Valentine’s Day: Warm Hearts and Cold Chains

Valentine’s Day is a day of romance. You might have risen early this morning to prepare your significant other breakfast and on the tray you might have placed a small vase containing a cut red rose. Or perhaps you plan on stopping by the florist on your way home to grab a dozen roses to give to your companion before heading out to your favorite restaurant this evening. If any of your Valentine’s Day plans involve cut flowers, you can be assured your warm wishes were aided by a supply cold chain. Domingo Mendez, Air Cargo Marketing Manager of UPS Americas Region, observes, “The roses in your living room … have likely traveled thousands of miles before arriving in your home, so how are they as fresh as the day they were harvested? The answer lies in the logistics ‘cold chain’ that speeds flowers and other highly perishable goods across oceans and through customs checks to preserve their freshness. Around major flower-buying holidays like Valentine’s Day … the cold chain goes into overdrive, offering a glimpse into the logistics network that keeps fragile goods at their peak even after a long trip.”[1]

Roses, Roses, Roses

Valentines Day 2017“Flowers are both an unusual and quaint thing,” writes John Pena, “beautiful in scent and appearance but also fragile and ultimately quickly perishable. Yet they possess a timeless appeal. Going back as far as the Romans, roses were being imported from Egypt via ship. Not much has changed it would appear, as to this day, flowers are imported from far reaching parts of the world to meet the demand for one special occasion or another, often when needed outside of the season.”[2] Cut flowers have a short shelf-life, which means unexpected delays can cause spoilage. A big storm can mean big trouble. “The timing of Valentine’s Day,” writes Eric F. Frazier (@frazeology), “means that winter weather is a perennial threat.”[2] He notes that the day of the week on which Valentine’s Day falls also has a significant impact. Frazier explains, “Florists estimate demand from sales history, factoring in whether or not the holiday falls on a weekend. That can lower demand by about 20 percent because the main customers — men — have more time to plan alternate gifts. Sixty percent of men buy flowers for Valentine’s Day, but only 30 percent visit florist shops. Grocers, discounters, and online sellers capture the rest, a decades-long trend that has shifted two-thirds of flower sales to these outlets.”

Frazier reports that roses are the favorite Valentine’s Day flower. “Roses account for more than half of the flowers sold for Valentine’s Day,” he writes, “but the demand surge can cause wholesale prices to double.” The rise in price is an annual reminder of the connection between supply and demand. You must remember, however, that stores selling cut flowers are taking an enormous risk. Tony Longoria (@TSC_Tony), a Solutions Consultant at One SCM Enterprise for TAKE Supply Chain, explains, “Many of the flowers purchased this year will be sourced from abroad. This delicate supply chain requires special attention to ensure product quality and timeliness of delivery. Not only do goods need to be stored at the right temperature, there also needs to be an awareness of other bottom-line issues like on-time delivery (OTD), rates and late charges, which can significantly impact margins. Door-to-door logistics, transportation and distribution are critical and a number of other sourcing, order and fulfillment elements need to fall into place to ensure a successful holiday.”[3]

The Cold Chain

Mendez calls flowers “the most-loved cargo in the cold-chain logistics process.” What is a “cold chain”? Frazier explains, “Retailers want to receive cut flowers as soon as possible after harvest to lengthen vase life, raise customer satisfaction, and spur repeat sales. Temperature-controlled transportation, handling and storage, a ‘cold chain’ in logistics parlance, makes longer supply chains possible, but the time limit still maxes out at about 12 days. Cold chain integrity is critical for imports, which account for 64 percent of U.S. cut flower sales.” Many of those flowers come from South America. In fact, Mendez notes, 90 percent of the flowers imported for Valentine’s Day come from just two places, Bogota, Colombia, and Quito, Ecuador. He explains their journey:

“The flowers’ journey starts at sunrise, when workers at South American flower farms cut blooms, hydrate them, and quickly place them in coolers on site. Refrigerated trucks bring them to gateways like Quito, Ecuador, and Bogota, Colombia where they are loaded onto UPS 767 and 757 cargo planes. The flowers, which are placed in boxes of as many as 250 blooms, are carefully loaded onto pallets that interlock to distribute weight. After about four hours, the flower-filled cargo planes land in Miami in the afternoon.”

Once they arrive in Miami, Customs and Border Protection agents work in chilled rooms to protect cold chain integrity and speed the flowers on to their next leg. Pena notes, “Having cleared customs, normally within 24 hours, they then travel to a warehouse, where they are arranged into bouquets, and then make their way from distributors to vendors to be sold to the general public.” He makes it sound it easy; but, as supply chain professionals know, getting flowers to the right place at the right time in the right condition is anything but easy. And where is the right place? The answer to that question isn’t always a floral shop. Pena notes, “Online retailers and supermarkets dominate much of the cut flowers market, by around a 75% margin.”

Summary

Over 800 million stems were likely imported to satisfy demand this Valentine’s Day. Retailers know that when love is in the air cash is in the register. According to Longoria, “Valentine’s Day is the second highest annual grossing holiday each year, just behind Christmas.” Of course, flowers don’t account for all the purchases made for Valentine’s Day. You can add chocolates and jewelry to the mix. Nevertheless your warm wishes wouldn’t be quite as lovely were it not for the cold chain.

Footnotes
[1] Domingo Mendez, “The Logistics of Keeping Flowers Fresh,” Longitudes, 8 February 2016.
[2] John Pena, “The amazing supply chain of cut flowers, Inventory & Supply Chain Optimization Blog, 16 June 2014.
[3] Eric F. Frazier, “The Floral Supply Chain: Cold, Competitive, Consolidating,” Whitman Voices, 12 February 2016.
[4] Tony Longoria, “When Cupid’s Arrow Hits the Supply Chain,” TSC Blog, 10 February 2016.

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