A seamless Kenya – Netherlands flower chain:

KLM, Royal FloraHolland, and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol are reinforcing the air bridge between Kenya and the Netherlands, joining forces to ensure that the Aalsmeer-Schiphol region remains the world’s top flower-trading centre.

The goal of the Holland Flower Alliance (HFA) is to realise a seamless chain that will ensure the highest product quality and fastest transport times in the most cost-efficient way. The Alliance is currently focusing on Schiphol’s most significant flower-importing country: Kenya.

Marcel Claessen, Chief Operating Officer at Royal FloraHolland, recognises the vital importance of a seamless flower chain. ‘Our business is becoming increasingly global. Products are travelling ever-greater distances to arrive in the Netherlands, with the distribution areas becoming increasingly diffuse. Europe and its neighbouring countries used to be our primary market, but now markets further afield are growing in importance.

‘If we want to ensure that Dutch growers and export companies maintain their leading role in the future, we will need to participate in the right initiatives – such as this cooperation.’

Extending vase life

The EVP of KLM Cargo, Marcel de Nooijer, explains: ‘The aspect known as ‘vase life’ is crucial to the rose trade. From the moment the product begins its journey to the customer, time and temperature are the components that will determine the product’s value. The more effectively organised the chain is, the longer the vase life will be – and the higher the value.’

To achieve this goal, the three partners are focusing on two key areas for improvement:

Defining and setting up the ideal chain. The various logistical links must flow seamlessly into one another. The HFA aims to define the ideal chain, from the grower in Kenya to the flower auction in Aalsmeer. In particular, measures to improve the cool chain will be examined, along with ways to standardise flower packaging;

IT integration via an independent data platform to which all players in the chain are connected. Through this platform, the parties can keep one another informed and access information. Everyone will have insight into the status of each shipment. This will allow all links in the chain to arrange their logistics processes more effectively, while also reducing waiting times.

Real-time monitoring

Supporting the efforts is FlowerWatch, working from its offices in the Netherlands, Kenya, and Japan to take the lead in quality control. The chains are monitored using temperature data loggers, as it is important to be able to analyse the chain retrospectively.

When you have real-time certainty that the cooling units throughout the entire chain are working properly, it means you can be sure that partners are living up to their promises – each and every day.

Together, three businesses with Dutch roots – Bexter in the Netherlands and Upande, and FlowerWatch in Kenya – have rolled out a real-time monitoring network that offers insight into the performance of the cool chain at all times.

Toon de Jong, co-owner of Bexter, designed the online platform with his team and is currently expanding the network at the European end of the chain.

Mark de Blois, CEO of Upande, supplies and maintains the hardware and works on new sensors.

Jeroen van der Hulst from FlowerWatch works to achieve optimal performance in the flower chains.

Preparation phase completed

Although the development of new technology offers huge opportunity in a rapidly-growing economy such as Kenya’s, it also provides a number of challenges.

Now that the preparation phase has been completed, the three partners are looking to the future with confidence. Mark de Blois, CEO of Upande in Kenya says, ‘Today, thanks to the online integration of countless sensors, FlowerWatch is in a position to allow its customers to take decisions based on real-time data. In terms of the potential of these developments, what we’re seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg.’

Jeroen van der Hulst predicts, ‘In just fifteen years, the flower industry has become globalised. While the Netherlands is still the physical hub of the trade, the networks outside of the Netherlands are growing rapidly. This is our chance to help the business mature – it’s no longer about being the first one to tap a new market or introduce a new cultivar. Today, it’s about making our chains operate more efficiently than others.’

Flower transport by sea

Each day, millions of cut flowers – mostly roses from Kenya – are transported to the Netherlands by air. Travel by sea freight would reduce the CO2 footprint of each rose considerably, and it would be cheaper as well. Anton Bril (VGB) explains the drawback, ‘The challenge is keeping the flowers fresh for three weeks during transport, so that the vase life on the consumer side doesn’t suffer.’

This March, research partners VGB and Wageningen UR are wrapping up the GreenCHAINge project. During the project, four sea freight journeys were carried out and a new sea freight protocol for roses was developed. The primary focus was on improvements that could lead to a decrease in post-harvest losses.

This partnership between commercial parties and research centres Royal FloraHolland, Wageningen UR, Flora Life, Chrysal, and FlowerWatch was unique and allowed for the development and testing of a comprehensive protocol for the entire sector.

Feasible protocol

The protocol is based on two principles: high quality and feasibility.

By ensuring the correct preparation and a proper cool chain at the start of transport, the quality of the roses is suitable for ocean freight.

The protocol has been designed in such a way that rose growers can comply with it without the help of an adviser.

An ocean freight box with standard dimensions has been developed in addition to the protocol. This standard freight box has been designed for optimal loading into a 40-foot reefer container. A matrix for the loading ratio has also been established, so that the trader knows exactly how many roses should go in a box for ideal loading. The effects of ventilation holes, bags and liners have also been tested in order to find the right balance in the microclimate to prevent the fungal infection Botrytis cinerea whilst also avoiding dehydration of the roses.

The last container was exposed to freezing temperatures, meaning that these are all the clear conclusions on what constitutes ‘ideal packaging’ we have for now.

Agricultural team Nairobi, Kenya