It would be impossible to move large quantities of fresh horticultural produce halfway around the world without supply chains in which handling, storage and transport are facilitated with the quality of the products in mind.

Logistics is the part of the supply chain process that plans, implements and controls the efficient flow and storage of fresh horticultural produce, and the information related to their journey from the point of origin to the point of consumption.

Transport to move fresh produce to a desired location with minimum loss to quality and in a cost-efficient way is a vital link in the supply chain. Successful transport depends, to a large extent, on successful packing and quality packaging. As packaging has to protect fragile fresh produce from damage caused by vibration, friction and impact, it is a frontline soldier in the battle against natural deterioration.

Fresh fruit and flowers are consolidated into unit loads for transport purposes. It starts with the packing of individual bags, punnets or wrappers into cartons. The cartons are then loaded and strapped onto pallets that go into refrigerated (reefer) containers, which can be transferred to or from ships, trains and flat-bed trucks by giant cranes.

Effective logistics and technologies are critical to ensure success for the producer, the retailer and every other supply chain partner in between.

Fast facts 

  • This is how long it takes a container ship to cross from South Africa to ports in the:
    – UK: 16 to 18 days
    – EU: 18 to 22 days
    – Far East: 22 to 24 days.
  • The 12m high-cube container is the most commonly used in the fruit export industry worldwide.
  • The cost of cooling relates directly to the refrigeration unit, the type of packaging material, and how the boxes and pallets are stacked.
  • A fully loaded high-cube container weighs at least 23 tonnes.
  • Exporters cannot switch containers between shipping lines. If a container misses a particular vessel, it cannot simply be accommodated on the next available vessel.
  • Reefer containers’ cooling units are not meant to cool cargo down; only to maintain already optimal transport temperatures.
  • Containers are sealed at source and opened for the first time by the receiver at the destination market. This reduces the risk of theft and contamination.

Because export produce and cut flowers spend such a long time in refrigerated containers, the latter are rightly considered the keepers of quality and freshness. An important benefit of exporting in containers is the ability to split and transfer cargo from one ship to another (trans-shipped). For example, in a port in Spain, cargo could be trans-shipped onto feeder vessels, one of which might take the produce to Algeria, while the others could move cargo to ports in France and Italy.

The advent of containerisation in 1977 was the culmination of years of experimenting with increasingly sophisticated shipping techniques for temperature-controlled cargo. In the same year, the South African Europe Container Service (SAECS) consortium was established and contributed to the strong growth in commodity shipments.

Today several shipping lines offer dedicated containerised services from South Africa. When choosing one, the services on offer, sailing intervals, rate structure, schedule integrity, transit time to destination and the shipping line profile or culture should all be considered.

The collective supply chain is a similarly multifaceted beast. Only through a meeting of minds can solutions be optimised to achieve more efficient and cost-effective delivery of high-quality produce to the market.



  1. Industrialisation of container optimisation solutions.
    When refrigerated shipping rates shoot up by 25%, an obvious solution is to fit more fruit into a container. Is it possible? Yes. Is it easy? No.
    Read article: How to fit in more fruit


  1. Evaluation of quality losses in a South African tomato supply chain due to transportation and handling effects.
    Potholes and other road hazards are not only the bane of motorists’ lives; tomatoes, too, suffer when they are transported across rough surfaces over long distances.
    Read article:  Smoothing tomatoes’ bumpy ride to market


  1. Defining sea freight transportation conditions for Cape flora cut flower products to align with new reduced energy consumption shipping technology.
    As the preferred mode of transportation for Cape flora shifts from air to sea, the industry is looking for ways to ensure extended flower quality while simultaneously saving costs.
    Read article:  Helping Cape flora find its sea legs


  1. Establishment of proof of concept for innovative post-harvest digital quality management in the form of a smart phone and tablet APP. to assist technology transfer for fruit.
    Read article:  Technology transfer goes online



