Forum Perishables by Air: Grounds for Change?

The Flower Shippers' Forum 'Perishables by Air: Grounds for Change' at the Air Cargo Africa 2015 conference ran out of time before it ran out of topics. The mini-conference discussed the air cargo supply chain for flowers and was so popular that we had to provide for additional seating. The successful event was organised by Schiphol Cargo.

A lively and valuable debate about the supply chain

The mini-conference of 90 minutes started with a presentation by supply chain engineers Flowerwatch. During the presentation they used short films to illustrate the difference in quality between roses that are cut too early or at the right time. Then Jumbo – the Netherlands’ second-largest supermarket, and a major flower retailer – followed and explained that a flower bouquet, sold in their stores, has a guaranteed vase life of at least seven days. This guarantee sometimes forces them to discard 40% of cut flower purchases, due to deficiencies in the air cargo supply chain, according to Jumbo.

This statement provoked a heated response from some industry representatives and a lively debate followed. The representatives claimed that retailers needed to pay higher freight rates if they wanted a better supply chain. One handler questioned the value of funding the necessary investment in performance improvements for the current supply chain.

The discussion then moved to more positive grounds, examining topics as the need for defined accountability - possibly via SLAs like those already existing between handlers and carriers. The audience was curious to know who would take the lead in setting the underlying standards for such agreements.

Right temperatures and packaging important for quality

Flowerwatch flagged the importance of the core temperature of the flowers - dictated by the timing of cutting - and the ambient temperature at the moment of packing by the grower. If the original temperature is not cool enough, the rest of the chain cannot correct this. During the debate, some airlines pointed out that the fuselage of an aircraft cannot be cooled to the ideal temperature of 4 degrees Celsius. Additional cooling or temperature preservation measures are needed for this.

Another challenge revealed was the 75+ different sizes of flower packaging used in East Africa and 100+ in South America. 'Why not reduce these to a few standard types of packaging', delegates asked? Standardised packaging would make pallet building easier, use volume more efficiently, as well as help improve quality standards.

A great start for further discussions and development

'The event acted as a perfect catalyst for interaction between major growers, key industry representatives and Jumbo, as representative of the retailer’s viewpoint. I am convinced we made valuable progress in achieving better mutual understanding between customers and the industry. We can now set an agenda for further development', says Schiphol Cargo’s perishables expert Bart Pouwels.

The captivated audience forgot their iPhones and tablets for the duration of the event. And the amount of discussion and interaction meant that moderator Enno Osinga covered barely half of his pre-prepared questions. The debate continued in small groups throughout the networking event that followed the forum.