British Airways today announced plans to invest more than £I5 million in a special freight centre at Heathrow dedicated to handling perishables such as fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers to cater for the growing British taste for fruit and veg.
Over the past three years, the volume of produce handled by the airline`s World Cargo business has grown 70 per cent to more than 50,000 tonnes a year - equivalent to around 250 million typical supermarket-sized half-pound packs of beans. British Airways now earns annual revenues of £45 million from transporting fresh produce.
Kevin Hatton, Managing Director of British Airways World Cargo, said: “Air cargo is helping to revolutionise our eating habits. We can now walk into a local supermarket on any day of the week and buy exotic fruits and vegetables that simply weren`t available a decade ago, while once-seasonal favourites are now in-store all year round.
As the growing season ends for a particular fruit or vegetables in one part of the world, it is just beginning in another. With a route network spanning over 80 countries, British Airways is working closely with growers, importers and major supermarket retailers to ensure their customers enjoy the quality and choice of fresh produce they require all year round. “That means flying produce such as salad onions, strawberries and grapes from the United States, berries and asparagus from South America, tomatoes from South Africa, baby corn and starfruits from Thailand and lettuce from Portugal.”
The new perishables centre will be temperature controlled with the ability to handle a wide range of goods including fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, meat and dairy products. It will help the airline to provide value-added services such as sorting and labelling, customs clearance, order preparation and re-packing in store trays.
Kevin Hatton added: “Our perishables customers want a robust supply system. When produce arrives in the UK, all the major retailers want to do is unload their vehicles at each store and put fresh goods onto their shelves without any further processing. We`re enabling them to do that. By reducing airport handling times, maintaining the `cool chain` environment and focusing more closely on the needs of these customers, we have helped them to increase the shelf-life of their products, improve sales and reduce wastage.”
Following a competitive tender process, the airline has appointed Saivesen Logistics to take over its specialist perishables airtight handling at Heathrow, with effect from July 3, 1998, on a five-year contract. Saivesen is already a key distributor to many leading retail organisations and a proven supplier of contract handling in the fresh and frozen food sector.