Interview with John van Pelt, ZIM Australia Country manager
After a hiatus of several years, ZIM is back in Australia, and this time with a big bang! If current figures are an indicator of what’s to come, the future couldn’t look brighter.
We interviewed John van Pelt, ISS Australia General Manager, Liner, and asked him about this exciting venture.
Tell us a bit about the local market.
The main refrigerated export from the Australian market is beef, primarily out of Queensland, which exports over 80,000 TEUs per annum with the main destinations being China, USA, Japan, and Korea. Australia also has very strong exports of dairy, fruits, and food products. Australia is recognized globally for its high-quality food products.
How did this new ZIM operation start?
In the third quarter of 2020, ZIM introduced the China Australia Express (CAX) service between China and East Coast Australia. It was an instant success.
ZIM Australia’s service No. 2 came in December 2020, when ZIM introduced a standalone service called South Loop Australia Express (C2A), a very competitive product between Thailand, Vietnam, China, and East Coast Australia. The service added Malaysia in Q2 2021. This product has been very well received by the market, with Australian exporters looking for alternate markets to China.
ZIM Australia’s service No. 3 came in April 2021, when ZIM introduced a standalone service between Australian and New Zealand, providing well needed competition Across the TransTasman as well as providing ZIM with a regional product between Asia and New Zealand.
The introduction of the three services aligned with the build-up of demand between Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Australian agricultural exports have boomed in the past year due to welcome rain after the dry period of 2019, followed by devastating fires in early 2020. With ZIM’s reefer container fleet being the youngest of all lines, ZIM’s reefers, including ZIMonitor, have been favorably received by the local market.
What markets do you target?
Primarily China, Vietnam, and Thailand. We have an extremely competitive product. As we do not have vessel partners, we manage our services to meet our customer requirements, without limitation of plugs and space for our reefer customers.
From Melbourne and Brisbane, ZIM offers competitive transit times to Asia, with the added confidence of using the youngest reefer fleet in the business to support the beef, dairy, and fruit market.
With limited commercial flights to/from Australia, ZIM is committed to supporting pharmaceutical logistics with its ZIMonitor, which is excellent for transporting these products. With COVID-19 vaccines needing priority service, we are committed to prioritizing our ZIMonitor. service
The dedicated New Zealand to Australia service offers a great opportunity for fruit, vegetables, milk products (butter, dry milk), and food products, with market competitive transit time of 4 days across the Trans-Tasman.
Tell us some more about the export of grapes, a very sought-after commodity.
The grape season runs from January until April-May. When we started the service, we placed reefers in Melbourne and ran very successful trials with ZIMonitor, with our personnel on the ground to provide the required support. We export grapes to China (mainly Hong Kong) and Vietnam, and managed to transport a lot of products through this year’s season.
And how about meat?
Queensland is the largest exporter of beef. China, Japan, and Korea are the main destinations, and we can offer a very quick transit time from Brisbane to Shanghai. Another meat product is lamb from New South Wales, which we service to Vietnam and China.
What has been your experience so far?
We’re running really strong, with full shipments and lots of equipment. We have the whole vessel to offer, so the only restriction is the vessel size. ZIM can offer over 700 reefer plugs per week from Australia, which is an amazing number. We’re very excited about our reefers.
Within six months, ZIM moved from no market presence to three dedicated services. ZIM is keen to provide enhancements to our current products and seek new opportunities. ZIM is an amazing company to work with and Inchcape is proud to have been part of such a success story.
The growth has been amazing, from a standing start, Inchcape has a team of +45 across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and growing.
For our valued reefer customers, Inchcape provides dedicated customer service staff to provide specialized individual customer service.
How do customers react?
I must admit, it was a very steep learning curve at the start, learning ZIM’s systems and finding staff. All our Inchcape staff have been amazing getting up to speed. I must also thank our global ZIM colleagues for their support and training. It has been a real group effort.
Our customers appreciated our starting position and have been incredibly supportive. We are continuously improving our product and as we employ more people our response rate has improved significantly. We have moved a long way in such a short time. With priority on reefers, customers are delighted with our fast response to queries and our reefers’ performance.
It’s the positive feedback we receive and the increasing demand from our customers that pushed ZIM to launch new services as we see this trend continuing in the foreseeable future. We know we’re providing an essential service.
But the work is certainly not without challenges.
Indeed. The main challenge was getting the operation started, our ability to get the service up and running and offering products as fast as possible end to end. We have experienced staff in cold-chain logistics which certainly helped us. In addition, ZIM’s can-do approach was very instrumental onboarding customers, who are now on repeat bookings.
Another example of a challenge is when Hong Kong decided to limit the intake of reefers from Hong Kong into China. We pursued alternative solutions to minimize the impact on our customers and the cargo. We worked very closely with our customers and made quick decisions to find new destination ports and provide alternative solutions. Obstacles come up all the time, like restrictions in volumes or changes in destination. But neither ZIM nor Inchcape are companies that give up – we are flexible and work together with our customers to find a solution.
How do you see the future?
One of our main aspirations is to become the key reefer vendor of choice in Australia. I believe we are definitely on the right track.
We are a results-driven company with results-driven people that puts the customer at the center. We’re not interested in one-off shipments, but we want loyal customers that come back for our excellent service. We’re building their trust and they know that we’re there for them whenever they need us.
Our business would not be a business without customers, and we want them to build their business around us. I truly believe we’re accomplishing that.
John van Pelt, ZIM Australia country manager