FreshForward: The face of progressive perishable air transport

FreshForward talks to Food and Beverage Industry News about its IATA CEIV accreditation, their involvement in Australian markets and how they’re utilising data to change air transport today.

Air transport has been the prevailing choice for transport of perishable goods since its conception in the 1900s. Since then, it has only continued to increase in demand and industry complexity.

Etihad Cargo’s FreshForward product is one air transport service that is not only aware of this, but contributing to, and effectively changing the industry today.

Established in 2018 as a branch of Etihad Cargo, Freshforward offers a perishable transport service designed to efficiently and effectively transport fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, fish, meat and flowers across the globe.

Despite last year’s disturbances related to COVID-19, transport for perishables remains high, according to Fabrice Panza, Etihad Cargo’s manager of global cool chain solutions.

“It’s true, globally you would have faced a decrease in the capacity (due to COVID-19) but when you look at the figures you also see that perishables continued to be transported at a high volume for any airlines,” he said.

With a high volume of produce being transported, FreshForward prides itself with a consistent and thorough examination of the factors and best practices in the cold chain process that affect maintenance of the product.

“When we look at perishables, we look at the kind of packaging to be shipped; there are quite a few requirements depending on the commodity itself and the nature of the good,” said Panza.

But it’s not only about catering to the best maintenance of the product.

“It’s about speed and being quick in the process,” said Panza. “It’s about effectiveness and productivity, it’s about making sure it’s the right temperature during operation with different commodities and it’s about providing the right environment and conditions so that from a product point of view the integrity of the product is being respected.”

And to control the right environment’s, FreshForward has the advantage of high-grade equipment.

“We have a very young fleet; the facilities are very modern, and it is all equipped with temperature control devices. That means even during flight we are capable of providing the right temperature environment at all times,” said Panza.

Care for the products, however, doesn’t start when it’s on the flight.

“We store the perishables in cool rooms before the departure, and immediately upon arrival the products go right to our facilities,” said Panza.

“An important step for us was to recognise all these elements, such as the amount of time taken before and after the food is transported, they are all part of process that should be standardised to a high level, and this is why we went into the IATA CEIV thresh certification in 2019.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a global trade association between airlines that created the Centre Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) accreditation. The certificate sets standards, regulations and guidelines for international and domestic transport of perishable goods, ensuring that the safety and specific needs of the product are met.

Receiving an IATA CEIV certification, is a big achievement for any airline, especially considering how recent FreshForward is. Currently there are still very few established airlines able to claim this title.

“The (IATA CEIV) certificate proves that we handle any kind of perishable goods at the highest standards,” said Panza. “The IATA CEIV accreditation gives the confidence to the exporters, the growers, the farmers all the way to the freight forwarder and consignees that it’s been handled in the right manner.”

With such a vast distance between Australia and many of its consumers, its important the transport services used are able to also meet the volume of products being exported.

“Australia market is primarily fresh meat, fruit, flowers dairy; FreshForward is really able to support that volume, while maintaining the integrity and quality of the product. This is vital for the quality of the Australian product,” said Colin Nicholls, Etihad Cargo’s Area Manager – Australasia.

Besides a focus on maintaining the quality of the perishables it transports, FreshForward is changing traditional air transport through the increased care and support for the companies they transport for. Their membership in the Australian International Freight Assistance Mechanism (IFAM) scheme presents a key example.

Created in response to COVID-19, the IFAM scheme is an Australian government program aimed to support air connections worldwide.

“We are only one of eight airlines that was awarded to participate,” explains Nicholls. “The scheme is driven to support the Australian exporters, growers and farmers to keep the Australian products in overseas markets that they competed in for many years and want to maintain their involvements in those markets.”

FreshForward, through this scheme, was awarded periods of contract from the Australian government, with 2021 marking the sixth agreement with them.

“Etihad Cargo is proud to be part of the IFAM program and I feel our FreshForward product has definitely supported being part of that scheme,” said Nicholls.

FreshForward’s ability to realise the importance of data and to utilise it to change how consumers and clients see the industry, places them as pioneers for digitalising air transport.

“The company we are working with is developing a smart code for their products and packaging, this allows anyone who can capture the QR code to learn the story behind the product,” said Nicholls.

Through using the QR code, it gives transparency not only about the quality of the transport service, but also about the product, such as how it was kept and the conditions it was in.

“We’re looking to re-create the journey the product as taken, and we’re trying to develop some videos with them to create some global exposure for their clients. We want to show that they are part of the airline and it’s not just them getting their meat to destination,” says Nicholls.

For FreshForward, it’s about creating strong evidence on what has happened in the journey.

“The technology allows us to be more efficient and to reflect how we can continuously improve ourselves,” add Panza. “This is all linked with IATA CEIV certification; the fact we are using this data earnt us this IATA CEIV certification. It means that we are producing data and we are analysing what is happening within the food chain to improve it.”

FreshForward is changing the face of air transport; it is no longer simply about moving products from one area to another. Even more so as economies start to recover from the pandemic, FreshForward looks to create partnerships and support every step of the supply chain and the industries that they function in.

“It’s not about the airline, it’s about the real cooperation between the farmer, the freight forwarded and the consignment,” said Panza. “You can’t work alone in this.”

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