  1. Packaging of the Future: integrated model-based design and performance evaluation of packaging for the South African fresh fruit export industry.
    Boxes and cartons are more than containers in which fruit is transported. They are also the keepers of fruit quality. Their design is finally getting the attention it deserves.
    Read article: Unpacking the box
  2. The detail design and build of pallet test equipment and update of functional pallet specification.
    An innovative pallet testing device can save the South African fresh fruit industry millions of Rands and spur the development of stronger, cheaper pallets.
    Read article: When standards stack up


  1. Model-based quantification of energy utilisation and identification of strategies to improve savings and reduce wastage in the fruit cold chain.
    When a container of fruit is sealed in South Africa, there is no way of knowing what you will find when it is opened in Europe. This is set to change, thanks to the combined predictive powers of mathematical and computer modelling.
    Read article: Calculated containering
  2. Energy audits at packhouses and cold stores in the fresh fruit industry.
    Although it is impossible to arrive at a single figure, one can safely say that energy is a major input cost for the fruit export industry. It is also the cornerstone of the cold chain. The combination of keeping costs down and production up is reason enough to invest energy into energy efficiency.
    Read article: Energy well spent
  1. Energy efficient technologies and energy saving potential for cooling facilities in the fruit cold chain.
    Perfect ripening and storage are all about channelling the right amount of energy to the right equipment at the right time. Bananas are helping to shed light on these energy issues.
    Read article: Bananas light the way
  2. The development of a solar power viability model for the implementation of solar electricity generation at packhouses and cold stores.
    A new computer-based tool is helping cold store and pack house owners to look at their electricity bills through solar-tinted glasses.
    Read article: The sunny side of saving


  1. Development of Good Cold Chain Practice guide for cold chain from packhouse to shipping vessel.
    Easier said than done when you are a pear or a bunch of grapes en route from the farm to a supermarket in a foreign country. One break in the chain that holds your looks and flavour together and you could be heading for the compost heap instead of the kitchen table.
    Read article: Be cool, man!
  2. Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) promotes understanding of the storage air, fruit pulp temperatures and relative humidity in a typical South African fruit export supply chain.
    In ancient times sailors believed ships disappeared off the edge of the world when they reached the horizon. The fate of South African fruit exports was pretty similar until international research cooperation illuminated the black hole.
    Read article: Follow the fruit, find the answers


  1. Proof-of-concept for an electronic signature and document management solution.
    Paperless offices may continue to elude us, but a project initiated by Paltrack has proven that the fruit export supply chain is ready for online documents and electronic signatures.
    Read article: Sign on the digital line
  2. Developing a consolidated, continuously updated and web-accessible South African agrochemical database and Developing flexible, web-accessible search and reporting mechanisms to retrieve the stored agrochemical information.
    Thanks to Agri-Intel’s powers of systemisation, agrochemical information is no longer a confusing jumble.
    Read article: Point, click and find


  1. An international ethical standard for the South African export fruit industry.
    The local fresh fruit industry is the first in the world to benchmark its ethical practices against global standards. With an almost perfect score, our customers can proudly buy South African.
    Read article: Proudly doing the right thing
  1. The impact of post-harvest microbial dynamics on the quality and safety of fresh fruit.
    It is entirely possible that by sterilising fruit, producers It is entirely possible that by sterilising fruit, producers are killing the very organisms that can protect their produce against post-harvest diseases and decay. Talk about throwing babies out with the bathwater…
    Read article: Clean can be overkill
  2. Building post-harvest capacity in the supply chain.
    Industry advancement depends on a constant inflow of skilled and knowledgeable people. Thanks to the efforts of the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent, the fresh produce sector’s talent pipeline is growing.
    Read article: Horticulture grows its own


  1. An important message from ICMAS
  2. Building capacity in the trade chain
  3. Confronting climate change
  4. Efficient energy usage in the supply chain
  5. Improved market intelligence in the South African fresh fruit industry
  6. Movable rapid cooling has potential
  7. Packaging solutions for citrus and deciduous fruits
  8. Scrutinising South African fresh fruit export logistics
  9. Tonnage off Tar concluded
  10. Understanding the citrus value chain