Tired of seeing moldy blueberries, decaying grapes or wilting asparagus in your refrigerator?
Dave Bouchard, president of Coral Gables-based Flagler Global Logistics said that the patented fumigation process his company uses on imported fruits and vegetables, plus careful temperature and humidity control, can add up to 10 days of shelf life to products at retailers — and in your fridge.
“Our system is designed to receive, process, fumigate, pack and ship perishables as quickly as possible with strict temperature and humidity control,” said Bouchard during a tour of the company’s 114,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art South Florida Logistics Center near Miami International Airport. He took over the company earlier this year, after previous stints as CEO for DB Schenker Logistics for the Americas and as an executive with Ryder System.
“Consumers benefit from longer shelf life and lower costs,” he said.
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The fumigation process is a key part of 3-year-old Flagler Global’s success, Bouchard said. So too are the company’s strategic location — near MIA, rail lines and highways — and newly installed equipment that speeds processing time, he said.
These factors enable produce from growers, importers and exporters to reach Southeast markets a week faster, and more cheaply, than competitors’ perishable products that are usually shipped down to Florida from the Northeast — often from Philadelphia, whose port has many fumigation and warehouse facilities, Bouchard said.
Process at work
Perishables like blueberries, kiwis, grapes, onions, citrus, asparagus and flowers from Latin America arrive at MIA in refrigerated cargo planes and are placed in refrigerated trucks. Flagler Global’s customers are growers in Latin America, importers and exporters who pay a fee for its services, not the wholesalers or retailers who receive the processed products.
“If shippers are not careful, perishables can be spoiled by sitting on the tarmac in the heat,” Bouchard said.
From there, the perishables are taken to the company’s logistics center near the airport. There, they’re processed and prepared for reshipment to wholesalers and retailers in Florida and other parts in the region. The area contains more than 93,000 square feet — a little over two acres — of refrigerated space in separate rooms that can provide different temperature levels required by different fruits, vegetables and flowers, as well as frozen products like Chilean salmon.
“Some perishables don’t play well with others,” Bouchard said. “We have special sections for onions: You don’t want to put onions together with blueberries.”
During this step, Flagler Global’s patented fumigation process comes into play: A standard fumigant, methyl bromide gas, kills a variety of pests and soil-borne diseases. It’s also toxic to humans. The gas is released in a sealed room, where it reaches the fruits or vegetables stored in pallets on tall, metal racks. The gas is then removed (about 98 percent is recaptured) and recycled, the company said.
In this way, chances of spoilage are cut, the company said. Enhanced airflow allows a consistent level of quality, minimizing condensation and decay, and helps keep the temperature consistent.
“Perishables are a tricky item,” remarked Linda Núñez, director of marketing and sales at Flora Logistics, a large Miami firm that handles perishable imports and competes with Flagler Global. “Temperature control is critical. If you don’t get it right, you can go out of business.”
Watching over the process at Flagler Global are in-house U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors.
Flagler Global’s approach is a big improvement over traditional fumigation methods, the company said: Although other companies also use methyl bromide gas, containers holding the produce are often stored outdoors — allowing high temperatures to hasten spoilage. And often gas doesn’t reach the produce uniformly. When the gas is removed, it escapes and isn’t recycled.
Company is growing
Although founded in 2013, the company already has gained a strong foothold in Miami’s highly competitive market of importing, processing and transporting perishables.
That market is growing, especially for South Florida’s 6 million residents and millions of visitors. Perishables arriving in the United States by air in 2015 totaled nearly 810,000 tons, and 66.3 percent came in through MIA. They also arrive via PortMiami, Port Everglades (which handled nearly half of all the refrigerated cargo in Florida last year), and other air and seaports in the state.
That this is a flourishing sector is borne out by Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Florida Importers, which is based in Doral. In her work with flower importers, she said, she has seen steady increases in demand for cut flowers from overseas.
“The volume of imported perishables is doing nothing but increasing in South Florida,” Boldt said.
Flagler Global was set up by its parent, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI). Building on its expertise in intermodal transport (Florida East Coast Railway — FEC — is an affiliate) and its extensive real estate holdings (like the land where Flagler Global’s logistics center is built), FECI decided to invest millions in the venture.
Flagler Global also develops industrial and commercial property, like the Flagler Station complex. But this highly profitable part of the business is complementary to logistics, said Bouchard, who is responsible for managing the logistics business.
Since it began, the company has added new services, like repacking and sorting, and has tripled the volume of perishables its processes. This year, it expects its business to grow by another 30 percent.
Gary Goldfarb, an executive with decades of experience in logistics and international trade, said he recently visited Flagler’s facilities. “Flagler Global Logistics is well-positioned for what is about to come with the expansion of trade in South Florida,” said Goldfarb, chief strategy officer at the Interport Group, a large Miami-based logistics firm that does not handle perishables and doesn’t compete with Flagler Global.
“The facilities are very well built, very well outfitted with the right racking system and refrigeration, and the staff seems to be of high quality,” Goldfarb said.
Going forward, he said, he wouldn’t be surprised to see a major expansion in the cards at the company: “I believe that FGL will start to leverage their great facilities and experience into other cold- and cool-chain commodities. Pharmaceutical and life sciences products fit perfectly into the kind of facilities they operate.”
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Flagler Global Logistics
Business: Flagler Global Logistics (FGL) specializes in providing cold-chain services for fruits, vegetables, flowers and fish shipped to Miami from Latin America. Flagler also works in commercial and industrial real estate development as part of Florida East Coast Industries, a major owner and developer of real estate in Florida.
Founded: 2013 in Miami.
Corporate headquarters: 2855 Le Jeune Rd., Coral Gables
Operations center: South Florida Logistics Center, 3200 NW 67th Ave., Miami
President: Dave Bouchard.
Employees: 50 full-time, plus about 100 contract workers hired to process perishables during harvest seasons.
Ownership: Flagler Global is a wholly owned subsidiary of Coral Gables-based Florida East Coast Industries (FECI). FECI is owned by equity funds managed by New York-based Fortress Investment Group, a global investment management firm.
Competition: Agro Merchants Group; Flora Logistics; Hellmann Worldwide Logistics; Crowley. Many other smaller companies in South Florida, plus logistics and cold-chain processing companies near the Port of Philadelphia, a major reception point for perishables.
Also: Flagler Global’s parent, FECI, has three other subsidiaries: All Aboard Florida, which is developing a rapid, privately owned train between Miami and Orlando; Parallel Infrastructure, which develops, owns and operates telecommunications towers; and Flagler, the big moneymaker that has extensive land holdings and develops commercial real estate statewide. FECI and FEC railway are both owned by equity funds managed by Fortress Investment Group.
Revenues of parent company Fortress Investment Group: More than $1.2 billion in 2015.
Parent company stock symbol: FIG (New York Stock Exchange).
Sources: Flagler Global Logistics, Florida East Coast Industries, Fortress Investment Group.