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Rubens, diamonds and coffee.

Rubens, diamonds and coffee

Coffee is real in Antwerp. It is in the air, it fills the ships moving into the river Scheldt, it keeps the docks busy and fills a vast complex of warehouses. Antwerp, the city of Rubens and diamonds is also a great city of coffee. In the morning hours, in the city center, the air of this charming old Flemish city is still rich with the scent of roasting coffee, an increasingly rare treat elsewhere as roasting plants vanish into industrial suburbs.

In the heart of the city, change seems distant--for the visitor, Antwerp still looks and smells the way a great European city ought to. But the sense of timelessness is deceiving, particularly for coffee. When it comes to coffee, Antwerp has probably experienced more change, more rapidly than any other international coffee capital. Today Antwerp is a coffee boom city.

This in itself is news, for as recently as the early 80's, many in Europe felt that Antwerp had lost its place in coffee. Once highly influential as home to such `multinational' coffee companies as Pelican Rouge and Van Ysendyk, and to a powerful group of old French speaking trading houses, Antwerp was suddenly overshadowed by a new order and style in international trade and roasting.

Truly, Antwerp has continued to be headquarters for vigorous middle and small-sized roasters and for several green coffee importers, traders and agents. But these spheres have shrunk, as they have elsewhere, as coffee proceeds through a phase of increasing concentration. What now gives Antwerp its star on the world coffee map is the fact that five years ago the port was officially recognized by the London Terminal Market and the Le Havre/Paris market, a rare and highly coveted status that has put the shine back on Antwerp's coffee glory. Since then the city has been the rising star in European transit coffees.

Antwerp's renewed strength in coffee is based on a number of factors in addition to terminal market status: A very strategic central location at the heart of Europe's richest, most populated and industrialized area; the reality that the port is faster and cheaper than many rival ports; the port has been strike free for more than 40 years; it is served by an unsurpassed infrastructure and a host of well established and coffee dedicated companies.

Antwerp now ranks as Europe's second largest coffee port in volume, topped only by Hamburg. Antwerp controls a good deal more than 75 percent of all green coffee imported directly into Belgium-Luxembourg, imports which came to more than 82,000 tons in 1988. But what is now handled for Benelux is over shadowed by what the port does in transit coffee for France, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Austria, and increasingly for eastern Europe, Italy and Spain. Sum statistics for Antwerp's transit traffic are not available, but as an indication of potential volume consider that the monthly inventory given at the end of October this year, and hardly a record month, cites port warehouses as holding 613,000 bags in stock.

Industry and Trade

Two of the leading middle-sized roasters with Antwerp headquarters are Rombouts and Beyers, while some of the leading names among green coffee importers, traders and agents are SCA, Kreglinger, Installe, Philips, Edmond Juliam, Sucre Export, and Coffee Trading Agency. The major news event for traders here this past year was the acquisition of a controlling interest in SCA by Tardivat, the Paris-based international trading company.

A new trading firm is STI, Services and Trading International, which is directed by Patrick Serruys. STI specialized in what are termed "better quality" Zaire coffees, notably Robusta and the Arabica production from the Kivu district of eastern Zaire. STI reports working now with six Zaire exporters. The company also offers Thailand Robusta. Commercialization of the coffees internationally is handled by Coffee Trading Agency.

In addition to cooperating with STI in the offering of Zaire and Thai coffees, Coffee Trading Agency has also expanded operations in Central America, where it has already been well established with Nicaragua and with an office in Honduras. The company's newest office, according to Christian Meus, managing director, is in El Salvador. The new branch office is now beginning operations under the management of Stella Canessa.


In total there are at least 20 warehousers with significant coffee space and services in the port of Antwerp. Combined they offer an absolutely breathtaking amount of covered space for coffee storage and an equally impressive array of special coffee services and expertise.

Some of the leading firms in this sector are Molenberg, Gylsen, Norexa (Noord Natie), Steinweg, McGregor Cory, Luke & Murcott. Molenberg specializes in coffee, and in fact devotes some 80 percent of space on the average to coffee, and in six warehouses. Molenberg is a private warehousing company active in coffee for 125 years. The contact person is Guido Bleijenbergh. Such is the boom in coffee in Antwerp, Molenberg is groundbreaking next year in the Luithagen area of the port for a new coffee warehouse of 20,000 sq. meters.

