In May 2015, Tom Gemels and Jonathan Bouchat started a new agency at the airport in Liege, Belgium named 'Fresh Express'. Both men come from the world of air- perishables, and together they decided to start a new company that would specialize in fruit and vegetable air cargo, exporting mainly from Africa. "There are other organizations that offer these services," says Tom."But we provide an extra service: we look for buyers for our clients in Europe. That way they know for sure that there is a market for their products."
Fresh Express provides transportation of fruit, vegetables, exotics, flowers and fish. "From small packages to full charters, we organize it all," says Tom. "A big advantage is that we are located at the airport in Liege, Belgium. This airport specializes in cargo, and the transit time is no more than three hours, much shorter than most of the other airports."
From left to right: Jonathan Bouchat (Fresh Express), Edward Amponsah Mensah (Integrity International Cargo LTD) and Tom Gemels (Fresh Express).
Fresh Express mainly focuses on import, but the export side is not shunned. "There is a challenge to come since export is not always available. In the past airlines were fairly 'stable', but nowadays people change airports much quicker. For example, one day their airport will be in Liege and the next day they are up in Amsterdam. We work a lot with Ethiopian Airlines and it is not so bad with them yet. If we grow in the future we will also want to locate ourselves at other airports, in order to address this problem."
Fresh Express rents a storage unit at the airport, where the products sit no more than three hours. From the airport the products are 'rolled' onto special plates, checked and prepared for transport. Approximately 100 tons can be transported per plane. "Suppose a flight lands here at noon, the shipment will be in Aalsmeer, The Netherlands eight hours later." Tom says that the supply of flowers is quite stable year round. "There is more variance with fruits and vegetables. When the European season begins less air shipments of certain products come in, such as berries."
Looking for markets
In recent years Tom has seen several changes in the air freight industry. For example, "More and more products are being packaged and labeled in the country of origin. Also, the volume of ready-to-eat products has increased, including in the air freight industry." In terms of prices, it is hard to be different from the competitors, but they can save on handling costs. "We offer healthy competitive rates, where service is paramount. Together with our clients we look for markets in Europe. This is what sets us apart. In addition, we monitor the cold chain and offer good trucking to AMS, BSM and RUNGIS."