Make us your home page
Instagram

Port Tampa Bay pines for Latin America's pineapples

TAMPA — There's a great future in pineapples, or so the Tampa Port Authority hopes.

The port hosted the International Pineapple Organization's second annual Global Pineapple Conference this past week.

Industry players — growers, importers, producers and shippers — gathered in Tampa to hobnob at the Columbia Restaurant and listen to serious discussions about, of course, pineapples.

They also got a boat tour of Port Tampa Bay.

The port bills itself as the closest full-service U.S. port to the Panama Canal and Central and South America.

That's where most of the pineapples consumed in the United States come from.

See where this is going?

• • •

It's all part of Port Tampa Bay's plan to try to expand and diversify the cargo that flows through its docks.

The port has long been known as a bulk port, moving phosphates, limestone and petroleum. But now it wants to attract more profitable cargoes like cars, containers and food.

"It's part of our business plan, our strategy," said Raul Alfonso, the chief commercial officer of Port Tampa Bay.

The port is especially keen on cargo from Latin America, which is now producing more and more of what the United States consumes — including pineapples.

Americans just can't get enough pineapples. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there have been 17 straight years of record-setting pineapple imports. In 2012, the last year on record, the United States imported 2 billion pounds of pineapple.

It's hard to believe that a port once known for its iconic banana docks actually has to persuade importers to ship their fruit to Tampa.

In the 1990s, fruit from all over the world ended up on Tampa's docks. But that dried up in the next decade. The last fruit importer left in 2009, and the port tore down its dilapidated refrigerated warehouse.

Now Port Tampa Bay is trying to get back into the business.

• • •

It's not easy to ship fruit.

The commodity is moved in refrigerated containers to preserve the perishables. But it's not enough to merely reach the United States. Fruit must then be moved from the docks to the rest of the country.

The pineapples shipped to the Midwest enter the United States through ports such as Philadelphia. But it could take 10 days or more to sail the pineapples up the eastern seaboard.

Port Tampa Bay thinks it has a better way.

It takes only 2½ to 3 days to sail from Central America to Port Tampa Bay, Alfonso said. But proximity to the Gulf of Mexico isn't Tampa's only advantage. So is rail.

At many ports, cargo has to be unloaded from ships and then transported to a depot and then loaded onto trains. But the Tampa Gateway Rail is a 2-mile loop that lets trains pull right up to the docks. Cargo can be unloaded from ships directly onto trains and shipped out much quicker.

From there, it's a 56-hour ride to Chicago.

The trip by water and by rail from Tampa to the Midwest market would be about five days total — half the time it would take for a cargo ship just to reach Philadelphia or another Northern port.

"With the rail service going into the Midwest," Alfonso said, "that's the part that gives it more bang for the buck for growers, importers and distributors."

The faster the fruit can be shipped, the less of it will spoil.

"That's the key," Alfonso said. "If we're able to reduce shelf time on transit, that means money."

The port is also building a refrigerated facility to service CSX's high-speed "Green Express" food cargo train. The $18 million facility is in the design phase and should be completed by 2015. The port is splitting the cost with private interests.

That was the pitch Alfonso was to deliver in a private meeting during the conference with those who grow, import and ship pineapples from Latin America.

• • •

Participants in the conference discussed everything from global pineapple production to the U.S. pineapple market to alternate pineapple trade routes.

But those discussions were not public. A port spokesman said the International Pineapple Organization would not permit a Tampa Bay Times reporter to attend.

The port's pitch is no secret, however. Port Tampa Bay's ambitions to attract cargo from all over Latin America are well known.

Now imagine that pitch being repeated over and over, for Costa Rican pineapple to Brazilian airplanes to Mexican-made cars.

Tampa wants all of it.

"We want them to see our plan," Alfonso said, "and this is what we're trying to do for the produce industry, for the automobile industry.

"We are trying to be their port."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, [email protected] or @jthalji on Twitter.

Port Tampa Bay pines for Latin America's pineapples 03/21/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 5:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  2. New York town approves Legoland proposal

    News

    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  3. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo

    Health

    A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay's top-tier hospitals.

    Dr. Frederick Locke at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is a principal investigator for an experimental therapy that retrains white blood cells in the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved these so-called "CAR-T" treatments for adults this month. In trials, 82 percent of cases responded well to the treatment, and 44 percent are still in remission at least eight months later, Locke said. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Regulator blasts Wells Fargo for deceptive auto insurance program

    Banking

    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.

    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images, 2017]