Johannesburg, South Africa—Flower growers, retailers and air cargo industry executives made good progress in identifying challenges and potential solutions in shipping flowers by air, at the Flower Shippers’ Forum organized by Schiphol Cargo, as part of the recent STAT Times Air Cargo Africa conference.
In a rare meeting of all the elements in the cut flower supply chain, the need for defined standards, procedures and accountability in transporting flowers met with strong agreement – along with a suggestion that the industry adopt SLAs (service level agreements) like those that exist between handling agents and their carrier customers.
Delegates at the forum, “Perishables by Air: Grounds for Change?”, questioned why growers in East Africa use over 75 different types and sizes of flower packaging, while South American growers use over 100 different designs. Industry executives claimed reducing these to a few standard types of packaging would make aircraft pallet building easier, utilize capacity more efficiently, and help to improve quality standards.
One concerned major retailer said that his company sometimes discarded up to 40 percent of flower shipments on arrival, to maintain their quality promise to customers of a minimum 7-day vase life. This provoked a heated response from some airfreight industry representatives, who claimed that retailers should pay higher freight rates if they want a better supply chain. One handler questioned where the value existed in the current chain, to fund the necessary investment in performance improvements.
A perishables supply chain expert demonstrated the difference in quality between roses which are cut too early, and at the right time. He also stressed the importance of the core temperature of the flowers, which is dictated by the timing of cutting and the ambient temperature at the moment of packing by the grower. If the origin temperature is not cool enough, he said, the rest of the chain cannot correct this later.
Airline representatives meanwhile pointed out that the fuselage of an aircraft cannot be cooled to the ideal temperature of 4 degrees Celsius, necessitating additional cooling or temperature preservation measures in some circumstances.
Places at the forum were at a premium, and additional seating had to be provided to meet the unexpected demand. The lively discussion and interaction across the floor meant moderator Enno Osinga, Schiphol Cargo’s Senior VP, covered barely half his pre-prepared questions; the debate was seen to continue in small pockets throughout the networking event that followed the forum.
“The event acted as a perfect catalyst for interaction between major growers, key industry representatives and the retail sector. I am convinced we have made valuable progress in achieving better mutual understanding between customers and the industry, and we can now set an agenda for further development,” said Schiphol Cargo’s perishables expert Bart Pouwels.