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The business of becoming bigger - Europe's power ports.

The business of becoming bigger - Europe's power ports

Are we approaching an age of super ports in coffee and tea? No, the word approach is wrong - we are in the age of super ports. Once it seemed every port of any significance in Europe boasted its coffee trade, shippers, warehouses and sundry related services. Perhaps the majority still do, although increasingly only a handful of ports have any real impact on the coffee and tea industries. This is so because ports serving only local or regional, even only national, coffee/tea interests are now dwarfed by the international star ports of mega warehousing and transit capabilities.

These days Europe's leading coffee/tea ports line up on the English Channel route and the north shore of the Mediterranean. By far the Channel route ports dominate, although the southern competitors are assuming greater strategic value in the vision of an EC without borders and as part of a `sunbelt' trend. In particular, the great coffee Channel route ports include Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre. The southern sisters are Barcelona and Trieste. By size, ports forming a secondary level for coffee are Felixestowe and Amsterdam in the north; Alicante, Genoa and Naples in the south.

The concentration of coffee/tea handling into a few main ports has been aided by the shift to containerization, the concentration of coffee roasting interests, the shift in roasted coffee distribution pattern to accommodate the rise of European supermarket culture, and the new age of `transit' coffee business based in part on speculative aspects as related to ports being linked officially to terminal markets (London and/or Paris-Le Havre) and the new sophistication in European telecommunications and land transportation systems.

Indicative of the above, all main coffee ports cited (Hamburg, Bremen, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Le Havre, Barcelona and Trieste) are now linked to the terminal markets (Barcelona and Trieste are just joining the ranks). Among the second tier coffee ports, as to volume handled, only Felixestowe has terminal market status and the prize has only just been bestowed. As well, the main ports with the exception of Trieste are all immediately connected to important industrial and distribution hubs that relate directly to multinational interests.

The ports themselves are evolving toward increased emphasis not only on containerized traffic but specialized warehousing service. The new bulk silos are also emerging as competitive factors among the big coffee ports. In the near future every major coffee port will have at least one large bulk coffee silo center, such as what now exists in Hamburg, Bremen, Le Havre and Trieste. The big seven European coffee ports are thereby becoming far more than giant containerized shipping and warehousing centers; they offer capabilities as coffee-dedicated, hi-tech processing and distribution hubs. They are also coffee banks, as to stocks on hand, and together form a reserve/trade/transit network of considerable power. Their power will likely increase in the decade to come as a result of EC market harmonization and trade growth with eastern Europe markets. Already the big seven European coffee ports handle far more than half of total western Europe coffee imports, imports that came to 2,017,782 tons in 1989!

Focus on Rotterdam

The world's largest port is also a coffee and tea handling power. For coffee it ranks close with Bremen for second place behind Hamburg. This means that Port of Rotterdam takes about six million bags each year, in imports and transit. Although smaller in tonnage, the port's tea handle is perhaps even more significant in European context.

The `stage' for this highly significant coffee and tea shipping/warehousing and transit service industry is certainly impressive. Total transhipments through Rotterdam, in all sectors of trade known to man, came to 292 million tons in 1989. This boggling enormity of raw materials and finished goods marked an increase of 20 million tons over the figure for 1986, a growth rate of 7%.

The port stretches for 55 kilometers along the Maas river and actually encompasses the operations of six specialized port areas, including the world's largest container terminal (3.2 million TEUs in 1988). Rotterdam is served by 500 sea lines on a regular basis, and 32,000 seagoing ships make their way to the Port each year. The cargo flows into the Port's 1.5 million sq. meters of warehousing space. More than 70% of the cargo moves on eventually to destinations outside of the Netherlands, transported by vast fleets of inland waterway vessels, trucks and railway cars.

Such vitality and size is maintained by a number of factors, but location still ranks high as it has for seven centuries - Rotterdam is nexus between the Channel route and the Rhine.

It is hardly surprising that such a complex is under constant renewing and building. For the near future the big developments include the huge, robotized Sealand Delta Container Terminal - scheduled for completion in 1993. In conjunction with container-handling expansion, the port is also seeing the development of three innovative Distriparks. The Distriparks are joint cargo storage and distribution hubs offering complete facilities for warehousing, repacking (containers) and even assembly of products.

Regarding tea, port of Rotterdam handled 47,185 tons in 1988, while the Dutch themselves drank up no more than 9,598 tons. Typically about half the tea volume is in transit tonnage. Of the tea actually imported into the Netherlands, again more than half is processed in some form and re-exported. In 1987, the leading tea origin imports was Kenya, followed by China, Indonesia, Argentina and Sri Lanka.

Regarding coffee, Port of Rotterdam handled 360,000 tons in 1987, of which 40,000 tons were actually `imported' and 276,000 tons were designated as transit coffees. The remainder are cited as in stock for that year. On the lists for 1987, among total handle, the largest origin for coffee in the port is Brazil, with 50,000 tons. Ivory Coast ranks second with 41,000 tons, followed by Indonesia with 37,000 tons and Kenya and Colombia each with 35,000 tons. As for outshipments that year, the leading destination is given as Belgium, with 52,000 tons. West Germany is second with 50,000 tons, followed by France with 44,000 tons of coffee. The other leading destinations for 1987 in order are U.S.A. Switzerland, U.K., Spain and Italy. Italy by itself represented a volume of 15,000 tons of coffee from the Port of Rotterdam.

Table : TABLE: Coffee Stock Trends in Selected Major Ports (60kg)
Date Antwerpen Le Havre New York New Orleans
 6-30-89 436,900 310,133 65,033 39,273
 9-30-89 620,441 427,200 208,781 181,063
12-31-89 624,618 387,583 449,710 358,459
 1-31-90 669,666 435,283 461,074 368,322
 2-28-90 619,162 418,350 680,755 611,707
 3-31-90 643,168 438,266 745,781 660,981
 4-30-90 690,247 459,867 782,711 740,636
 5-31-90 894,469 573,400 975,858 849,469

PHOTO : Many factors contribute to the concentration of coffee and tea handling in a few main European ports. The trend is perhaps more advanced for coffee due to the great importance of achieving `terminal status' and to such new technology and concepts as the bulk coffee silo. Shown here (left), a specialized, coffee dedicated warehouse in Barcelona - a port recently given terminal status. At right, in Hamburg, Europe's largest coffee port, the bulk coffee center of Kaffelagerei.
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Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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