The Port of Virginia's Norfolk Terminal is clucking over the taste of poultry.

The Virginia Ports Authority and its operating affiliate, Virginia International Terminals, opened the first refrigerated storage facility there in September.Richard Knapp, VIT's general manager, expects the facility to meet or exceed the projected 90,000-ton goal for this year, most of which is destined for Eastern Europe.

The $7.5 million, 80,000-square-foot facility was funded by VIT for exclusive use by Perdue Farms Inc.

''This project is a win/win for everyone involved,'' said Carlos Ayala, Perdue's director of international operations. ''VIT has done a fantastic job to ensure our quality commitment to the international marketplace.''

The facility is capable of holding 8,500 tons of product, much of which had previously been handled by the Port of Morehead City in North Carolina, where the chicken was transferred directly from refrigerated trucks to ships.

The logistical challenge for operations at Morehead City came when coordinating the 300 to 400 truckloads necessary to fill a ship with a capacity of 7,500 tons. While Morehead City continues to handle some of Perdue's export business, 20 truckloads of chicken a day roll through VIT's new facility, where the product is stored during the three-week interval between ship calls.

David Wible, president of T. Parker Host Inc., the shipping agency that charters all vessels using the terminal, said that it is an excellent example of Virginia's ''aggressive nature'' in forging new territory.

Mr. Knapp said VIT might eventually expand the facility to handle fruit.

For 20 years, the Port of Philadelphia and Camden has been the East Coast's consistent leader in the perishables market.

Uwe Shulz of the Philadelphia Marine Trade Association cited cooperative labor and warehouse availability as key factors in attracting reefer business. Mr. Shulz also said that Del Monte, one of the port's largest customers, had increased its vessel calls to two a week and will expand its facilities within the year.

Del Monte, a fixture at the Broadway Terminal in Camden since 1988, will increase its facility space by 75,000 square feet.

Some 400,000 tons of fresh fruit were handled at the facility in 1997 with 10 percent annual increases anticipated through the year 2000. Del Monte has nearly tripled its overall tonnage in nine years at the present facility.

Joseph A. Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp., said the facility would be the ''Cadillac of reefer storage warehouses.'' The port will break ground for the project next month and warehouse completion is expected by mid-October of this year.

Philadelphia makes history

Philadelphia made history in September by receiving the first shipment of Argentine beef to enter the United States in 67 years.

Bob Blackburn, a marketing official in Philadelphia, said refrigerated cargo continues to be a ''real growth market for us,'' and cited increased banana imports and rising trade with Chile.

Down the river from Philadelphia the small, but successful, Port of Wilmington, Del., processes approximately 1.3 million tons of refrigerated cargo annually.

''The facility and service are the best on the East Coast,'' said Norman Barao, director of operations for Suma Fruit Inc. ''Fumigating and storing our fruit in the same facility means less damage and a higher-quality product.''

Suma has been using the Wilmington site for six of the 10 years it has been importing fruit from South America.

Wilmington boasts 600,000 square feet of dockside refrigerated storage. Both Dole and Chiquita make the port their primary load center on the U.S. east coast.

Lisa Dyer, spokeswoman for the Port of Wilmington, said temperatures are maintained from shipside to dockside at levels that can halt the aging process of the fruit.

One satisfied customer is the New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board, which signed a three-year contract on April 29 covering the shipping, handling and distribution of New Zealand ENZA-brand apples and pears through the port. The board has been shipping apples and pears through the port since 1984.


The North Carolina State Ports Authority carved a niche in the cold storage market as well.

For six fruit import seasons its Port of Wilmington has been an important distribution hub for Unifrutti of America Inc., which ships fruit from Chile.

Andy Economou, general manager of Unifrutti, said that his company receives excellent service from Wilmington, N.C.

''North Carolina built a cold storage facility specifically for us and our on-going relationship is very productive,'' he said.

Tax incentives, given by the state to North Carolina businesses utilizing the port, has attracted the business of major supermarket chains. This, also, has encouraged Unifrutti to remain with North Carolina as a major distribution hub.


In another twist, Burris Foods Inc., a frozen-food processor located 133 miles from the Port of Morehead City in North Carolina, offers a unique service to poultry exporters.

Burris freezes the product on-site and trucks it to the port in ''freezer shuttles.''

Refrigerated trailers are trucked to the port, then deposited in specifically assigned spaces in the terminal. The truck leaves the trailer and returns to the main facility while the trailer waits to be unloaded onto the ship.

Bud Johnson, export logistics director for Burris, which acts as a middleman and has 54 refrigerated trailers, said customers are thrilled with the system because it can save 36 to 48 hours.

Overall cost savings to shippers, vessels and truck range from $3,500 to $8,000, depending on the shipment.

Further north, Howland Hook Marine Terminal at the Port of New York & New Jersey is the site of a new refrigerated storage facility being built for Ecuadorian Lines, which outgrew its 9,000-square-foot facility in Port Newark.

The 60,000-square-foot facility will cost approximately $6 million. Warehouse completion is expected sometime this fall.

Gary Whyte, manager of Ecuadorian Lines in New York-New Jersey, believes it dominates the area's refrigerated cargo market with nearly 65 containers and 4,000 pallets a week of product.

Ed Harrison, marketing manager for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, said it will be taking a more active strategy aimed at the winter fruit market, particularly from Chile.

The former Ecuadorian Lines facility at Port Newark was filled almost immediately with bananas from another importer. Mr. Harrison expects New York-New Jersey will continue to attract more of that business in the future.