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Duluth Cargo Connect loads season’s first maritime containers for export

June 7, 2022

In October 2021, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority announced that it had gained approval to begin maritime container-handling operations at the Clure Public Marine Terminal, adding waterborne container shipping capability to its existing land-based intermodal business. Duluth Cargo Connect, a working partnership between the Port Authority and its operating agent, recently initiated that new activity, loading the first containerized cargoes of 2022 for export aboard the Spliethoff-chartered vessel Nunalik.

The shipment consisted of approximately 4,500 tons of super-sacked kidney beans bound for Europe from the Chippewa Valley Bean Company in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Duluth Cargo Connect loaded the beans onto the Nunalik in 200 20-foot containers, which then sailed from the Port of Duluth-Superior, North America’s furthest inland seaport, across the Great Lakes and through the St. Lawrence Seaway to their European destinations.

Coordinating the shipment required collaboration with multiple players, including the Chippewa Valley Bean Company, Jeff Foster Trucking, Nexyst 360 (which assembles sustainable supply chain solutions), and the Spliethoff Group.

“We operate an excellent multimodal transport facility at the Clure Terminal, but to develop this maritime container business, it takes more than that,” said Jonathan Lamb, Duluth Cargo Connect president. “It takes the steamship line operators, customers, freight forwarders, truckers and third-party logistics providers. It takes everybody, all of them coming together to make a deal like this work, and we’re very appreciative of everyone who helped make it happen.

“It illustrates the kind of efficient, personalized service we can provide here in Duluth, and also how the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System can be a valuable supply chain alternative for importers and exporters.”

Cindy Brown, Chippewa Valley Bean Company president, called the innovative shipping arrangement “a saving grace” for her company, which is the nation’s leading exporter of kidney beans.

“It opens a new horizon for us to find containers and make an investment in our future by using the Port of Duluth – a port so close to us – with chartered vessels, to deliver product efficiently to our customers worldwide,” said Brown. “The sky’s the limit. We can find warehousing, we can have storage for our customers and now we can make sure that our product is there on time to meet the needs of retailers in Europe.”

Nexyst 360 provided a critical component of the groundbreaking deal, supplying its own specialized NexBox containers to accommodate the shipment. A technology-embedded shipping container, the NexBox is carefully crafted to ensure quality, traceability, sustainability, market access and mobility for specialty grains.

“Containers are in short supply worldwide, so it’s a major advantage to have our own private boxes,” said Al Dutcher of Nexyst 360. “But what’s really notable is the NexBox technology and how it fits into our overall process for linking farmers, buyers, and consumers with quality, traceable product that isn’t overhandled and moves efficiently.”

The Port Authority praised the arrangement as a collaborative effort, and also a promising expansion for Head-of-the-Lakes shipping.

“Greater cargo diversity and more multimodal shipping options make our port and our region more vibrant,” said Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority. “It’s a team effort to create these kinds of solutions for helping regional producers and manufacturers compete in the global marketplace, and we’re excited to see those efforts coming to fruition.”