Fresh Oranges, Daily
Fresh Oranges, Daily

The Logistics

of Fresh Fruit

The Logistics

of Fresh Fruit

Food logistics – how produce moves from farm to consumer – is not well-known by the public. These behind-the-scenes steps are vital to ensure quality, safety and traceability in a global food supply – notably in the case of world-popular oranges.

At dawn on Evaldo da Costa Mello’s citrus farm in Paranapuã, a small town within the São Paulo region of Brazil, you can see the fields overflowing with citrus trees. Hanging from these trees, under thick green leaves, await the multi-colored jewels that ripened overnight: Chinese Honey Oranges, Indian Sweet Limes, Sweet Oranges, Sour Oranges and even Papaya. This day, like every day from 7:00 am until 5:00 pm weekdays, the workers pick the newly fresh fruit in the scented fields. The farm’s staff – all permanent employees with well-trained eyes toward quality – are busy every season. After harvesting, sorting, storing and packaging, da Costa Mello’s farm sends out 20 million kilograms of this colorful bounty during the year.

This level of activity might be expected from a farm within Brazil’s “Citrus Belt,” composed largely of São Paulo. Brazil, overall, is the world’s largest single producer of oranges, providing more than one-third of the world’s fresh fruit supply and half of the world’s orange juice supply. 80 percent of these oranges come from the Brazilian “Citrus Belt” region. To accomplish this level of production, there are a number of steps that these farms have to take to ensure quality.

Evaldo da Costa Mello, citrus farmer in Paranapuã, a small town within the São Paulo region of Brazil

Fresh orange production in selected countries

Source: Foreign Agricultural Service/USDA, July 2016

A Citrus Farmer: Creating Consistent Quality

At da Costa Mello’s citrus farm, after employees pick the fruit, it’s carried to the packing house. The fruit harvested on a Monday, for example, is processed on Wednesday – it is purposely left to sit a few days in order to reveal any possible damage, so it can be removed.

Quality check at da Costa de Mello’s citrus farm: Inside the farm’s packing house, employees prepare the non-damaged fruit for shipping, so it is well-protected and can leave promptly.

Meanwhile, the farm’s packing house prepares the non-damaged fruit to leave promptly and securely. The time between harvest and arrival at CEAGE-SP, South America’s largest central fruit and flower market, is only two to five days, including travel time. Maintaining quality is a major priority, da Costa Mello explains: “After the fruit is harvested and taken to the packing house, it is washed and dried. A carnauba-based (palm leaf) wax – for gloss and durability – as well as a preventive fungicide are applied.” Damaged fruit is removed and sent to the juice industry, for juice extraction.


million tons of oranges are produced annually. Nearly half of this production is processed into juice. Source: FAO

Da Costa Mello supports his business by having professional guidance: “We have a consultant, and there is the team at the farm, comprised of an agronomist and technicians, who monitor production.” To get products from the citrus fields to the first marketplace, there are always challenges: for a citrus farmer like da Costa Mello, maintaining the quality of his delicate prizes is a constant priority.

The Orange Exporter: Managing Orange Safety

500 kilometers southeast of Paranapuã is the Alfa Citrus farm and export company. For its owner, 59 year-old Pedro Luiz Favero, and the staff, food safety is a primary concern – as well as the safety of farm workers: in order to ensure sanitation, personal protective equipment is inspected, harvested material is disinfected and all harvest material is separated according to the property it came from. “This avoids bacteria-contaminated material from being loaded,” says Favero.

Favero explains that the fruit is harvested during the day and processed over the following days; like Edvaldo da Costa Mello, Pedro Favero also holds over the fruit in order to inspect it. Harvested fruits are put into boxes, palletized and then moved to the packing house. “This step is necessary because it preserves the fruits and keeps quality from being compromised,” Favero adds. “Over the year, we process around 1.5 million 40 kilogram boxes. 95 percent of the fruit we market is produced at our company's own farms.” 

All day long, Favero has an eye on food safety, given his work with multiple large retail distribution networks. “We oblige ourselves to supply products that meet food safety standards. Chemical analysis reports are issued by the major networks, and our company is audited to make sure we are within the required standards.”

