The Luxury of Lobsters

Air Cargo connects U.S. Businesses and Chinese consumers.

Lobster season has begun, and consumers around the world are flocking to local restaurants and grocery stores to snap up the luxury seafood that is as much a delicacy as it is a symbol of economic status. Particularly in China, there is a rapidly growing demand for fresh, live lobsters, but while chefs may cook the dinner, it is air cargo logistics that puts lobsters on the plate.

In China, urbanization, income growth and greater access to credit are all yielding a larger middle class with a taste for luxury. China’s growing middle class enjoys more disposable income, and many consumers are electing to purchase the high quality luxury seafood that was previously out of reach. As a result, seafood prices in China have outpaced other major food items, rising five percent annually over the last decade, according to data from China’s Academy of Agricultural Sciences. This kind of growth is expected to continue, and as imports constitute an ever larger portion of the Chinese seafood supply, there are numerous opportunities for businesses worldwide. Accessing these opportunities, however, presents significant challenges for seafood producers. How can fishermen reach high demand markets if they are half-a-world away?

In Key West, Florida, fishermen are catching lobsters whose size, weight and taste is comparable to the renowned Australian lobster species. Yet, these U.S. lobsters bring a more competitive price, if they can reach the Chinese market. The challenge for U.S. fishermen is moving live lobsters across 8,000 miles in less than 24 hours. For this kind of logistics challenge, the only solution is air cargo.

American Airlines Cargo works with shippers and forwarders in Florida to move live lobsters to Shanghai via Los Angeles. Air cargo’s greatest advantages—speed and efficiency—are critical to ensuring the lobsters are kept viable throughout their international journey. Lobsters cannot survive for long outside of water, and for international logistics, the clock starts as soon as the live crustaceans are removed from their holding tanks. After packing them in seaweed and a small amount of dry ice within an insulated Styrofoam container, the shipper works with their forwarder to quickly drive the lobsters to the airport. There, a waiting air cargo operations team completes the necessary screening and customs forms before ushering the shipment onto the plane. 

While a fast moving supply chain requires a precise handoff from the forwarder to carrier—as well as a jet aircraft traveling about 600 mph—the real key to ensuring live lobsters reach their destination in perfect condition is a brief transfer time. In Los Angeles, American’s operations teams are waiting to quickly remove the lobster shipment from one plane and onto another. Doing this in less than two hours takes a lot of planning, much of it before the lobster season even begins.

Pre-season planning is important for all cargo commodities. However, when dealing with delicate, high value seafood, there is no room for error or guesswork. From setting aside the appropriate capacity to coordinating flight times and working with customers, American has detailed plans in place before lobsters ever leave the water. This pre-planning is what keeps lobster shipments moving without delay, and the Los Angeles teams receive daily alerts on when to expect the next shipment so they are prepared to execute a quick connection when the plane arrives. 

Logistics is often the unsung hero of international commerce. Consumers rarely see or even know that without air cargo, the products they enjoy would be far more difficult—if not impossible—to access. Air cargo plays a critical role in helping the growing Chinese middle class satisfy their consumer appetite, but logistics is also critical for business and economic growth. The seafood shippers in Florida and around the world could not capitalize on the globalized marketplace without the fast, dedicated and coordinated work of air cargo logistics.

Because of air cargo’s unique role in fostering global trade, the industry serves as a thermometer on international economic performance. There remain many challenges for economic success, but through air cargo, businesses in the United States and consumers in China are enjoying the luxury of lobsters.

Leandro Moreira is a regional sales manager for American Airlines Cargo. He is responsible for managing cargo sales in the southeast region of the U.S. and is based in Miami.