How is palm oil transported from the ‘plantation to the supermarket shelf’?
The Versatility of Palm Oil
The oil palm is the most efficient oilseed crop and can be used in a wide array of products and industries. While they are grown in the tropical belt where they flourish, the demand for the commodity and its derivatives is global due to its high yield, which makes it more sustainable than other vegetable oil crops as it requires less land to produce.
Fundamentally, two types of oil can be produced from its fruit, crude palm oil (CPO) from the fleshy part and palm kernel oil (PKO) produced when the kernel is crushed. From these two oils, a myriad of fat-based products can be derived.
In the food industry, palm oil derivatives used include emulsifiers, stabilizers, naturally occurring Vitamin E in palm oil, and specialty fats used in for example, Cocoa Butter Substitutes. Other derivatives such as fatty acids and alcohols, surfactants, and esters are used to make products as far-reaching as soaps, hand sanitizers, pharmaceuticals, and even industrial lubricants.
From the Tropics to Beyond: Palm Oil Logistics
The global demand for palm oil can be seen from the fact that the top ten importers are situated across five continents. For a company like Musim Mas, which produces a wide array of derivatives for downstream companies, it involves shipping to more than 200 ports/destinations. The company’s global network of buyers is reached using a diverse plethora of international and regional shipping lines backed by a comprehensive network of freight forwarders and vendors.
The first journey made by the palm fresh fruit bunches is from the plantations to mills where they are steamed, crushed, and processed into CPO and PKO oil. It is a time-sensitive step as delays in processing will affect the quality of the oil produced and result in a poorer oil extraction rate. These mills are typically located within a drive’s distance, and the fruits are transported in trucks. In plantations surrounded by water bodies, the fruits are sometimes transported in boats instead.
From the mills, CPO and PKO are obtained and sold as commodities. The remains of the fruit bunches and liquid waste from processing in Musim Mas’ mills are recycled as fertilizer used in the company’s plantations. CPO and PKO that are not sold as commodities are shipped to refineries for further processing into derivatives such as emulsifiers or fatty acids.
Shipping from our mills and refineries is executed in a timely manner through careful coordination of our distributors and downstream customers using a diverse and comprehensive network offered by our logistics partners to all corners of the globe. The containers used depend on national requirements on the cargo. They can range from ISO Tanks, flexi-tanks, bulk-in-bags, jerry cans, intermediate bulk containers for liquid cargo, to paper bags, cardboard cartons, or even jumbo bulk bags.
These downstream companies using palm oil derivatives include food producers, companies producing personal care products you find on supermarket shelves, industrial chemicals, and many more.
In summary, the breath of palm oil derivatives and the logistics involved in getting these derivatives to end-consumers is virtually impossible to simplify. However, this article offers a glimpse into some common derivatives you might see around you, like on supermarket shelves and how they made the trek from the plantations.