Marcel Claessen shares the big steps of a seamless cooling chain:

Full steam ahead towards a seamless flower cool chain

The Holland Flower Alliance has now been going for more than a year. Aimed at designing the best possible flower chain, from production countries, passing through Schiphol and the Netherlands, and on to consumers across the globe, our ambition is to be the world’s preferred flower hub. Today, with some pride, I can report the big steps we have taken in recent months, particularly when it comes to the seamless cooling chain.

It is time for an update!

Holland Flower Alliance (HFA) is an open partnership established by Schiphol Cargo, KLM Cargo, and Royal FloraHolland. The HFA innovates within the supply chain by scrutinizing processes (both physical and digital), post-use packaging, ICT connectivity and Customs, and plant health inspections.

We believe the improvement of these processes is possible through international cooperation, and it is at the heart of everything we do.

‘Act now’ is the mantra within the alliance, and we have already launched several pilots. A number of partners including businesses, knowledge institutions, and government agencies such as the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and the Customs Authority have joined our efforts, in connection with the CORE programme, based on the demand for expertise, resources, and interests. By providing our partners with hands-on experience in the actual flower chain, establishing new standards, and improving various aspects, we hope to serve as an incubator for the supply chain of the future.

Clearance in the Sky

Our current CORE project is significant to me personally. It centres on achieving trade compliance through the digital exchange of customs and phytosanitary data. These days smooth and efficient transport largely comes down to digitising the paper flow. We have taken the broadest approach possible to this issue and made great progress to date. For instance, we’re cooperating with the Customs Authority and the NVWA to develop a concept known as ‘Clearance in the Sky’. The idea is to conduct checks and run through procedures as soon as the cargo is in the air.

We believe it is right that the HFA is moving forward at this rapid pace; the world is going through a rapid digitisation and globalisation. Being a frontrunner and leading example, digitally and globally, is one of Royal FloraHolland’s strategic objectives. We believe that if we take the lead now, we can effectively set the standard in a number of areas. This will keep the Amsterdam region one step ahead of international competitors.

Seamless refrigeration chain

We are focusing our digitisation efforts on phytosanitary certificates in particular. This allows us to save time, and prevent transports being delayed with flowers standing still in non-refrigerated spaces. Once the aircraft lands, the flowers can immediately continue on to their next destination. This is only possible when everything goes right and all parties have received the correct information via a digital standard. It also requires close cooperation within the chain: between inspecting authorities, transporters, and airports.

Taken together, these measures should lead to a smoothly operating cooling chain in which flowers travel via auctions and exporters to reach shops and consumers with a maximum vase life. It means keeping them as cool as possible and, ideally, free of damage during transport, since any delay or damage results in loss of quality.

Standardisation of packaging

There’s also considerable progress to be made in connection to the standardisation of packaging. We understand that every company likes to use its own packaging, tailored to a specific product. During transport, however, non-standardised packing materials increase the risk of damage. Standardisation helps reduce costs and ensures that packaging can be reused more readily, making it more sustainable. Kenya

Reaching the goals described above will require us to look beyond territories and national borders. There’s no way we can improve the supply chain without the participation of businesses and governments on both ends. In Kenya, we have conducted constructive talks on cooperation and digitisation. I have to admit it’s pretty cool to sit down with the Kenyan Customs Authority and NVWA and discuss business in such a practical way. One is talking to a group of people with the drive and enthusiasm to really make things happen.

Cooperation within the Netherlands

Taking a peek beyond our border can prove useful; that much is clear. But even in our own country there’s room for improvement. I would like to see a greater investment in partnerships, particularly among logistical service providers. It’s not that parties are unwilling, from where I’m standing, it’s just that parties sometimes lose sight of the common goals of cooperation and innovation.
One could argue that we need to pitch our projects more effectively. But it’s also important for all of us to sneak a peek – more often – at what others are doing. Moreover, it’s important to realise that the value of cooperation can’t always be expressed in euros. That we act together and invest in a general interest, and let go of the condition that results must be visible. It’s happening already one of our IT pilots that Kuehne + Nagel, Panalpina, DNATA, Fresco Flowers, and Cargonaut are working on together. This has certainly whet our appetite for more.

All involved will gain

While it’s possible that closing the cooling supply chain, standardising packaging and improving quality may not immediately translate into profit for the grower, there is immediate benefit for the consumer. Ultimately this will lead to greater trade volumes, and all involved will gain.

Marcel Claessen
COO, Royal FloraHolland