The more flowers a lorry can take, the lower the transport costs and the CO2 emissions. It sounds simple, it seems ideal but most importantly, it is realistic.
The flowers can be packed as compactly as possible and transported dry. Dry? How does that affect the quality of the flowers? Not as badly as you may think, say flower exporters Heyl and FleuraMetz. This is their plea for a mental shift throughout the chain.
Totally unknown to many consumers, the flowers they take home before cutting the stems diagonally and putting them into water as soon as possible, have probably been without water for several days. To be more specific, they have been lying neatly in boxes, sometimes vacuum-packed in film, in order to save space and CO2 during transportation. According to Koen Heyl, this has been common practice for decades: ‘We have been doing it since my father founded the company in 1973. The trick is to transport as much as you can in one go and make as few journeys as possible. It’s the most efficient way of transporting goods, in both economic and environmental terms. For the haulier, transporting everything to one location in a single consignment is the most efficient method. But this leaves all the florists and intermediaries in one long traffic queue, emitting CO2. So we deliver to the door according to meticulous planning schedules. And dry.’
We can and must do things differently
FleuraMetz, the Netherlands’ third largest exporter and market leader in the global florist segment, transports flowers both dry and in water. Jan Boekestijn, manager Import: ‘The entire industry has been doing this for a hundred years … This is why FleuraMetz was keen to help with this research at Wageningen University & Research Food & Biobased Research into compact and dry transport: we can and must do things differently! But this requires a mental shift throughout the branch.’The aim of the research was to develop knowledge about the optimum and most compact way of transporting flowers, in terms of transport costs, CO2 and product quality. Tests were carried out on the dry transport of flowers throughout the chain, from growers in Africa and South-America to florists in Europe (which saved four packaging rounds). Vase quality tests were done on completely dry flowers, pre-watered flowers and the traditional flowers in water. It turned out that once they had been in the vase for a few hours, the quality difference was minimal: all the flowers bloomed and they all lasted equally long.
Rocketing costs of logistics
So now they need to convince the rest of the branch. Koen Heyl sees it as a challenge: ‘A bouquet that has been without water for a couple of days can look a bit withered. The trick, or rather the skill, is to look beyond that. At every inspection stage in the chain.’
The economic side of the story is perhaps more encouraging. Jan Boekestijn: ‘The logistic costs are rocketing, so savings of 10 to 20 percent are very tempting. But compact and dry transport costs money too. Staff have to put the flowers back into water and there are extra costs for storage while the flowers revive before being displayed. Seventy to seventy-five percent of our supplies go through Cash & Carries. The flowers arrive from Aalsmeer between midnight and 4.00 a.m., and the first florists are ready and waiting by 4.30. What is the best way to deal with this? Extra staff to make sure that the flowers are ready for display within two hours? Or extra storage space so that they can be delivered 24 hours sooner and the staff can put them into water during regular, quieter hours? Ultimately, it’s a simple question of maths; a calculation model is already being devised. The figure under the line will be the deciding factor.’
This testimonial was published in the Food & Biobased Newsletter - July 2012