Freight to Plate: From couriers to crustaceans

Couriers_to_crustaceansIt’s difficult enough to maintain the freshness of perishables like salmon during a trans-ocean journey – just imagine how much harder it is when the air cargo destined for dinner that evening is still alive. That’s the task undertaken by Canada-based KF Aerospace, which has recently reinvented itself as a part-time lobster wrangler.

Formerly known as Kelowna Flight¬craft, the carrier had been Canada’s largest cargo operator, with a longtime contract to provide overnight express service for Purolator and Canada Post. Last year, however, the company lost the contract to Cargojet, forcing Kelowna to find new business in the general cargo market for its DC-10-30 and 727 freighters. This year, it struck paydirt with an agreement to airlift live lobsters from Moncton, Canada, to Brussels Airport, in Belgium.

If it seems strange that the renamed KF Aerospace went into the seafood business, there was a little serendipity involved. “We were at a show in South Korea when we happened to stumble upon the Brussels Airport booth,” said Bryan Akerstream, the carrier’s senior manager, business development. KF soon learned that there was a growing demand for the Canadian delicacies. “So we started talking with a bunch of forwarders in the Asian and North Atlantic countries about lobsters and other cargo.”

Since May 30, Toronto-based KF has flown one of its DC-10-30Fs four times per week between Toronto and Europe by way of Moncton and Brussels. “We’re very excited to have landed the lobsters, but the market has been a little flat,” Akerstream admit¬ted. KF had expected that about 20 of the 68 tonnes of DC-10 capacity would be lobsters for each flight. “So far it’s been more like 15 to 20 tonnes,” he said. “But there is a consistent weekly volume and it continues to grow. It’s a pretty decent-yield product.”

Although they spend their lives completely in the ocean, lobsters can live out of water for a surprisingly long time – as much as 12 hours at a time, Akerstream said, as long as they are in a relatively moist environment. The containers are also stored in the lower forward compartments of the DC-10, where it’s easier to maintain the neces¬sary 2° to 8°C temperature. “Ours is a six-hour direct flight, which is about as good as you can get going to Europe,” he said.

Most of the lobsters are harvested off the coast of Nova Scotia and sent in reefer trucks to a cool-chain facility in Moncton. Shipments must be ready five hours before push-back, so with the two-hour drive to Moncton and the six hour flight to Brussels, plus a few stops to “rest” the lobsters on the way, the tasty cargo can go from the bottom of the Atlantic to a European market in less than 18 hours.

Loads coming back to Canada are “not where we thought they’d be,” Akerstream said, but the situation is slowly improving. So far, most of the ex- Brussels shipments have been industrial freight, general cargo, vehicle parts and fashion industry products. KF also plans to expand the lobster shipments within the next two months to add routes through Calgary, Vancouver and An¬chorage to reach Asian markets.

Any new live cargo options on the horizon? “Tiny baby eels from Moncton,” he added.

FOOD HOME | Clearing the air for freshness

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