To achieve this level of food safety, the entire process is a carefully-timed choreography. In no more than 24 hours, harvested fruit arrives at the packing house, says Favero: “After the processing and packaging process, the fruit reaches its destination four hours to 15 days later, depending on where consumption will take place, since we supply the entire country.” For farmer-exporters like Alfa Citrus, knowing when and how to move the fruit keeps it safe for retail customers and public consumers.

The Food Logistics Manager – Directing the Overall Orchestra

One ocean and almost 10,000 kilometers away from the Brazil citrus farms are the headquarters of DHL Freight, a corporate division of the Deutsche Post DHL Group in Bonn, Germany, a worldwide leading postal and logistics company. Andreas Lenz is the manager of DHL FoodLogistics. He guides the flow of food across Europe and throughout the world. This means he and his team may, literally, be anywhere they are needed.

Over the year, we process around 1.5 million 40 kilogram boxes. 95 percent of the fruit we market is produced at our company's own farms.

Pedro Luiz Favero, Alfa Citrus farm and export company in Paranapuã
The five hour time difference between Brazil and Germany is an advantage: While the farms of Brazil are still asleep, Lenz keeps the fruit moving, overseeing all of the logistics steps that ensure consumers have oranges and all other foods in their markets as quickly as possible. At the same time, he aims to save transportation resources and energy: “With an eye on logistics timing, the less food we waste. We do our part to ensure that the world is fed sustainably.”

Lenz has expert knowledge of food producers and their key markets. As an example, he explains that for European consumers, Spain, Turkey, and Egypt are the main suppliers of whole oranges, whereas Brazil is main supplier of orange juice concentrate, NFC (non-frozen concentrate). For Lenz and his team to get these oranges and NFC to their markets – or to markets anywhere in the world - careful advance planning is the key. 

About six to eight weeks before products arrive on the market or at an additional processor, customers (such as farmers or exporters), the shippers and the recipients (such as major food chains) make a coordinated plan with Lenz. Considerations include shipping volumes, quantity and the type of product. In the case of oranges and NFC, Lenz and his team have to understand the farming harvest periods throughout the world - as well as seasonal consumer demands – so that the transportation process is precise.

Portrait Lenz

With an eye on logistics timing, the less food we waste. We do our part to ensure that the world is fed sustainably.

Andreas Lenz, manager, DHL FoodLogistics

Did you know?

Lenz also maintains expertise in the regulations of international import and export of live foods. With laws varying by country, a logistics company has to understand how transportation timing will affect food quality. Lenz and his food logistics team must also monitor if something falters in the transportation chain: “Every extra day longer in the transport process ultimately shortens the product’s shelf-life.”

A fruitful treat: Oranges are a popular choice for shoppers, worldwide.

Transporting solid oranges has additional special considerations: “Unlike bananas, oranges are harvested when they are ripe. But they cannot be overripe because they will not survive transport.” Oranges originating within Europe are predominantly sent to European consumers via trucks. Intercontinental transport like – South America to Europe or between Europe and Asia – is primarily based on sea transport, which is more economical than air freight: “The key is that the product is prepared properly, so that it can withstand transport time by sea.”

No two days are alike for Lenz and his team; their tasks range from joint farm visits with customers all the way through making sure that the same fruit arrives safely at a market – anywhere in the world. Overall, DHL FoodLogistics manages separate parts or the entire logistics chain for customers. The public, Lenz adds, is unlikely to be aware of this specialized division within the company. “And many people are under the impression that logistics is done by pressing a button. With the example of citrus, we can see that every case is special.” 

Lenz takes pride in his role in the fruit logistics chain – not the least of which is due to the end result: “We provide high quality care at every step, so that food is available at acceptable prices for consumers. In the end, the oranges are available – and customers are supported at every step along the way.”

Not long from now, Andreas Lenz will end his working day; meanwhile, the farmers and exporters in Brazil’s Citrus Belt will still be picking, sorting and packing. Oranges are being sent from ports, airports and highways, and the transport process is being monitored. In every hour, somewhere in the world, another step in the logistics process continues – and quality oranges keep coming safely to our markets.

The key is that the product is prepared properly, so that it can withstand transport time by sea. 

Andreas Lenz, manager, DHL FoodLogistics

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