Naples - From washing machines to the latest generation of refrigerated containers. This seems to be the fate of the former Whirlpool factory in Naples, which employs more than four hundred people .
However, the transfer of the plant’s ownership to the Swiss company PRS (Passive Refrigeration Solutions of Lugano) was not handled diplomatically by the US household appliances group, and caused a reaction from the trade unions, which asked for an explanation.
Just at this moment, PRS, a little-known company with an innovative plan, is trying to fill the diplomatic hole left by Whirlpool, meeting representatives of the institutions and the workers. The transition from building household appliances to containers can be read as a sign of the importance that transport and logistics can assume within the Italian economy.
It is also true, however, that this is a leap in the dark for the workers: from a well-known, mature production sector, to one that until now has been mainly promises and a gamble on a new technique. Passive refrigeration containers differ from traditional reefers in that they do not require a continuous connection to the power grid. It is a middle way between reefer and dry containers, particularly suitable for transporting fruit and vegetables. The aim is to attack the market between Europe and China.
“The use of passive refrigeration containers,” explains the owner of PRS, Alberto Ghiraldi, “is possible both on the outward and return journeys at dry rates, for both dry and reefer goods, thanks to the energy autonomy that is one of the essential characteristics of the system. PRS has both a company in Switzerland and a joint venture in China. This makes it possible to guarantee maintenance, services and global technical support for the European Union, countries along the Silk Road, and China. With this in mind, the company has decided to make an agreement with Spanish producers to open the road to China to Spanish goods. These are synergies that PRS has been working on for some time and that are now taking shape thanks to the changes that are taking place around the globe. The key is the PRS container and the savings it makes. From Europe to the Far East, the cost of freight is €10,000 for a reefer container and €3,000 for a container with passive refrigeration, which because it has energy autonomy, travels under the conditions of a dry container.”
As for the new conditions that favour the activity of his company, Ghiraldi explains: “A historical change is taking place on a global level. Firstly, there is a huge need on the part of China, particularly for fruit and vegetable products, and prices are rising, although the quality is not comparable with our own, which is better. And in China, organic products now cost more than they do in Italy. There is an opportunity to sell to top-end customers in China. Secondly, the trade war between China and the United States is very good for our fruit and vegetable sector. In this war China is fighting over the agricultural sector: it has blocked all imports that previously came in large quantities from the United States, whose products are of lesser quality than our own for the same prices. A window is opening for Italian exports. Thirdly, Russia has lifted its embargo on the passage of goods by train along the Silk Road, which it had previously blocked in retaliation for sanctions. Meanwhile, travelling by boat, the goods arrive on the coast, with a transit time of five weeks in addition to the land part of the trip, or a total of about six weeks. Transport by train reaches Beijing directly with a transit time of less than 20 days. You can now export a huge range of products through Russia which were previously blocked. Many had mistakenly assumed up until now that other avenues could be followed. I’m thinking of the joke about the oranges that someone suggested sending by air. It is these three global factors that have changed Italy and Spain’s export potential.”