Future growth in the reefer shipping trade is expecting to come from accelerating trade in exotic fruits driven by new technology, according to UK-based maritime research consultancy Drewry.
Growth over recent decades has been largely driven by soaring demand for proteins into swine flu-ravaged Asia, it said, but this trend is expected to recede as domestic pig stocks recover.
But thanks to new technology that is lengthening potential shipping distances and opening up new markets where discretionary spend is rising, trade of exotic fruits like avocados and mangos is expected to soar.
Growth in overall seaborne reefer trade has broadly matched that of dry cargo over the past 10 years, expanding at an average annual rate of 3.8%. Proteins and bananas dominate the trade, accounting for 52% of total 2019 traffic of 130.5 million tons. Exotics have become the rising star of the trade over the past 10 years.
According to Drewry’s Reefer Annual Review and Forecast 2020/21 report, seaborne trade in exotic fruits outgrew that of all other major commodity groups, rising at an average annual rate of 5%.
This has not been an overnight phenomenon as trees take years to bear commercial fruit.
While the trade in pineapples has slowed, mangos, persimmons, durians and particularly avocados have seen soaring demand. Mangos are now the second-largest exotic fruit in volume terms after pineapples, with over 1.3 million metric tons (MT) of seaborne traffic recorded in 2019 and an average annual growth rate of 5.2% over the prior 10-year period.
However, the avocado has become ubiquitous thanks to a combination of improved agriculture, new post-harvest processes and supply chain innovations that enable ready-to-eat availability for end-consumers. The discovery of the endless possibilities in markets across North America, Northern Europe and now throughout Asia is helping to fuel its growth.
Significantly, the avocado trade has most benefited from the technological advances in reefer shipping containers, particularly their improved machinery reliability and wider controlled atmosphere options, enabling the product to travel further and extend its shelf life.
However, near term some more mature exotic fruits such as pineapples will continue to experience slowing trade as they are vulnerable to the downturn in the COVID-19 ravaged food service business. But over the medium-term prospects for the exotics fruit trade remain very promising with Drewry forecasting average annual growth of more than 6% over the next four years.