Freight to Plate: Demand ripens in fresh-food cargo market

Freight_to_plateOn an unseasonably hot 90°F day in Seattle, pallets sat prepared inside the comfortable, chilly air of Alaska Air Cargo’s recently expanded cool-chain facility at SeaTac Airport. A 737-400 freighter had arrived earlier from Anchorage to unload its bounty: freshly caught Pacific salmon straight from Alaska’s waters. Crews had quickly sent the fresh fish on its way via reefer trucks or connecting flights to various seafood distributors around the country.

Now the floor was readied with neatly arranged pallets full of fresh produce, herbs and other grocer­ies from the Lower 48 for processing and immediate storage in the cool­ers. These shipments would then be loaded on a morning 737-400 combi, informally called the daily “Milk Run” flight, heading back to Alaska. The flight is named for its short hops into small towns along the way, such as Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ju­neau and Yakutat – all located in the rugged Alaska panhandle, with little access to local produce and virtually inaccessible by anything but airplane and boat. Roughly 50,000 pounds of dairy products, meats, poultry, fruits and vegetables per day are shipped in Alaska’s cargo holds. More than daily flights, the Milk Run, and many other Alaska flights, are lifelines to the com­munities they serve.

“Walk through any produce aisle in Alaska’s communities,” said Betsy Bacon, managing director of Alaska Air Cargo. “We probably got a large percentage of it there in our planes.”

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