One of Costa Rica’s largest pineapple exporters, Agricola Agromonte ships 130 containers of pineapples each week with the help of Maersk and is keen to break into new markets. The biggest obstacle to its ambition is poor infrastructure and a lack of professional logistics services. But with a new container facility in Moin, Costa Rica and its new strategy, Maersk will be able to offer customers like Agromonte a comprehensive package of new services. The pineapple express is on its way.
Since his first days in the fields, Gustavo Zamora Matamoros has learned all that he could about the science and business of pineapples. Now, ten years after transforming Agricola Agromonte into one of Costa Rica’s largest pineapple exporters, he continues to look for ways to improve and grow his business.
The main obstacle? Infrastructure and logistics.
“I feel incredibly proud when I attend conferences in Europe and hear buyers ask ‘Is the pineapple Costa Rican?’ Our pineapples have earned a reputation for quality. But to reach new markets and compete with other Latin American and Asian growers, Costa Rica needs better infrastructure and access to the big ships and the first tier trade routes,” says Matamoros
According to the 2015 Global Competitiveness Report, Costa Rica ranks 103rd out of 140 nations in terms of overall infrastructure. Similarly, its roads rank 115th and its ports 109th
When it opens, APM Terminals Moin will improve one of those numbers dramatically. The new port will open in 2018, but exporters like Matamoros say it cannot come quickly enough
Meanwhile, Maersk’s newly created Transport & Logistics division will provide customers like Agromonte with a comprehensive alternative to the fragmented, transactional services that are so common in many countries.
A gap in the market
While Agromonte ships about 130 containers of pineapples each week via Maersk – approximately 65 million pineapples a year – it mostly does so to markets in Europe and the United States and is keen to break into the Asian and African markets. The Costa Rican economy depends on exporters like Agromonte, as they make up 40% of its GDP. Besides pineapple exports (world #1), Costa Rica is among the top-10 exporters of many fresh commodities.
I feel incredibly proud when I attend conferences in Europe and hear buyers ask ‘Is the pineapple Costa Rican?’ Our pineapples have earned a reputation for quality. But to reach new markets and compete with other Latin American and Asian growers, Costa Rica needs better infrastructure and access to the big ships and first tier trade routes.
Once completed, the new Moin port will transform Costa Rica into an important trading stop for big shipping lines, providing exporters like Agromonte with direct access to the world’s busiest trade lanes in the process. Furthermore, by doubling the container storage capacity and installing modern equipment, vessel operations will also be far more efficient than they are today. According to a study carried out by QBis Consulting, the combination of all these factors will result in the reduction of trading costs by an estimated 15% on the part of exporters and importers.
Combined with the new strategy supporting a Transport and Logistics division, Kenneth Waugh, Managing Director of APM Terminals Moin sees a clear opportunity to deliver a compelling package of benefits to customers once the port opens for business.
“There is no integrated transport and logistics service provider in Costa Rica at present,” says Waugh.
“The farmers don’t have the time, or often the expertise, to analyse and optimise their supply chains. Also, the products and services that are available to them provide them with little flexibility in terms of pricing for their product, little or no brand recognition and an otherwise very limited set of advantages. In contrast, we will be able to provide our customers with a one-stop transport and logistics shop.”
Building on a strong position
In Kenya, Steve Felder, Managing Director of Maersk in the 11 Eastern African countries sees a similar need and opportunity for the new Transport & Logistics division. Over the last five years, Maersk has grown its share of the avocado export market in Kenya to 75% by pioneering avocado shipments by sea in controlled atmosphere containers. Maersk has taken market share from air carriers based on the benefits of an unbroken ‘cold chain’ – a better quality product and less waste – not to mention, much cheaper transport with a better environmental profile. Today, Maersk ships up to 1,200 containers of avocados out of Kenya each year.
“This is a niche market that is defined not by price but by service. More specifically, customers want reliability and risk management, and the fewer the number of service providers they have to deal with, the better,” says Felder.
While Agricola Agromonte is one of Costa Rica’s largest pineapple exporters, the company continues to look for ways to improve and grow its business.
He emphasises the fact that, while there is a high demand for professional, comprehensive logistics services, none of Maersk’s competitors are currently offering integrated end-to-end services.
“A lot of the logistics services are very transactional. Damco and Maersk have the ability to offer a complete package, a farm-to-door transport and logistics solution with a single invoice for the customer," says Felder. “There is nothing else like it in this market.
Stephan Grabowski, Damco’s CEO in the East Africa Area, says he expects customers will be interested – and not surprised.
“Our customers have told us on numerous occasions that they trust Maersk and Damco to deliver a consistent solution, given that we are sister companies with sound values and a customer focus.
The next phase of growth
On a clear day, one can almost get a sense of the size of Agromonte just by looking out from its offices, located just inside the entrance to the farm. But right now, it is the rainy season in Costa Rica and the rain is pouring down so heavily that Agromonte’s 1,800 hectares – approximately 2,700 football fields – are almost invisible. Four-wheel drive trucks come and go, carrying some of the more than 1,000 people that work on the farm, indicating that the work must go on.
“It takes a pineapple 14 months to reach maturity,” says Matamoros, looking out at the rain while passing one of his farm’s prized golden pineapples back and forth in his hands. “It’s an interesting business, tending to each phase of that development.”
He talks about the last ten years, how the farm has grown from just few dozen hectares in size to one of the country’s largest.
“I always knew that this is what I wanted to do. I’m very proud of what we’ve built here and I’m excited about the next ten years, and to seeing Agromonte continue to grow and improve.”