Wageningen University & Research’s research projects very rarely stand alone. The Compact & Dry research by Food & Biobased Research was preceded by CoCoS and was the predecessor of Q-cotrans.
Jan Boekestijn, import manager at the flower supplier FleuraMetz, was involved in all three projects, “because I believe that sustainability and cost efficiency in flower transportation can go hand in hand with high quality.”
Research on extending the shelf life of cut flowers and on other cheaper and sustainable modes of transport has been going on for a decade. It all began with the ability to deploy ocean transportation instead of the more conventional, faster but more expensive and more invasive air transportation. Conclusion: it’s possible. Although it does depend on the type of flower and a good shipping schedule is essential.
Finding out which types of flowers can handle ocean transportation was the research objective of the CoCoS project in 2008. FleuraMetz contributed input and was involved in a pilot: “We shipped certain flowers from Ecuador and the Netherlands in shipping containers and according to strict protocols. The results were so promising that there were grounds for further research.”
Expansion of knowledge
The next research project was Compact & Dry, in which the different methods for transporting flowers dry (and thus in a compact manner) were investigated. Quality, costs and CO2 emissions were researched. The objective: expansion of knowledge. And with that creating the needed argumentation to make informed choices.
According to Boekestijn it was a difficult chicken-or-egg dilemma for the industry: “What should have priority: quality or costs? It’s an impossible choice. I was therefore glad that Compact & Dry showed and acknowledged that the difference in quality between dry, pre-watered and conventional flowers is negligible. Metz had been transporting flowers in dry crates for decades. Fleura had been doing so in water. That made Compact & Dry an interesting project for the merged company FleuraMetz. The simulation model is an especially useful tool when switching to dry form of transportation.”
Compact & Dry was a project that ran in four phases from 2009 to 2012. In the first phase the research question was determined on the basis of queries and requests from businesses in the industry. Phase two consisted of examining the economical and sustainable aspects of different modes of transportation and destinations. Next phase consisted of experiments with different types of flowers. Focus was on answering the following questions: can they be dry, can they be compact, can the entire chain be dry, what problems can be expected, and are there problems when the flowers are in a consumer's vase? Finally, five intensive pilots were completed.
Again it was FleuraMetz that was responsible for the pilots: “Following a certain schedule, we transported some of the flowers dry and the others not, through the entire chain from the grower in Ecuador to both a Cash & Carry in Germany and a florist in France (as we deliver directly and via distributors).
“Was it exciting? Well no. But I was curious. I believed that the Compact & Dry’s theory was correct. We have focused on temperature during the transportation from Ecuador for years; it is one the most important quality variables. A good starting quality is essential. Good flowers can wilt during transportation, but poor flowers will never get better. That is why I wasn’t worried about huge losses.”
The results of the experiments and pilots have lead to, among other things, a concrete simulation model with which the flower industry calculate the costs and quality based on their own data. Boekestijn believes this is a useful tool, "but, of course, the objective is finding the right quality.”
Focusing on this aspect of quality was the objective of the next project Q-cotrans, in which FleuraMetz also participated. Objective: smart chains from grower to retailer (for not just flowers, but also fruit and vegetables), by predicting the remaining quality during every step in the process. The exploratory research has already yielded some interesting results, both of a scientific and a social and commercial nature. A follow-up study is currently being planned.