck docks. The truck apron has 12 doors equipped with dock levelers. Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Texas Mexican Railway provide service to the rail siding.

The ship dock is less than 60 feet from the warehouse and is located in the port's foreign trade zone. The warehouse has United States Department of Agriculture approval for export and ID service and for import inspection. It is customs bonded.

“The port is working to position itself as a reefer gateway on the Gulf of Mexico, especially from South America,” Altemus says. “It is cost-effective to transport refrigerated product through the Panama Canal for eventual trucking from Corpus Christi to California and the Pacific Northwest.”

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