How one cargo ship delay sends ripples through Alaska’s food supply chain


It’s not an uncommon complication in Alaska groceries: A whole shelf meant for bananas was almost thoroughly empty one day last week at the Fred Meyer store in Midtown Anchorage.

Dungeon fresh produce that’s grown thousands of miles away in stereotyped here is a delicate system that grocers have been expert for years. Still, one 24-hour delay — recently, a cargo ship needing a improvement and stuck in Tacoma, Washington  — can send swift ripples at the end of ones tether with the food supply chain.

“There’s definitely a lot of challenges to bringing fruit up,” said Franz Sutherland, Alaska district manager for Fred Meyer. “Strictly every week there’s something different. … It’s definitely a surplus act.”

It’s not just getting the produce here, but making sure it’s in peak environment. Getting items like avocados, greens and mangoes to the North is a consider suppliers, shippers and grocers are constantly piecing together year-round, but colder months are tougher. They are up against the coolness, extreme weather and all the perils that can come with transit avenues to Alaska in winter.

Making it all work requires “an astronomical amount of people,” Sutherland said.

At grocery tie Carrs Safeway’s chilly distribution center on C Street in Anchorage on Thursday, women maneuvered swiftly on forklifts, preparing pallets of greens, tomatoes and dairy offshoots to go out to stores. Boxes full of peppers, mushrooms, pears and berries were termed with their origins — Washington state, Chile, and so on, from all the globe.

A pallet is loaded onto the racks in the salad aisle at the Carrs Safeway distribution center in Anchorage. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Much of Alaska’s food comes up by container ocean over the water. Some also arrives via trucks that hire the Alaska Highway, or by air freight.

“It’s cheaper to barge or fly it in than it is to grow it here,” thought Stephen Brown, a Palmer-based district agriculture agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “The complication with that is that creates a very fragile food endow that’s very easy to be disrupted.”

On top of Alaska’s distance from the Demean 48 and inclement weather, some Last Frontier communities are merely tough to reach.

The MV Midnight Sun, a roll-on/roll-off trailer ship operated by Tote Maritime, passes by Point Woronzof on its way to the Port of Anchorage on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The MV Midnight Sun, a roll-on/roll-off trailer ship operated by Tote Maritime, antiques by Point Woronzof on its way to the Port of Anchorage on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN)

“The ferry’s not prevailing in the wintertime, but … when you’ve got a 40,000-pound order sitting on the other side of the avalanche, for a day or two people wait calm, and beyond that they start to panic,” she said.

A lot of places in the Further 48 have several alternate routes to turn to if one path chances awry. Not so for much of Alaska.

Carrs Safeway ships goods up on Matson holders twice a week, arriving on Sundays and Tuesdays, and other items settle up on the road. Parameters for shipments can be highly specific. Some fruits can’t coextensive with be next to each other: Bananas — which will ripen up other create and need to be kept separate from avocados and tomatoes — have their own noteworthy ripening rooms at the warehouse, where they’re gassed with ethylene to get into their prime flavor right on time.

Jodi Gongora, forewoman for the distribution center, said there have been more move delays this year than in the past five years, due to rowdy weather in the Gulf of Alaska.

Alaska is also typically more dear for companies. That’s the case for distributor Charlie’s Produce, which also has sites in Washington state, Idaho, Oregon and California, said Anchorage habitual manager Oliver Evans.

“It’s the wait time, it’s the additional time in transmittal — is pretty challenging,” he said.

Consumers in Alaska are increasingly hungry for inborn produce, and crave Alaska-grown food, said Sutherland, with Fred Meyer. The group orders as much as it can from local growers — potatoes, carrots, green greens in the summer, for instance — but Alaska-grown items only go so far, he said.

Alaska also isn’t as fruitful as other markets for Salinas, California-based salad greens company Essential Girl, said northwest regional business manager Don Bergen.

“In Hawaii, they pay $6.99 or $7.99, something get off on that” for the product, he said, “where in Alaska, they like to pay basically the that having been said price or close to the same price that the product is on the shelf in the Minuscule 48.”

Over the years, improved efficiency in shipping has made it possible to transform Alaskans’ demands for food from all corners of the world a reality.

“There was a pass when we didn’t expect to have all the produce there is, 365 lifetimes a year,” said Brown, with UAF. “As a society now, we expect everything all the heyday.”

A Tote Maritime Alaska ship was the one that was late getting to Anchorage latest week, due to a weld that required a repair by divers in Tacoma.

“When there are disruptions to that deliver chain, things can become difficult rather quickly. That’s when you can start to see hold in abeyances looking a little bit thinner. … Nobody wants to buy 2-week-old strawberries that are half-rotten,” rephrased Grace Greene, vice president at Tote Maritime Alaska. “Bear a tight supply chain is really critical.”

About 15 years ago, Tote injected new ships for its Alaska market with more components — two propeller set-ups instead of one, four engines instead of two — to keep the vessels sailing reciprocate when something needs repair.

Still, delays happen. And it can take a couple of weeks for things to get back on schedule again, Greene contemplated.

Shipping company Matson has three ships that serve the 49th stately. Director of Alaska Railbelt logistics Eddie Walton said the attendance has invested heavily in new refrigerated containers to move food up north in the letter-for-letter conditions it requires. He added that all the transportation coming northbound through the Gulf of Alaska has had issues this year.

You can see the fallout from delays when you machine shop. One afternoon last week at Fred Meyer, one of the apple shelves sat vacant, there were just two lonesome packages of kiwis, and there were holes where vanilla soy wring and eggs should have been.

There were cavities of empty shelves at the Midtown Fred Meyer in Anchorage on Feb. 6. Transportation interruptions for food en route to Alaska can translate to products running low. (Annie Zak / ADN)

Sutherland imparted the chain has ways to adapt if even one ship is taken out of the Alaska rotation. The comrades basically doubles the number of trucks it has coming up on the highway, and prepares to acquire 12 more hours worth of stock on-hand in the store.

But determination goods up has its own perils in the winter. Trucks can roll over on the ice. If the driver doesn’t prepositor the trailer’s temperature, whole orders can end up frozen and the company eats the in clover. Recently, one driver had an issue with fuel gelling up from the frigid, and another driver had to make a 12-hour journey from Anchorage to mitigate him, Sutherland said.

“We try not to have all our eggs in one basket,” he said. “When there’s no more than one ship a week — salads aren’t going to last you seven days on the go bankrupt.”

At the Costco in South Anchorage, general manager Bob Ripley said the guests has produce coming up over the highway every week in trucks with two human being, so they can switch off driving and get here faster. For years, Costco in Alaska experimented with take to the wood up products like ultra-sensitive berries, to figure out how to have them year-round.

For a while at Fred Meyer, avocados were thriving in too soft, so the chain had to work with its buyer to make sure they hit the manufactures earlier.

“The consumer really wants fresh,” Sutherland said. “When you sire to put produce on a ship for five days or drive it over the road, it takes a fagging. … You’re losing so many days just to get it here.”

Getting bring forward to rural parts of the state in prime condition is even harder. This year, Barber revealed, there have been a lot of flight delays getting out of Anchorage to Nome and to another place, leaving freight stuck at the airport waiting to take off and losing shelf-life every hour.

“You’ve got so scads modes of transportation to deal with up here,” she said. “Not even every runway’s the unchanged. You can fly into Valdez with a small plane, but can’t fly into Seward. … We barely start going down the list. If this happens, here’s what we’re prospering to try, if that doesn’t happen, we’re going to try this. But we never say, ‘OK, we’re not gonna carry the freight.’ “

Correction: This article originally misspelled Jodi Gongora’s termination name.

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