What are the most important criteria for cut-flower transport? Well, it’s all about temperature, temperature, temperature. Anything else is of secondary importance. That’s the advice a colleague from FlowerWatch gave me once. FlowerWatch is a Dutch company that focuses on improving the cold chain and ensuring a good vase life.
It sounds so simple: cold into the box, cold out of the box. But it’s often hard to achieve! We’ve been sending flowers all over the world for 15 years now and it’s proven to be a real challenge keeping an air freight shipment constantly below 10°C.
Why? The weakest links are the growers and the airlines. There are still quite a few growers in South America that don’t have appropriate cold storage facilities. Poor maintenance, lack of air circulation or flowers that haven’t been sufficiently cooled are some of the main problems.
Furthermore, road transport to the airports often isn’t great (providing no or inadequate cooling), which means that freight agents don’t receive products at the right temperature to start with.
The freight agents themselves are mostly well organised. But as soon as flowers are dropped off at the airline company, it all goes wrong again. Scanning and stacking onto air pallets takes place outside the cold store.
And loading and unloading of the planes takes place in the open air of course. It isn’t rare for this to happen at the hottest time of the day, under the tropical sun and on burning hot tarmac. And all of this is repeated if there are stopovers on the way, which is more likely for long distance flights.
Strange enough, you hardly ever see anyone using thermal covers. And so it happens that cut flowers have warmed up to over 22°C when they arrive at their destination! Totally absurd really, when each waybill clearly states ‘keep cool at 1 – 4°C’.
I’m often amazed at how, after all those years, the air freight transport sector still hasn’t figured out how to manage the cold chain best. Unlike the ship transport sector, which has been doing this very successfully for years with reefer containers. Logistics – a ‘cool’ business.
Victor van Dijk is areamanager South America, FleuraMetz