Are you still using flower packaging techniques that date back to the 1960s? While the old saying "old is good" may be true for some things, it's not always applicable when it comes to logistics, especially flower logistics. If you want to pack more flowers, reduce costs, minimise waste, decrease flower damage and ultimately increase profit margins, it may be time to consider upgrading your flower export packaging techniques.

The journey from farm to vases

In the globalised floriculture industry, flowers typically travel thousands of miles from where they are grown to where they are sold. Fresh flowers are the most delicate of all cash crops and require special care during transportation. The most challenging aspect of this industry is ensuring that these fragile materials arrive fresh, undamaged, and with a long vase life, even after being transported across countries, continents, and cities by air, road, or sea.

Throughout the journey from the farm to the vase, flowers go through various stages, including growth, harvesting, post-harvest treatment, logistics, storage, transportation conditions, cooling technologies, and packaging. Without these essential processes, a cut flower can only remain fresh for three days. As a result, choosing the right packaging for flowers during their journey is crucial, given the significant number of boxes that get shipped.

This Valentine’s season alone, the LATAM group’s air cargo subsidiaries exported close to 25,000 tonnes of flowers in just 21 days from Columbia and Ecuador to the US and Europe. While it's crucial to pack each box of flowers for airfreight, most stakeholders in the flower logistics sector still use outdated packing techniques from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.

Are boxes from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s still relevant?

In a recent social media post, FlowerWatch's CEO, Jeroen van der Hulst, recently pointed out that the flower industry has neglected packaging innovation for too long. He emphasised the need to embrace optimised packaging solutions for improved flower quality, pack rates, and sales.

Though the Netherlands’ market share of the global flower industry has dropped from 50% to 48% in 2019, they still play a major role as the inventor of packaging solutions like auction trolleys which are still in use. According to industry experts, many of the flower boxes, from the Dutch’s square Fc577 and the Fc519 to Chrysanthemum and Lily boxes, were appropriate for a 1980s DC8 freighter aircraft but their dimensions are not compatible with modern Unit Load Devices (ULD) or trolleys.

Not just in the Netherlands, the picture is the same across the globe. Early flower exporters in Zimbabwe and Kenya developed flower boxes in the late 1980s – known as the ‘Zim box’ (rough dimensions: 50x20x100cm) and ‘Kenyan Standard Box’ (rough dimensions: 33x20x100cm). Hulst wrote that those boxes were a perfect fit for the aeroplanes in those days but they do not fit well onto the latest ULDs, trolleys, and block pallets – either an EURO pallet or a Danish trolley.

Revolutionising flower packaging: Overcoming industry challenges

In the dynamic landscape of global supply chains, the flower industry faces persistent packaging challenges that hinder efficiency and sustainability. By addressing these issues through modernisation initiatives, stakeholders can unlock opportunities for enhanced resilience and environmental stewardship.

Maximising space efficiency: Beyond buckets

Traditional flower transportation methods, such as using buckets, are inefficient in space utilisation. This inefficiency not only leads to increased transportation costs but also heightens environmental footprints. Transitioning to space-optimised boxes or crates can maximise cargo capacity while prolonging flower freshness. Advancements like the Fc588 bucket mark progress, but embracing alternatives can significantly enhance revenues while reducing ecological impact.

Enhancing stack-ability: Ensuring structural integrity

Conventional boxes often fail to maintain structural integrity when stacked, resulting in damaged cargo and operational inefficiencies. Poor box design exacerbates this prevalent issue, highlighting the necessity for modern packaging solutions prioritising robustness and compatibility with contemporary transportation infrastructure. By investing in packaging that ensures structural integrity, stakeholders can mitigate damages and optimise logistics efficiency.

Optimising air circulation: Preventing self-heating

Inadequate air circulation in current packaging contributes to self-heating, compromising flower quality during transportation. Efficient airflow is critical in regulating temperatures and preserving flower freshness throughout the supply chain. Proposals for airflow-enabled boxes present a viable solution, facilitating optimal temperature regulation and mitigating the risk of self-heating. By prioritising air circulation in packaging design, stakeholders can ensure the integrity and quality of cut flowers during transit.

Modern packaging techniques for cut flower preservation

Cut flowers are inherently susceptible to ageing and decay during transportation due to their biological characteristics. A study by Labthink found that water imbalance and respiration are the primary mechanisms driving this process, leading to a loss of market value. So, before upgrading the packaging materials, businesses should first understand the best packaging techniques to extend a flower’s shelf life.

High water vapour barrier technique:

Selecting packaging materials with high water vapour barrier properties is crucial for maintaining optimal humidity levels. Materials like HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) and BOPP (Biaxially Oriented Polypropylene) demonstrate suitable moisture resistance, minimising water loss during transportation and storage.

Modified atmosphere packaging technique:

Creating a controlled atmosphere with low oxygen and high carbon-dioxide levels using modern packaging technology reduces the frequency of respiration. This technique inhibits ageing and extends the shelf life of cut flowers, enhancing their marketability.

Chemical preservation technique:

Chemical preservatives play a vital role in maintaining the freshness of cut flowers. Effective integration of chemical preservation with packaging technology improves overall preservation outcomes, ensuring the longevity and quality of cut flowers throughout transportation and storage.

Choose the right packaging

Addressing the challenges of cut flower preservation requires a multifaceted approach. By leveraging modern packaging techniques such as high water vapour barrier, modified atmosphere, and chemical preservation, the industry can mitigate ageing and decay, ensuring the longevity and quality of cut flowers throughout transportation and storage. Collaborative efforts between practitioners and researchers are essential to further enhance preservation strategies and minimise losses in the cut flower supply chain.

Read Full Article