Food importers shift from dry bulk cargo ships to containers
* Near 12 pct of 2012 grain, oilseed trade containerised
* Containers cheap to Asia due to its consumer goods exports
By Sarah McFarlane and Jonathan Saul
LONDON, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Food importers in Asia are switching from dry bulk cargo ships to container vessels, which normally carry goods such as toys and TVs, as they offer a way to import smaller amounts and can be cheaper per tonne.
The global transport of agricultural commodities traditionally has taken place on carriers brimming with 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes of a single cargo such as corn or sugar.
But the market is changing as ships seek to fill empty containers after unloading consumer goods in Western countries and offer competitive rates for commodities going back to Asia, the world's manufacturing hub.
At the same time, Asian import demand for animal feed grains is increasing as rising incomes trigger a move away from the traditional rice-based diet into more meat and dairy products, providing more opportunities for smaller importers.
China is expected to surpass the European Union as the world's leading consumer of pork on a per capita basis by 2022, while its dairy product consumption is expected to rise by 38 percent, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
"As Southeast Asia develops economically, you have demand for better quality, high-protein diets, and ports don't (necessarily) have the infrastructure for bulk vessel receiving," said Brian Bickford, president of AgriLogistics, a U.S. company specialising in grain shipping. Continuación...