Vitamin sea

The Port of Hamburg is Germany’s most important hub for tropical fruit. Containerisation has had a huge impact on its traditional business, but HHLA Frucht has handled the changes and taken advantage of Hamburg’s position as a rail port.

The legendary banana steamers have docked at the Port of Hamburg week in, week out for more than 100 years. The striking reefer ships brought Europe a reliable supply of exotic tropical fruits from Africa, Australia, South and Central America – not just bananas, but also pineapples, kiwis, avocados and many other varieties of fruit and vegetables. But since the continent began using containers for overseas trade in the late 1960s, the way these goods are handled at the ports has changed dramatically. With the introduction of refrigerated containers – also known as reefers – came the containerisation of fruit shipments. Today, the fresh products are only supplied in reefer containers. HHLA Frucht- und Kühl-Zentrum (HHLA Frucht) at Hamburg’s O'Swaldkai had to handle a lot of changes. Handling processes and transport chains have had to be adapted. But the rise of the container has also opened up new opportunities and markets.

Going Bananas

Germany is literally a banana republic. Hardly any other European country is quite as fanatical about this sweet yellow fruit. With an annual per-capita consumption of approx. twelve kilograms, the banana is the country’s second most popular fruit after the domestic apple. Around 1.3 million tonnes are imported each year. But while the German market is saturated, in Eastern Europe in particular, there is still plenty of room for growth. In Poland, for example, annual per-capita consumption is currently seven kilos and rising.


With fruit trains eastward

One important benefit of the location is its excellent hinterland connections. This is where Hamburg plays its trump card as the largest rail port in Europe: banana containers are transported directly from the fruit terminal to Eastern Europe by rail. To do this, HHLA Frucht also uses the services of Metrans, HHLA’s rail subsidiary.

“Every week, we load three to four block trains with up to 44 banana containers each, ready to send on to Poland and Romania,” says Axel Hoeckrich, Managing Director of HHLA Frucht. “It takes no more than three hours to load the wagons.” With its efficient hybrid locomotives, the rail connection is not only environmentally friendly, but also faster than the alternative sea route across the Mediterranean. “Transporting the goods to Romania by ship takes around two weeks longer,” says Hoeckrich.




Technically, O'Swaldkai is perfectly suited to container shipments. It processes two fully containerised services of bananas every week, including from the Colombia Express, which operates a liner service for Maersk in the South America trade. From the ships, the containers are either sent to the refrigerated warehouse, where they are unloaded by 60 forklifts, or to one of the terminal’s 300 reefer connections, which keep the refrigerated containers at the correct temperature.

Bananas are stored at exactly 13.7° Celsius

Last year alone, HHLA Frucht processed 430,000 tonnes of bananas through its refrigerated warehouse. A further 250,000 tonnes passed through the terminal unopened as FCL containers, i.e. full container loads. Added to this were approximately 100,000 tonnes of other fruit such as pineapples, citrus fruit and apples. The 145,000-square-metre site is home to three fruit warehouses with a total of 20,000 pallet spaces and a highly efficient banana processing facility. Here, the tropical fruits await their onward transport to ripening warehouses at a cool 13.7 degrees Celsius.




“We also bring 200 banana containers from the HHLA Container Terminal Burchardkai to our facility every week, as well as additional fruit containers that arrive at the other terminals around Hamburg,” explains the Managing Director of HHLA Frucht. These port transhipments are increasingly travelling by water and avoiding jams. This has both economic and ecological advantages.

HHLA Frucht is perfectly positioned to face the challenges of tomorrow, and plans to continue securing the “vitamin supply” to Germany and its neighbours into the future. After all, almost one in three bananas eaten in Germany has called at O'Swaldkai on its way to the consumer.