Sustainability / Reading time: ~ 2 Min.

Food logistics: From field to jar with DHL

How do pickles get in the jar? Sounds like a question for food logistics. It may come as a surprise that digital solutions are being deployed right now, and how important it is to get the temperature right.

Dill pickles, mustard pickles or gherkins: supermarkets offer a bewildering range of shapes and tastes. There's something for everyone, from sweet cornichons that are sliced and ready to eat to spicy whole pickles with chili. But hardly anyone knows how well-planned and ultra-efficient the food logistics have to be to get these mini cucumbers from the field to the jar. After processing, they are not only extremely tasty, but also relatively easy to store with a long shelf life. But until then, the young cucumbers – like virtually all fresh produce – are real softies.

Where food logistics starts

To keep everything running smoothly, logistics experts like DHL FoodLogistics, which specializes in food logistics and transport solutions for perishable goods, begin their work long before the vegetable ripens. In December and January, all the logistics for the coming season must be planned with the growers, paying particular attention to the expected harvest. The factors considered include the countries where the crop will be grown this year. The anticipated crop yield and the ideal harvesting time are no less important than issues specifically concerning food logistics. The customs and import criteria must be clarified because certain rules apply if the cucumbers come from non-EU countries. For example, a phytosanitary certificate may be necessary for imports. Yes, that's right – cucumbers need a health certificate to enter the EU! The main countries supplying and cultivating mini cucumbers for pickling are Serbia, Bosnia and Turkey, so a certificate is almost always required. But ultimately, the thing that determines where the vegetable is sourced from is the weather forecast and the harvest forecasts based on it. Cucumbers from North Macedonia, Bulgaria or Albania might also end up making their way to Germany. Whatever the country, it's a race against time for logistics partners from the moment the harvest begins.

Hightech food logistics at DHL brings cucumbers from field to jar.

Food logistics: fresh from the field... and then?

Cold but not too cold! In cucumber transport, the temperature is crucial. Cucumbers have a high water content so they can quickly spoil if it is too warm or too cold. The green vegetables are also at risk from brief temperature fluctuations, for example if the doors are opened during a customs check. That is why the cucumbers are taken fresh from the field and straight to a cold-storage facility where they are gradually cooled to 4 degrees. Only then are they transported to Germany in refrigerated trucks at a constant temperature of between 4 and 6 degrees. The temperature is monitored constantly throughout the entire journey. The logistics partner needs a high level of expertise about the particular characteristics of the produce. A successful supply chain also depends on planning and detailed preparation.

Digital not analog: this is how easy it is to plan the supply chain with DHL

Since To make the planning process and transport as efficient as possible for everyone involved in food logistics, DHL FoodLogistics has built a helpful digital platform solution.   "The digital platform handles customs clearance as well as transport planning for the individual growing region. With our solution, customers can access their data at any time," explains Andreas Lenz, Managing Director DHL FoodLogistics. Because it all happens digitally, data transparency, transport planning and even customs clearance have suddenly become extremely easy, and above all quick. Production or harvested quantities can be tailored to the expected deliveries, and the deliveries can be assigned to each production facility according to need. Deliveries in excess of or below the original harvest planning are entered transparently in near real time. That enables transport routes and capacities to be controlled more efficiently and distribution to the individual processing plants to be adjusted at short notice. For our mini cucumbers, that means they reach the next stage or their final destination even more quickly and efficiently.

Green cucumbers = green supply chain?

Sustainability is the issue of our age, and pickle production can also cut emissions with food logistics. Greenhouse gas emissions can be increasingly avoided through optimized route planning, efficient processes along the supply chain and further processing. When it comes to sustainability, even small changes can make a difference. "The customs presentation process is fully digital: all data and documents are stored in our portal in electronic form, and the customs notification is paperless. To achieve this we worked with our customers and the customs authorities to develop a targeted simplification of the customs process, involving registration as an authorized recipient with the main customs office for the production facilities," explains Christian Forschner, Branch Manager DHL FoodLogistics. Visual inspection of deliveries, quantity increases/reductions or notification of compliant unloading – everything is handled by an officially named production employee using the DHL digital platform. Digitalizing the customs process means that transport timings are no longer tied to the opening hours of the customs authorities. It also saves unnecessary waiting times for the customs inspection and avoids any exchange of air and the associated temperature fluctuations. The digital solution therefore safeguards the high quality of the produce and avoids waiting costs and spoilage. Left in the dark: once the cucumbers are loaded on the truck in the country of origin, the truck literally will not be opened again until it reaches the production facility. This is ideal because the cool and the dark help the vegetables to arrive packed with vitamins.

Cucumber meet jar

Depending on the country of origin, the cucumber's journey from field to jar takes no more than 5-6 days. The digitalization of the logistics processes has made a huge difference compared with the old days involving paper checks and long waiting times. Guaranteed freshness and punctual delivery – DHL's ultramodern solutions can be tailored for supply chains and add up to a great service in food logistics. So the next time you're standing in the pickle aisle in the supermarket or spicing up your hot dog or burger, remember everything that's happened to make your pickle taste so delicious and fresh. 

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