Long before the cucumber harvest, a logistics plan must be in place to get them from the field to the jar and ultimately the supermarket shelves. It’s a complicated food logistics process stretching from anticipating crop yields and harvesting data to digital transport planning. If not done right, it can put logistics providers in a pickle. 

Food transportation is no easy story to tell

Depending on where you live, the word “pickle” might make you think of a cosher dill, a cornichon, a kimchi, or a mango pickle. Our ancestors’ need to preserve food has evolved into a rich platter of pickles on the planet. Telling the story of food transportation is much like walking down the pickle aisle in your local supermarket. There are so many; which one do we pick? 

Food and perishables (F&P) logistics is a highly specialized business. You need specific certifications to handle it, specific assets to manage it, and specific expertise to understand it. There’s no way to standardize the transportation of food because each transport is unique. The devil is in the detail, and food transportation companies must meet the right requirements to ensure the products arrive safely and unspoiled.

This complicated journey cucumbers take to become pickles will likely surprise you. Hardly anyone knows how well-planned and ultra-efficient the food logistics must be to get these little green guys from the field to the jar. Pickles may be well preserved for a long shelf life, but the young cucumbers – like nearly all fresh produce – can spoil very easily. Some of the details in this logistics story are unique to pickles, but it captures the essence of food transportation quite well. 

Food logistics often starts underground

The transportation of fruits, vegetables, and other perishables begins long before they leave the ground.  Shortly after one season’s harvest, the logistics for the next season must be planned. Particular attention is paid to the expected harvest and where the crops will be grown, which can change depending on the weather. The anticipated crop yield and harvesting time are as important as the varying requirements for transporting food across international borders.

For example, cucumbers need a health certificate to enter the European Union (EU). The leading suppliers of cucumbers to the EU are Serbia, Bosnia, and Turkey, which means that certificate will certainly be required. However, the weather and harvest forecasts may indicate that supplies could also be sourced from Albania, Bulgaria, or North Macedonia. By harvesting the data, a food logistics company can prepare the proper customs clearance documents, map out the best routes and modes of transportation, and so much more, all before the first cucumbers ripen.


Cucumbers have the highest water content of any food


Cucumbers require a constant cool temperature during transport

5-6 days

The journey from field to jar takes less than a week

Keeping it fresh

Cucumbers are tender annuals that thrive in warm temperatures between 18-23°C (65-75°F). However, once out of the ground, they need to be stored and transported in a cool environment and handled with utmost care. This is because cucumbers are made up of around 96% water – the highest water content of any food. Therefore, they can spoil quickly if it is too warm or too cold. That’s why cucumbers are taken fresh from the field and straight to a cold-storage facility, where they are gradually cooled to 4°C (39°F). Only then are they transferred to refrigerated food transportation trucks and kept at 4-6°C (39-43°F) for the journey across Europe.

Even relatively short fluctuations in temperature can adversely affect cucumbers, for example, when the truck doors are opened during a customs inspection. This makes temperature monitoring critical throughout the entire journey. Food transportation companies often use smart sensors to track and log the environmental conditions of each shipment, such as temperature, humidity, shock, light, and even air pressure. They also rely on digital customs clearance procedures, which reduce customs inspection requirements at the border and allow the trucks to stay closed during the journey. Keeping cucumbers cool and dark ensures they arrive fresh and packed with vitamins.

Pickling the data

It should be clear by now that data plays an essential role in food logistics. However, the deciding factor is how well you use that data. Companies that transport food cannot meet today’s demands without digital solutions. The platform that houses and harnesses the information is as crucial to the food logistics process as the jar is to the pickling process. After each ingredient is added to the system, out comes an efficient and, dare we say, sweet supply chain.

With a robust online solution, we can simplify the complexities of F&P logistics. Transport planning is tailored to each growing region and anticipated harvest. Customs clearance is processed digitally and paperless, which allows us to register and be cleared as an authorized and trusted recipient. This simplifies and speeds up the entire process – and safeguards the high quality of the product, avoiding idle time and spoilage. In addition, we can enter any fluctuations or adjustments in the supply chain in near real-time. As a result, we can quickly modify delivery schedules based on actual quantities at harvest time and reassign transportation capacities according to need. This also allows us to manage routing and capacities more efficiently and adjust distribution to each processing plant on short notice. What’s more, customers can access their data at any time, which allows them to track shipments, monitor conditions, and communicate up and down the supply chain. 

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Conserving resources

What’s more, the efficiency gains cut food logistics emissions, which means our cucumbers complete their perilous journey faster, safer, and environmentally friendlier.

How exactly does that work in pickle production? As explained above, by harnessing digital technology and harvesting data, we can optimize the entire process. The system uses the anticipated crop yields and harvesting time to plan the shortest shipping routes and fully utilize truck capacity. At the border, we avoid unnecessary delays waiting for customs inspections, and our food transportation schedule is no longer tied to the opening hours of customs offices. Visual inspections, changes in quantity, compliant unloading procedures, and more are managed in the digital platform by authorized personnel. Every little efficiency gain can make a big difference come harvest time when there are thousands of moving parts in the supply chain.

Crunch time

In pickle production, the harvest is the critical moment when all the planning and preparation is put into action. Today, the cucumber’s journey from field to jar takes no more than five-six days, depending on the country of origin. So, the next time you crunch into a cosher dill, a cornichon, a kimchi, or a mango pickle, remember that billions of bytes have guaranteed that the bite you just took was a tasty one.


DHL Ocean Thermonet & DHL Ocean Reefer Logistics