by Richard Danielson
Originally published in Tampa Bay Times on Sept 26, 2018
TAMPA — First, it was bananas.
In February, Port Tampa Bay celebrated the arrival of the first bunches to be unloaded on its docks in more than 20 years.
Now the Port Logistics Refrigerated Services warehouse at the port has received its first shipment of pineapples. They arrived Saturday aboard the M/V Juice Express, a combination juice tanker and container ship, from Chestnut Hill Farms in Costa Rica. They are headed to grocery stores in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
“This new routing provides us with excellent access to serve our customers in Florida and throughout the southeastern United States,” Chestnut Farms president Raul Romero said in a statement released through the port. “We expect this will be the first of regular, ongoing shipments.”
The warehouse is preparing to receive 20 to 30 shipping containers of pineapples every other week, Port Logistics chief operating officer Rick Sharp said Tuesday in an interview from Buenos Aires, where he was talking with lemon juice exporters about shipping to Coca-Cola through Tampa.
Between the bananas and the pineapples, the 130,000-square-foot warehouse on Hookers Point has handled a fruit salad of other produce — limes, avocados, mangos and malanga coco (similar to a yam or a potato) — from Mexico.
The warehouse, which opened in January, has 14 full-time employees but could grow to a full-time staff of 50 or 60 as inbound shipments increase. Sharp said the rising cost of trucking goods is making ocean transport look better and better by comparison. Also, Florida imports a lot of food that comes in refrigerated trucks that drive down from other states. Loading them up with produce from Latin America makes the trip back North more profitable, he said.
“We see that business getting stronger and stronger and stronger as we go,” Sharp said. “We’ve really only scratched the surface.”