Posted at 12:18 p.m., Monday, September 30, 2002
Produce, milk may be affected first in dock dispute
By Mike Gordon
and Kelly Yamanouchi
Advertiser Staff Writers
Shortages and higher prices for some perishable foods appeared likely in Hawai'i stores as labor troubles at West Coast cargo ports continued today.
The lockout of dockworkers from West Coast cargo ports already has prompted one Hawai'i wholesaler to switch to the expensive alternative: air freight.
Although many of the state's businesses said they have stockpiled goods in anticipation of troubles on the docks, Kelvin Shigemura, vice president of Armstrong Produce, today said his goods are too perishable to wait.
"We had some products sitting on the dock in Los Angeles, but because we couldn't get them on, we had to take it back," Shigemura said. "We took it to our air freight forwarder and they are scheduled to fly the product out Tuesday."
Armstrong Produce had already begun booking spaces for air freight in anticipation that ships scheduled to arrive later this week might be delayed.
"We are having our customers look at it on an as-needed basis because prices will be much higher," he said. "We don't want to bring too much in. Some customers can do without for awhile."
The latest shutdown means at least several additional days of delay in arrivals of supplies putting what had been regularly scheduled back as much as a week but businesses said yesterday that they believe the reserves they've built up can last for that long.
They would not say, however, just exactly how long supplies could last.
Safeway stores spokesman David Bowlby said the grocery store chain has a contingency plan to keep shelves stocked at its 18 Hawai'i stores, but could not provide details.
"We haven't needed to air freight yet," Bowlby said. "We had a ship that arrived yesterday in Honolulu."
Safeway had increased the amount of dry goods shipped to the state in recent weeks, he said, but he had no idea how long that surplus would last.
"This is a very fluid situation that we have absolutely no control of as far as the dock workers are concerned," he said.
Even though there are local farms, a prolonged lockout could affect milk supplies, said Janelle Saneishi, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
"More than half of the milk consumed in Hawai'i is imported," she said. "If the lockout or a strike goes on more than 10 to 14 days, we would probably feel some effect."
Locally produced raw milk must first go to school supplies she said.
Livestock feed, particularly for dairy cows, would also become a problem and that is a statewide concern, she said.
Jackie Smythe, a spokeswoman for Meadow Gold Dairies, said the milk company has plans to weather a port shutdown. She said the company uses local raw milk first before turning to Mainland supplies.
Flying in milk is an option, she said.
"We would do that if necessary, but here, for Meadow Gold, it is really unlikely it would be necessary," she said. "We have enough milk product in the Islands to keep things going."
Ross Anderson, general manager of Duke's Restaurant in Waikiki, said the restaurant started discussing contingency plans two weeks ago.
The latest news of indefinite port closures calls for more contingency plans, Anderson said. The restaurant already gets all of its fish and much of its produce from local suppliers, "but there is still a significant amount that does come from the West Coast."
"We're so dependent on the West Coast for incoming goods," Anderson said. "Everybody's going to have to fly things in. It'll be a cargo-jet bonanza."
The items most difficult to keep in stock when dock shipments from the West Coast are disrupted are toilet paper, paper towels and some produce, Anderson said. Lettuce in particular may be difficult to procure. "There's a local supplier for that, but that's going to dry up real fast when everybody starts to hit it," he said.
Although air cargo is an option for businesses, it costs significantly more and could lead to some businesses' raising prices in the event of a lengthy dock disruption.
"We would try and hold our prices but it would definitely affect retailers' bottom line," Anderson said.
Hawaiian Airlines said it had full loads of cargo out of Los Angeles yesterday, but had cargo space available on about half of its other flights from the West Coast. Aloha Airlines said it was too early to tell whether the airline would have cargo space available.