Flower Shippers Forum: more common ground than differences

Flower growers, retailers and air cargo industry executives made good progress in identifying challenges and potential solutions in shipping flowers by air. They met at the Flower Shippers' Forum organised by Schiphol Cargo, as part of the recent STAT Times Air Cargo Africa conference.

All parties of the cut flower supply chain met in a rare meeting. They strongly agreed that there is a need for defined standards, procedures and accountability in transporting flowers. Suggestions were made that the industry should adopt SLAs (service level agreements) like those that exist between handling agents and their carrier customers.

Delegates at the forum ‘'erishables by Air: Grounds for Change?', questioned why growers in East Africa use over 75 different types and sizes of flower packaging. In South American growers even use over 100 different designs. Industry executives urged for a reduction to a few standard types of packaging. This would make aircraft pallet building easier, utilise capacity more efficiently and help to improve quality standards.

One concerned Dutch retailer said that his company sometimes discarded up to 40% of flower shipments on arrival, to guarantee their quality promise of a minimum 7-day vase life. This provoked a heated response from some air freight industry representatives. They claimed that retailers should pay higher freight rates if they want a better supply chain. One handler questioned the value of funding the necessary investment in performance improvements for the current supply chain.

A perishables supply chain expert demonstrated the difference in quality between roses that are cut too early and those cut at the right time. He also stressed the importance of the core temperature of the flowers. The temperature 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.

Airline representatives meanwhile pointed out that the fuselage of an aircraft cannot be cooled to the ideal temperature of 4 degrees Celsius. This demands for additional cooling or temperature preservation measures in some circumstances.

Places at the forum were at a premium and we had to provide for additional seating to meet the unexpected demand. The lively discussion and interaction across the floor meant that moderator Enno Osinga, Schiphol Cargo's Senior VP, barely covered half of his pre-prepared questions. The debate continued 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 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.

'AIR CARGO AFRICA 2015 was a great success, focusing attention on the huge opportunities in Africa, as well as the challenges confronting the air freight industry. The perishables forum organized by Amsterdam Airport Schiphol evoked an excellent response, demonstrating a paradigm shift in air freight's relationship with its market. This success encourages us to include more of such sessions in our future events', adds STAT Times Director Priyo Patra.