Mobile port makes play for more poultry exports, perishables

Mobile port makes play for more poultry exports, perishables

MTC Logistics is investing about $61 million in its International Distribution Center facility at the Port of Mobile, which is due to open in 2021. Photo credit: MTC Logistics.

A new cold storage facility set to open next year at the Port of Mobile will give it the necessary capacity to handle rising poultry shipments out of the Southeast as the port looks to capitalize on growing exports of refrigerated goods from the Gulf Coast. 

MTC Logistics is investing approximately $61 million in its International Distribution Center facility, which will provide 40,000 pallet positions along with blast freezing, port drayage, and less-than-truckload (LTL) consolidation in a high-density, automated environment.

“Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia are the top three poultry-producing states in the US. So our facility will focus on poultry exports,” said Ernie Ferguson, MTC Logistics’ vice president of sales, who added that Mobile was underutilized for poultry exports out of the Southeast. “There’s so much poultry for export out of the Southeast right now.”

Imports of seafood, fruits, and vegetables, mostly all frozen, will provide a balanced supply of reefer containers and equipment to support the poultry exports, which will arrive fresh at MTC’s facility then undergo blast freezing before being exported.

From 2018 to 2019, Mobile’s reefer exports of poultry grew 43 percent to 6,149 TEU, with the five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) (2015-2019) rising 4.4 percent, according to data from PIERS, a sister product of JOC.com within IHS Markit. The port’s total reefer exports in that time grew an impressive 128 percent, to 1,362 TEU from 597 TEU.

On the inbound, Mobile saw seafood imports grow to 174 TEU from 71 TEU, with the five-year CAGR (2015-2019) rising 34.2 percent, according to PIERS.

For all US Gulf ports, total reefer exports grew 11 percent from 2018 to 2019 to 81,912 TEU. Imports grew 2 percent to 206,002 TEU.

Adjacent to APM Terminals

US Department of Agriculture inspectors will be stationed at the MTC facility for imports and exports and will be “very important in our supply chain,” Ferguson said.

On-site inspectors will facilitate the clearance of “imported meat, such as pork and beef, while all poultry exports are required to be inspected, unless it’s going to Puerto Rico or another US territory,” he said.

Ferguson noted the Port of Mobile is strategically located with strong road and rail links. “It’s a short trip to Atlanta, the Georgia area, and all throughout the Southeast,” he said. “If you want access to the distribution centers in Texas, it’s dead center. Even access to the Midwest is possible.”

The MTC facility will be located adjacent to APM Terminals. The close proximity to the terminal, yet not actually being within the port, allows easier and quicker access to the facility because a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) isn’t required outside the port’s boundary.

“This is the best of both worlds,” said Ferguson, adding that MTC’s in-house drayage company will have TWIC cards to access the port property as needed.

“We also have permits with the city and the state to max-load the containers, so there are no weight restrictions,” he said. “That allows us to drive value for our customers, especially on the protein side, because the heavier you can load, the better.”

The new facility will handle frozen food. However, Ferguson doesn’t rule out the possibility of adding a second facility with refrigerated capabilities to handle other perishables, such as craft beer and spirits.

“These facilities that we build have a really long life span, 30 to 40 years at a minimum,” he said. “And with the dynamics and population growth in the Southeast, we’re really bullish on this facility. We’re in it for the long haul.”

Contact Lara L. Sowinski at lsowinski@gmail.com.