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If Antwerp's port were a restaurant, how many stars would it earn?

If Antwerp's Port were a restaurant, how many stars would it earn?

Coffee wields a seductive charm in the port of Antwerp, at least when it comes to stevedoring and forwarding. The hurly-burly of one of northern Europe's great ports might seem to offer little room for sentiment, even in the shadow of the town's magnificent cathedral tower, but nevertheless the view of coffee as an important tradition and as a hallmark of standing and integrity remains strong here.

This ought to be good news for the coffee industry, the knowledge that we have maintained our attractiveness in Antwerp in competition with larger and more stable trades. It should certainly be very reassuring to have kept the attentions of one of the world's experienced coffee ports - because when all is said and done, our business remains keenly sensitive to how a bag of green coffee is handled and where that bag of green coffee is located.

That Antwerp is very much a "coffee' port at heart does not show up at first glance into statistics. The annual green coffee handled in Antwerp has increased sharply in recent years but still seems negligible in context - some 275,000 tons of coffee swallowed up in the total port traffic of 100 million tons. Rather than numbers, it is the prevailing attitude in Antwerp toward coffee, the attention bestowed upon it, that is startling. The companies active with coffee in the port are now unusual, if not unique, in having apparently safeguarded the flame of their old time commodity mentality, even amidst the omnipresent clicking of computer keyboards. What this means in practice is that commodity trafficking and handling is still a specialty in Antwerp, even when conducted on a grand scale. It means that in Antwerp, the classic thinking remains, "ye shall be known to all" by the quality and style of your coffee handling.

The physical setting for this mentality is indeed impressive. The port sprawls, a sophisticated and integrated entity, over a surface of 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres). Antwerp leads all other European ports with its more than 3.5 million sq. meters of covered warehouse space. It also leads, worldwide, in the number and range of its specialized cargo terminals. Currently, the port is in active expansion up both banks of the Schelde river. Last year saw the inauguration of the mighty, new Berendrecht lock - the world's largest. Rapid development also continues on the new Container Terminal of Hessenatie-Gylsen outside the locks - a development that may rank as the most important in Antwerp's post war history.

This monument to world trade - and to the Flemish flare for business - is regularly serviced by more than 300 shipping lines, and saw 16,000 plus sailings last year. It is Europe's second largest general cargo port, the Community's largest railway port. On an annual basis, the port handles about 43 million tons of general cargo, including containers. Container traffic accounts for 15 million tons of material each year.

One key factor in the port's growth and size is its location; Antwerp is the EC's most central big port in terms of gravity in population spread (placing it also at the heart of a theoretic EC coffee-thirst index). Given its size and location, transit cargo is of increasing importance, and, in fact, better than two-thirds of the general cargo is designated "transit." Antwerp has thus become not only Belgium's leading port, but a leading port for Germany, France, Switzerland, the UK, Netherlands and Italy.

This rich and varied market reach is also true for the port's green coffee handle. In coffee's favor - along with a commodity handling tradition, of specialized facilities, and centrality - Antwerp is also designated tenderable with both London and Paris-LeHavre Terminal markets. This prized attribute helps explain the rapid expansion of coffee warehousing and forwarding activities in Antwerp in the past decade - perhaps "boom" is the beter term as green coffee traffic has actually tripled since 1982.

This year, Antwerp will receive more than 90% of the better than 90,000 tons of green coffee coming in for use in the Belgium-Luxembourg area. That this now accounts for about a third of the port's total coffee traffic in tons is a good indication of Antwerp's importance to the roasting industries of neighboring nations, most particularly of France, Germany and the Netherlands. Flourishing in its transit role, Antwerp, along with a few other key coffee ports, has emerged as a coffee banking center in that its warehouses are currently bulging with over one million bags of stocks on a monthly reporting basis.

Most certainly, there is an army of firms serving coffee (and tea!) interests in the Port of Antwerp, including those with a particularly coffee-oriented stevedoring and/or forwarding service like Steinweg, Cotterell, McGregor, Cory, Molenberg, Luke & Murcott, Belgian Pakhoed. Due to their overall size in the port of Antwerp, two leading firms in the coffee sector are necessarily Hessenatie-Gylsen (handling) and Norexa (the commodity forwarding affiliate of Noord Hatie).

Lineage here is interesting, as Hessenatie, of which Hessenatie-Gylsen is an affiliate, traces its origins to the 1300's, while Noord Natie hails back to the 1500's. Hessenatie is the largest terminal-warehouse operator in the port with 12 terminals and about a 40% market share of the total port traffic - this means that Hessenatie handles as much traffic by itself in Antwerp as do entire large ports elsewhere. Hessenatie, in turn, is part of CMB Shipping and Transport, which again is part of Belgium Generale Group.

Hessenatie-Gylsen is the company's general cargo division, with responsibility for numerous warehouse spaces and a plethora of goods and materials, but which most certainly does include coffee. The firm's Coffee Center, completed in the late 1980's, is in fact the largest coffee-dedicated warehouse in Antwerp, with peak capacity of 185,000 bags and an experienced workforce to serve it.

For its part, Noord Natie is the largest privately held operator in the port of Antwerp and with a number of specialized facilities for a wide range of market sectors - the company is, for example, the European leader in cold storage warehousing. Noord Natie has also been a leader in recent key port development projects.

Norexa, as the company's commodity forwarding entity, is able to offer a total service package for coffee that draws on the parent company's size and experience. This explains why the London terminal market gives Norexa a recognized one million bag capacity.

As a classic team, stevedore and forwarder, these cooperating and, not infrequently, competitive companies touch about 50% of the coffee moving through Antwerp. Although they obviously figure prominently in the port's coffee interests, coffee does not figure nearly so prominently in their own respective volumes. This fact makes the following of note: this article is derived largely from an interview held with Philip van Gestel, managing director of Norexa, and Paul-Emile Careme, commercial manager of Hessenatie-Gylsen. These managers gave generously of their time to talk about coffee and the port of Antwerp. They would be the first to say that if they share a genuine enthusiasm for coffee as a specialty and work to a commodity mentality - and they do - that it is because they have studied their lessons at the Port of Antwerp.

PHOTO : A meeting in the name of coffee and the Port of Antwerp. Philip van Gestel, managing director of Norexa, Paul-Emile Careme, commercial manager of Hessenatie-Gylsen, and Johan Dumon of Assiport, Antwerp's port association. A measure of coffee's importance in Antwerp is due to the enduring view of its integrity and standing.

PHOTO : For day to day handling in a port like Antwerp, coffee experience is a priceless commodity unto itself. Antwerp will see a coffee traffic of about 275,000 tons this year, and some 50% of this will relate to Hessenatie-Gylsen and Norexa. In addition, the port continues to gain as a coffee bank, with stocks on hand of more than one million bags.
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Title Annotation:Antwerp, Belgium, as a locale for European coffee commerce
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Words:1322
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