Looking out at a modern containerized cargo terminal, an image that jumps out immediately is the wide range of colours. The boxes come in a wide range of colours – bright red, navy blue, several shades of orange – but it’s the white boxes that signify a very specific type of cargo and that is high-value products and goods that need to be held at a certain temperature.

“Temperature-controlled cargo is a very important category of cargo for Port of Halifax,” said the Halifax Port Authority’s (HPA) Lane Farguson. “The agri-food and seafood export industries contribute significantly to the economic output of Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada,” noting that a significant volume of these products move through the port. “Thanks to advancements in the cold storage supply chain, high-value food products including pork, beef, seafood, blueberries, potatoes as well as food-grade lentils and grains can be shipped anywhere in the world from Atlantic Canada,” he said.

According to a recent economic impact study on the Port of Halifax, an export container moving through the port has an average value of $25,000 in direct and spinoff economic benefit. However, a container filled with Nova Scotia seafood is worth $73,650 in direct and spinoff economic benefit to the economy of the province, said Farguson. “This underscores two things – the importance of the seafood industry in Nova Scotia and the importance of having a convenient and efficient way of getting that product to international markets,” Farguson said.

Over the years the Port Authority has installed approximately 1,000 electrical plugs at its two container terminals, approximately 500 each at both the Southend terminal operated by Halterm and the Ceres operated terminal at Fairview Cove. However, with the growth of the temperature controlled cargo sector, more installations are planned, with an additional 150 plugs being added to Halterm during this summer and fall.

The growth in refrigerated cargo has occurred as both importers and exporters have worked diligently to increase their business, and also because of the arrival of Tropical Shipping to Halifax. Tropical began service through Halterm in January providing a weekly service, with two vessels to Florida, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

Tropical carries temperature-controlled cargo, and in 2018 will introduce two new vessels into the service, thus enhancing Halifax’s cold supply chain and putting a greater demand on the port’s cold chain infrastructure. The two new vessels, which will replace the present ships, will each have a capacity to carry 1,100 TEUs with 270 plugs for temperature-controlled cargo.

Halterm CEO Kim Holtermand, said, “From our perspective, Tropical Shipping’s greatest strength has been in its ability to deliver a quality refrigerated service, on-time and from end-to-end, while all the time planning for the future development of its markets with bigger vessels due in 2018.”

He said Tropical’s direct weekly service from Halifax to its own dedicated terminal in West Palm Beach, Florida and to a range of Caribbean ports, most notably its direct call to Puerto Rico, “allows Canadian exporters in the Atlantic provinces fast, efficient, access to these markets.”

An intricate part of Tropical’s ability to offer its southern service to mainly exporters of temperature-controlled products from Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada is CN’s involvement in the cold supply chain with its temperature controlled cars.

“CargoCool is an important and growing business for CN,” said CN’s Patrick Waldron. “We continue to expand our CargoCool 53-foot fleet with additional units coming online by the end of the year. CN is also upgrading the fleet for better monitoring of KPIs (key performance indicators) and mechanical issues and also testing new internal designs to improve air flow and further reduce the emissions of the diesel engine as cargo cool containers flow in and out of Halifax,” he said. CN’s CargoCool service is equipped with an advanced monitoring system that detects the slightest variation from the temperature designated for the cargo.

Gordon Cole, Tropical’s Vice-President (Canada) said the intermodal links, such as CN and its daily temperature-controlled service, are of great benefit to his company. A further benefit, said Cole, is the number of cold storage facilities in the Halifax region.

An example of those cold storage facilities in Nova Cold Logistics which operates approximately 150,000 square feet of cold storage space in three facilities, two in Burnside Industrial Park, and the third in the Halifax Gateway Logistics Park, all in Dartmouth.

Approximately 65 to 70 per cent of the products handled by Nova Cold are frozen seafoods, says General Manager Mike Harper. The remaining products include dairy, fruit, vegetables and other foods. With Nova Cold’s facilities in Nova Scotia at capacity and growth opportunities on the horizon, the company is planning a major expansion, a 60,000-square-foot warehouse attached to its location in Halifax Gateway Logistics Park. The company expects to have the new facility operational by the end of 2018.