Norexa NV is an affiliated company of Noord Natie, which is the second largest independent and private cargo handling company in the port of Antwerp. The company was established before the year 1548. Coffee storage capacity at Norexa, recognized by the London Terminal Market, is more than 500,000 bags. The contact person is Ph. Van Gestel. Besides warehousing, the company performs coffee handling, control, sampling, weighing, reconditioning, transport organization, customs formalities, reforwarding and of course, terminal market.

As for Gylsen, a member of the CMB Group, its coffee warehousing space and range of services have been recently extended with the group's acquisition of Hessenatie, the largest stevedoring company on the Antwerp waterfront.

CMB and Antwerp

Whether it be in coffee warehousing, handling, shipping or trucking, in Antwerp the CMB Group plays a particularly active role through a variety of subsidiary companies. In fact, for coffee, the CMB Group has evolved a unique international, intermodal concept that can flow from the very tree to the roaster's door. The concept is managed from CMB headquarters in the heart of Antwerp.

The CMB Group is divided into three core activities--Port Handling ("Landside"), Bocimar, and CMB Transport. Hessenatie-Gylsen (note that the hyphenated names indicates the recent merger of the two companies under one management) joins ABT/Stocatra in the "Landside" core. This area of CMB Group activities owns and operates 10 terminals in Antwerp, including the Gylsen terminal Market. The Hessenatie-Gylsen Coffee Center is said to rank second in handling volume in Antwerp. It features a coffee dedicated space of one hectare and an immediate capacity of 185,000 bags. The importance of Hessenatie in the port can be measured by the fact that the company is now completing a new 2.5 billion BF container terminal above the locks on the Scheldt which when finished in April 1990 will cut six to seven hours off Antwerp arrival times.

Together, the Landside core handles 54 percent of all containers in the port of Antwerp, and in sum, one of every three ships entering the port.

But the CMB Group is probably best known for shipping: it runs a fleet of some 120 ships, including 31 container vessels. The Group's Bocimar division floats 80 ships in a leading, worldwide tramping activity. Bocimer carried 27 million tons in 1988.

However, it is CMB Transport, the Group's third (and as far as turnover is concerned its important) core area, that offers the coffee industry a unique intermodal concept through the services of its various subsidiaries. Foremost, perhaps, CMB Transport is now the leading shipper on all main North-South routes. The West Africa service is handled by three subsidiary lines--CMB Express Service, Dafra Line and EAC Transport. The West Africa service features six monthly sailings, and, as can be imagined, is significant for coffee shipments from Zaire, Cameroun and Ivory Coast ports.

East Africa figures prominently in the Group's newly inaugurated "CMB Indian Ocean Service." This is a weekly service, of nine container vessels, integrating India, Pakistan, East Africa and key European ports, including Antwerp. Again, this relates to a particular coffee--and tea--service relative to the large volumes shipped out of Mombasa and Dar-Es-Salaam. The Group's African service is completed by sailings from southern Africa, also featuring some coffees, via the SAECS consortium.

CMB Transport operates on the Europe-Latin America routes with sailings every 12 days to the West Coast per Eurosal, and sailings every five days to the East Coast per JCS. Direct linking to North Atlantic routing from, say, India, or East or West Africa via Antwerp, is possible through Canadian Maritime, in which CMB holds a 43 percent interest.

As part of CMB Transports intermodal program for coffee, there are the services of such subsidiary companies as AMI Forwarding, Tracto and Aseco. AMI is known widely for its virtually complete network of offices and subsidiaries throughout Equatorial and Southern Africa offering a range of transport and related services, including inland container depots in several nations.

Tracto is the Group's European trucking subsidiary. Tracto operates a large fleet of trucks, container chassis, and TIR trailers for general cargo. The emphasis however is on container trucking. Tracto is established throughout western Europe. The Aseco subsidiary acts as CMB Transport's European agency, with a network of 50 sales and service offices. Although representing other lines as well, the Aseco agents give CMB an important pan-European presence and can coordinate the Group's intermodal coffee service for clients.

PHOTO : The Hessenatie-Gylsen Coffee Center in Antwerp ranks high in handling volume among the

PHOTO : city's numerous coffee warehousing operations. The sector figures prominently in Antwerp's

PHOTO : coffee boom.

PHOTO : Coffee loading in Mombasa; destination Antwerp. The CMB Group and its various subsidiaries

PHOTO : play important roles in Antwerp's worldwide coffee connections.

PHOTO : CMB Group headquarters in the heart of old Antwerp--here there are several key coffee

PHOTO : `desks' managing an intermodal concept that can flow from tree to roaster's door.
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Title Annotation:coffee industry in Antwerp, Belgium
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Previous Article:Coffee or soccer, an Antwerp roaster takes to the field.
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