The South African berry surge: How IAG Cargo supported customers to keep their cargo moving during sea freight disruption

In the second half of 2022, the berry surge in South Africa hit unexpectedly after sea freight disruption affected the region. As a result, berries ready for shipping came to a standstill. IAG Cargo, the berry growers, and customers worked together quickly to move them from Johannesburg and Cape Town to London Heathrow. Cayley Buyskes, Area Commercial Manager of Southern and Western Africa at IAG Cargo, explains how we collaborated with growers and freight forwarders to avoid wastage. 

Tell us what happened when the disruption started.

IAG Cargo didn’t have any warning and the berry farmers only heard rumours of the disruption the day before it happened. Within 24 hours, nothing could be sent by sea freight. The ready to ship fruit in their containers at freight forwarders or in warehouses had to be sold locally or redirected to IAG Cargo.

What were the challenges in moving the berries from sea freight to airfreight?

We supported the berry customers to find solutions in Cape Town. One challenge was the berries were packed for sea freight, which has a bigger height limit than airfreight- but with IAG Cargo being no stranger to these types of challenges, with excellent communication across our teams, with the growers and our customers, the berries reached UK shelves in pristine condition.

A380 at Johannesburg Airport

How does the transport process work from start to finish? 

Blackberries and raspberries have a very short shelf life, so growers pick and pack them on the same day for transportation to the freight forwarder. Then, they go into cold room storage facilities and are flown out the next day. It must be done as quickly as possible at a maintained cool temperature. Blueberries have a slightly longer shelf life, so, after they’re picked, packed and sent to the freight forwarder, they’re allocated either sea freight or airfreight within seven days. 

How do you transport the berries quickly and efficiently throughout the year?

On average, we can get berries from harvest to consumer in three days. To do this, the whole logistical chain has to be in place. The growers, freight handlers and IAG Cargo have great relationships – we’ve been doing this together for years. 

Has there been any changes in the berry market over recent years?

Usually, our blueberries travel between September and December, whereas raspberries and blackberries travel between mid-November to about March. But over the years, those periods are growing longer as the berry customers get bigger. Around four or five years ago, our season only started around mid-October and finished at the end of February. 

Which cities in South Africa and West Africa does IAG Cargo support?

In South Africa: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London. We also support the areas around South Africa, including Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. For West Africa: Accra, Lagos, Abuja, Dakar. All of the flights (other than Dakar) terminate in the UK and continue from there. 

From the UK, IAG Cargo’s network can transport cargo further afield across the Atlantic to Asia Pacific.

What other popular produce do you export from the area? 

We move a lot of prepared fruit salad, stone fruit and mini vegetables out of both South Africa and West Africa. Also, a lot of yams and flowers from West Africa.

We know how to keep everything running smoothly. Berries are extremely perishable products and require extra care. The team has knowledge of the procedure from start to finish, how to pack the produce and what constant temperature is needed. It all comes down to working with reliable partners. 

What are the differences between the regions? 

They’re very similar in terms of produce, but the main difference is that the peak and low seasons are at completely different times. There is also a lot more produce that comes from South Africa compared to West Africa. Generally, most of the shipments out of the West are fruit salads. 

How many flights with fresh produce does IAG Cargo complete out of South Africa and West Africa? 

Out of West Africa, we’ve got daily flights from Accra, Lagos and Abuja. Out of South Africa, we have two from Johannesburg, plus two from Cape Town seasonally and a third out of Cape Town three times a week. So, in our peak season, that’s around 52 flights a week across both regions. 

Why is IAG Cargo essential in transporting fresh produce? 

We are the key perishable air cargo carrier because we go directly into the UK and we have the most capacity out of South Africa. We have the capability to optimise the shelf life of produce via our Constant Fresh service, ensuring perishable products are delivered from harvest to supermarket shelves in peak condition, all in the same day.

Another factor is that we hugely value the long-term relationships we have with our freight forwarders and shippers. We are always on hand to deal with unforeseen circumstances and we have the capacity on our network to keep cargo moving and supermarket shelves stocked.

Find out more about our Constant Fresh service here