So how much innovation can there be in supply chain design for cut flowers? Once the industry globalizes (as it has), it would seem that airfreight is the only option. Customers value freshness and cut flowers are the essence of a perishable flower. However, there may be more room for process changes than you would think as there is a trend of shipping flowers by sea (Fresh-Cut Flowers, Shipped by Sea?, Wall Street Journal, May 11).
The delicate business of transporting fresh-cut flowers from field to vase is being quietly rearranged, with more and more blooms taking a slow steam by sea from South America and Africa instead of being whisked by air.
Global cut-flower sales approached $14 billion last year and most move by cargo plane, but high jet-fuel costs and improvements in chilling technology are prompting a shift to more ocean shipping, particularly for imports to Europe.
Ocean transport costs can be half those of airfreight, an important consideration for price-conscious supermarkets and florists. Mom is unlikely to notice the difference in her Mother’s Day bouquet. Proponents say certain roses, carnations and other hearty varieties show no ill effects from the sea voyages spent in refrigerated containers a degree or two above freezing.
According to the article, some industry participants say that ocean shipping could account for a significant chunk of the market in coming years. Currently, airfreight accounts for 99% of shipments.
There are, of course, some challenges to overcome. As noted above, this works better for some varieties than for others. Also, it takes a fair amount of coordination between multiple parties to make this work.
Transporting flowers by container ship takes significant cooperation among growers, shippers and wholesalers. Blooms must be chilled to near freezing shortly after harvest, putting them in a kind of suspended animation, and then maintained at the temperature in refrigerated shipping containers for a sea transit that can take up to two weeks. …
Ms. Scattini said better insulated, fully welded steel containers are among the improvements in refrigeration equipment over the past decade that have made the procedure possible.
Flowers sent by cargo plane undergo a one- to two-day transit. They are cooled after harvest, but not to near-freezing, and they can experience temperature changes inside air-cargo holds or during loading.
A fun story. At some level, this seems like a comparison between innovative and functional supply chains (to use Marshall Fisher’s terms). Importing flowers would generally put a premium on speed since the product has such a short life span. That is, they sound like innovative products. On the other hand, cut flowers are now sold through a wide variety of outlets and price matters. Finding a way to reduce shipping costs out and treating at least some varieties as functional then makes sense. A florist could have a base supply of some varieties cheaply available and supplement them with a mix of other blooms so regular customer still sees changing fresh offerings over time.