Northeastern wholesalers are talking with Mexican exporters about bringing Mexico produce into Philadelphia via ocean vessels.

For the past year, Ship Philly First, a group of business owners and the Mexican consulate in Philadelphia have been exploring ways exporters can avoid border delays and ship produce into the Port of Philadelphia.

Some studies are probing whether there could be enough traffic to warrant establishing a shipping route between the Gulf of Mexico’s Port of Veracruz and Philadelphia, said Mike Maxwell, president of Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp.

In late May, a group of Mexican food exporters who ship products including limes toured Delaware River port facilities and met with officials of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

The group visited the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, the Gloucester City, N.J.-based Holt Logistics Corp., and Gloucester Terminals LLC as well as distributors on the Philadelphia Wholesale Market.

Mexico, Philadelphia discussing produce arrivals via shipThe Mexicans met with almost a dozen produce importers, including Procacci Bros. and Ephrata, Pa.-based Earthsource Trading Inc., a subsidiary of Four Seasons Produce Inc.

Maxwell said Pennsylvania and New Jersey invested millions of dollars to deepen and widen the Delaware River so the ports could accommodate larger ships.

Philadelphia receives many truckloads of Mexican produce and as truck rates continue to escalate, the shipment of some items, including melons and roots, via ships could become a viable alternative, he said.

“The Mexican exporters are looking at the port and the different cold storage options,” Maxwell said. “We have the facility and it’s been a proven port for imported fruit. If the cargo and logistics work for the shipping lines to come right into Philadelphia, the Port of Wilmington or at Eddystone, it could be a valuable option to get into the Northeast.”

Eric Gingrich, Earthsource’s procurement manager, said ocean shipping could help with produce imports.

“I think it could be feasible and an interesting endeavor,” he said. “Truck rates have been rising in all areas of the U.S. That makes bringing product by boat more feasible today than it was five years ago. The challenge would be to have enough product to fill up a boat and to make timely deliveries.”

The group also visited governmental officials as well as area cold storage facilities.