Mike Rodgers, director of East Coast operations for Giumarra Vineyards Corp., has a whole bunch of reasons why Delaware’s Port of Wilmington is the ideal location for his base of business.

Mike Rodgers, director of East Coast operations for Giumarra Vineyards Corp., checks out a bunch of Chilean grapes on the docks of Delaware’s Port of Wilmington.
Mike Rodgers, director of East Coast operations for Giumarra Vineyards Corp., checks out a bunch of Chilean grapes on the docks of Delaware’s Port of Wilmington.

Rodgers has seen the temperature-controlled supply chain for Chilean grapes evolve over the past few decades, and he sees the ports of the Delaware River continuing to be at the forefront. In an interview with the American Journal of Transportation, Rodgers offers thoughts on the sweet fruits of his labor, including Edison, Calif.-headquartered Giumarra’s foray into third-party logistics.

As your current responsibilities include logistics for Chilean fruit, what challenges are you facing in this regard and how are you responding?

Our biggest challenge is that we get about 80,000 up to about 120,000 boxes on one ship. The logistics of that is getting all that fruit inspected so we can ship it out within five to seven days.

We have five full-time inspectors who have to look at multiple growers and multiple sizes. The number of boxes we look at depends on how big the lots are.

On a typical vessel, we have [grapes from] 30 to 60 actual growers. It takes about two days to inspect 80,000 boxes. We had one vessel where we actually had 150,000 cases come in on it, and it took us about four days to inspect all the different lots. Logistically, that’s a nightmare, because you’re trying to get it in and out and shipped fast enough, but you’ve got to know what you have before you ship it.

How has the business of temperature-controlled logistics changed since the early 1990s, when you were beginning your career bringing fruit into the Port of Philadelphia’s Tioga Marine Terminal?

I think the biggest thing is that grapes back in the late ’80s and early ’90s arrived in a wooden box, and about half of the product wasn’t even in bags. A lot of it was loose or what we call tissue-wrapped for the premium packs.

The logistics part of it was the trucking. CDL [commercial driver’s license] drivers actually just started back in the early ’90s.

What we have now are drivers who are better regulated and better trained, whereas, back in the 1990s, there were a lot of questionable drivers and questionable equipment out there. So it’s a lot safer, that’s for sure.

And the warehousing is set up so much better now. We really try to keep things under temperature 100 percent of the time, where, back in the ’80s and ’90s, temperature-controlled atmosphere was a thing done for maybe a few specialty items.

So back in those days, it wouldn’t have been as easy to move 150,000 cases from a ship?

Y’know what? Prices were cheaper. Things just moved. Like with everything else, there were a lot more customers back then and a lot more outlets for off-quality fruit.

Now everything’s consolidated, and now there’s better food safety.

And then there are the CDL drivers. I remember back at Tioga, we were a testing ground for CDL drivers. Now everybody’s CDL. Back when it first started, there was no regulation on hours, and you would have guys run for 20 hours straight. Safety wise, it’s better now not just for drivers but for [other] people on the road.

How have you been successfully applying your decade-plus of third-party logistics experience at C.H. Robinson Worldwide Inc. prior to joining Giumarra Vineyards Corp. in 2011?

C.H. Robinson, as you know, is one of the leaders in third-party logistics. Giumarra Vineyards and Giumarra Companies, which is part of us, we handle multiple commodities – grapes, berries, asparagus, avocados, stone fruit, melons and the list just keeps going on.

Now, we started our own third-party logistics, because we’re handling all these items. It just makes it easier for our customers to be more in control of the product from field to their location.

Learning from Robinson, you want to be as close to the source and make things easier for your customers. It’s also much more efficient and helps keeps everybody’s cost down.

We have a couple of offices already that have their own transportation departments out on the West Coast, plus we have our own trans department here in Wilmington. A lot of our customers nowadays handle their own freight or use their own truck to backhaul.

Why is your location at the Port of Wilmington so strategically important for your company?

This is one of the things that I’m always promoting about this area: This is why Wilmington and Holt-Gloucester [Holt Logistics Corp.’s Gloucester Terminals LLC in Gloucester City, N.J.] are such great locations to bring in imports.

Being located at the port, we can ship it directly to our customers, whereas a lot of people have to take it from the port and go to an off-site facility. We believe that handling the product less gives the customers better fruit with longer shelf life.

Being located in this tristate region, we can hit 70 percent of our customers overnight and the other 30 percent within two days.

There are a lot of people in Florida who are trying to take the business away, and I just don’t see it. Then you’d have two locations to ship from. With one, you’ve got a central area with one set of warehouses. With another area, you’d need twice as many people and two different locations with two inventories instead of one inventory.

So do you ever see what now are essentially pilot programs in Florida taking a bite out of your business in the tristate area?

I am sure we will lose some business, but I do not expect the bulk of Chilean fruit to stop coming to this area.

So, for Chilean imports, I don’t see it moving, because I believe it would double everybody’s costs. We would then need two warehouses, two sets of employees and then we would have to manage two inventories.

I can load out of here and be in Chicago pretty much the next day. New York, Boston: No problem overnight. I can even get down to Atlanta the next day. So, logistically, you can’t beat the location we’re at.

Can one ever eat – or drink – too many grapes? Is there a particular variety you can’t get enough of?

Grapes are just a natural healthy snack. They’re year-round and they’re reasonably priced.

And, when it comes to wine, we all have been known to drink a little too much, but wine is not only good for you physically but it’s really good for the soul, and who could pass up a good piece a cheese with a glass of wine?

When it comes to grapes, I don’t think you can ever eat enough. Variety wise, we’ve got some new varieties out there that are just unbelievable.

This is where I get on my soapbox. We have a new variety called the Sweetie. It eats great. The only issue we’re having with this variety is that it can get a little too much color for a green grape, that’s called amber, and most consumers think that it is bad. Well, it’s not bad, it just has more sugar. So the higher the color is normally the better-eating fruit.

There was just an article in National Geographic about all the food that’s wasted because it doesn’t look right. People are buying with their eyes instead of how the fruit tastes, and the flavor. There are a lot of good new varieties out there, but consumers have to be more open-minded and get better educated or just try things. That’s one of the most difficult thing that I see in the industry.

What interests do you enjoy beyond the workplace?

The biggest, of course, is my family, but I think anyone in the produce industry would tell you that our next love is definitely the golf course. We love being out and not having to answer our phone for three-and-a-half to four hours, even though we normally do.

It’s one of the best times we could possibly have. Just make sure you finish with a nice glass or two of wine.