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Sea-Land team keeps service fresh as change brews in coffee trade.

Sea-Land team keeps service fresh as change brews in coffee trade

With more than two decades of coffee handling experience, Sea-Land Service, Inc. has become a carrier brand as familiar to the coffee industry as the major roasters are to the consuming public.

As shippers, traders and roasters adjust to market shifts brought on in part by a derailed quota system and changing consumer tastes, it's Sea-Land's ability to blend traditional service strengths with responsive new initiatives that's making a name for itself.

"We've positioned ourselves to be a total transportation service provider in the coffee community," remarked Robert Valdez, Sea-Land's Americas Division marketing director of food and beverages. "That includes everything from frequent sailings, reliable transit time and expedient bills of lading to innovative products and services to enhance coffee transport."

Valdez, brought aboard in May of '90 after nine years of international marketing management expertise for a division of Colgate-Palmolive, comes qualified to play matchmaker between coffee industry needs and Sea-Land's global transportation and distribution capabilities. He joins a well-established team of dedicated account specialists that has built steady relationships in every sector of the coffee trade.

In New York, 30-year Sea-Land veteran Joe "Mr. Coffee" Petro services top coffee traders from the World Trade Center, keeping a finger on the pulse of transportation needs and trends in the market. In Chicago, Elizabeth Hassert is a major roaster contact, working as a key account executive handling overall sales and client relations. In Miami, key account manager Carol Sydnor offers shippers one-to-one, up-to-the-minute troubleshooting and customer assistance. And in Central America and the Caribbean Basin, where coffee moves as the largest northbound commodity in Sea-Land's Americas trade lanes, an offshore contingent of dedicated coffee professionals stimulate business by keeping service and relationships fresh.

As trade sources report world market growth flattening from 2.6% in 1990 to less than 1% this year, Sea-Land projects a 9% jump in its northbound trade volumes from Central America to the U.S., giving them a healthy 28% share there. In the Dominican Republic, growth looks even more robust, with the carrier forecasting a 17% upturn for a hand in approximately half of all coffee movements to the States.

With major U.S. coffee bases in Florida's Port Everglades and Port of Jacksonville, as well as the ports of New Orleans and Elizabeth, N.J. (both in close proximity to coffee warehouses licensed by The New York Commodities Exchange), the Americas Division offers a multiple choice of gateways.

"Our strategy," said Valdez "is to continue doing what we do best in terms of meeting the traditional regional and global shipping needs of the coffee trade, and to add value to everything we do to help our customers stay on top of challenges in the marketplace."

To that end, a prototype initiative was launched by a Sea-Land quality team in Honduras last November, bringing together coffee exporters, port authority personnel and customs officials for shop talk during informal vessel receptions. The ongoing program has proven hugely successful in generating empathy between all parties and smoothing out hitches in vessel deployment.

With transportation costs a prime coffee industry concern, Sea-Land is also pushing forward with research and development to refine the labor-intensive way coffee is handled and transported.

"We're looking at eliminating the need for transporting coffee in bags altogether," allowed Valdez. "We've already seen high performance from a bulk shipment method that hasd been tested on certain routes. The opportunity for us to meet customer needs with streamlined costs and improved delivery in the '90s is substantial."

One outgrowth of Sea-Land's aggressiveness in expanding its total service package for the coffee community is its status as primary transportation provided for the shipment of Puerto Rican coffee to Japan. The carrier has moved 250,000 pounds of Grand Lares label coffee for Garrido & Co., Inc., the only Puerto Rican coffee-producing company exporting a premium brand to an international market.

"It doesn't matter whether it's six container loads of a special brand from Puerto Rico to Japan or 60 container loads of green coffee beans from Guatemala to South Florida," Valdez observed. "The bottom line is, we're committed and equipped to offer quality care and handling of coffee cargo from door to door."

As gourmet brands and premium international coffee join traditional blends popular with consumers in the world arena, Sea-Land's global reach, region-by-region expertise, and value-added emphasis offers a fresh head of steam to coffee and its marketers in transition.

The Honduras coffee klatch

San Pedro Sula, Honduras--Loosely translated, "coffee klatch" means an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation. While there was decidedly more on the agenda when Sea-Land's Americas Division invited major coffee exporters aboard one of their vessels in Puerto Cortes, Honduras last November, the phrase seems to aptly describe the spirit of the occasion.

In fact, more of the portside social events are planned this year.

"It started as a way to network with people to improve the coordination of documentation and cargo delivery," commented Bill Walton, who was Sea-Land's country manager in Honduras at the time. "Much to everyone's satisfaction, it became a rallying point for rapport and mutual respect among professionals."

Senior manager Armando Diaz committed his participation to carry it through; export manager Jose Salas expanded its scope to add port authority personnel and customs officials to the guest list. At two initial gatherings, Sea-Land hosted a total of seven coffee exporters, including Cadexa, Agracruz, Becopra, Sagimex, Camer, Excafe and Coex. The "coffee klatch" concept paid off instantly.

"The coffee exporters improved their cargo delivery times virtually overnight which helped us cut overtime hours and costs on ship deployment," confirmed Salas. In turn, the Port Authority and customs officials developed new sensitivity to the problems faced by carrier and shipper.

"Honduras has been, and will continue to be, a major export market for coffee," stated Americas Division food and beverage marketing director Robert Valdez. "Our resourceful Honduras team, and well-planned initiatives like the vessel visit, give us a real edge in meeting the needs of customers there in the '90's."

A leading carrier of coffee from Honduras each year, Sea-Land increased its lifts of Honduras coffee exports by 39% from 1989 to 1990. Continued increases in coffee lifts are projected for '91.

PHOTO : Robert Valdez swears he's not a cousin to Colombia's coffee symbol--Juan Valdez.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on meeting of Sea-Land Service Inc. executives and coffee exporters; Sea-Land Service Inc.'s coffee transportation and distribution methods
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:Biography
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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