Maersk Container Industry (MCI) launches an extension of its established controlled atmosphere system to better control the ripening process for high-value, low-respiring perishables like blueberries, grapes and lychees. PBUK talks with MCI chief commercial officer, Søren Leth Johannsen, to find out more.
High value cargo like blueberries can often spoil during long sea transit times or are very costly to transport via air freight.
By effectively controlling the ripening process, the Star Cool CA+ system extends the market reach of sensitive fruit with a low-respiring level.
By adjusting carbon dioxide and oxygen levels as well as controlling temperature, the system ensures expensive cargo reaches its import destination in optimal condition without over-ripening or decaying during transit, according to Johannsen.
“Blueberries are a high value cargo, a lot of the product is flown or otherwise it’s transported in systems which are very expensive to operate, so we saw this demand and although it took us quite some time, now we there now and have been partnering with growers, shippers and so on,” he says.
“We already had a highly developed system for high respiring products like bananas and we started to hear that the container lines and the market were thinking “what about blueberries”, because transporting this fruit can be very complicated and have a lot of waste associated with it. By the time the blueberries reach the end destination, often the product may not be in good condition anymore.
“The other opportunities out there at that time we quite complicated and rather expensive. Much of the perishable product like blueberries were also being flown so we felt there was a desire to bring the fruit out of the plane and into the reefer containers – and provide a more economical solution.”
Johannsen explains that once a concept was locked down, MCI partnered with growers, and shippers to test the waters.
“With these kinds of systems, it’s not something you can do by yourself, you need to partner up with the people who are transporting the product, growing the fruit and even the ones who are putting the product into the supermarkets to see the end result.
“MCI developed the enhanced CA+ functionality in close cooperation with experts and selected shipping lines and applied data gathered from some 40,000 Star Cool CA units in operation worldwide.”
Compared to high-respiring perishables such as bananas and avocados, low-respiring perishables require a different composition of the atmosphere in the container.
How does it work?
Johannsen explains how the system creates the “right kind of environment inside the reefer box” by ensuring ideal levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen which is done at the loading port.
“When the fruit has been loaded we set our controller to the right O2 level in percentage and CO2 in percentage. Then we inject nitrogen and CO2 and once we have reached the right levels, we stop the injection and we seal off the box.
“It’s an integrated box, which is one of the very important qualifications, because it has to be airtight.
“Once the right levels have been reached, the cargo is ready to be loaded onto the vessel and then we keep monitoring it. If something goes wrong, then of course they are being monitored and can be modified. Often it’s just a matter of a little bit of respiration; the air vents are opened and we get the right amount of O2 in before closing it off again.”
Since the system for bananas was first launched in 2008, there are now approximately 40,000 CA reefers in global service, securing delivery of bananas, avocados and other high respiring fruit from the likes of South Africa, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Ecuador.
The key now is to open up the same market opportunities for low respiring fruit.
“Having solved the challenges of transporting high respiring commodities over long distance, we are now taking the system for low respiring commodities from trial to market – now is the time.
“We see a very high demand driven by the fact that people want to get the cargo out of the plane and into the containers. We also see that many of these commodities used to be shipped via traditional cargo vessels and that fleet is getting older and older so we see more and more going over to the containers.
“We needed to have a product that could actually mimic the service that you could get from a traditional reefer cargo vessel – and we have achieved that.”
One significant client of the new MCI system is Peterborough-based soft fruit farm, Lutton Farm, growers for blueberry marketers BerryWorld, while Perthshire berry growers Thomas Thomson is also taking delivery of the new system.
“We have some growers in the UK who have bought this system because they want to prolong their window where they are selling their product. Their product is grown and there is significant volumes in the market during one period of time, it’s overloaded or oversupplied.
“They have bought this system as a warehouse, as a storage facility, in order to prolong the season and thereby do not need to dump the produce in the market, they can prolong it and keep the market price stable and better.
“The UK is also an important market for us, not only in size, but as a good reference market for us in terms of the consciousness of quality and food safety as well as in terms of food waste which is high on the agenda.”