Flower Power: Can standards bring order to the chaotic flower market?

In mid-April Conrad Archer, managing director of Panalpina Airflo, Kenya, was bracing himself for a sharp spike in traffic volume. The run-up to this year’s Valentine’s Day had produced a surge of more than 30 percent above normal in flower volume, and projections for Mother’s Day pointed to a similar spike – which translates into some 300 tonnes of extra cargo per week.

Panalpina booked space on 12 Kenya-to-Europe charter flights to cope with the increased flow in May, and Archer was hoping that none of the aircraft involved would suffer a mechanical problem. “That’s our worst nightmare,” he said. To find another freighter to lift those 100 tonnes would be possible, he added, but the cost would be far too high right now, given the lack of sounth-bound cargo.

After years of rising volumes of flowers, operators at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport are used to the seasonal surges, and improvements in the cold chain have helped cope with emergencies. Last year Kenya’s flower exports reached 133,658 tonnes, up from 122,800 tonnes the year before, according to statistics from the Kenya Flower Council, which estimates that three in ten stems sold in Europe originate in Kenya.

But for all the improvements that flower supply chain companies have implemented over the past ten years, there still remains considerable waste and inefficiencies. In 2012 the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned Hortiwise, a horticultural training and consulting firm to undertake a study of the Kenyan-Dutch horticulture supply chain. The study identified 80 bottlenecks and eight trouble spots – including cold chain management, packaging and the flow of information and communication along the chain.

This is one of the areas where the Holland Flower Alliance (HFA) intends to make a difference. Formed last July by Dutch flower auction Royal Flora Holland, Schiphol Airport and Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo, the initiative, which has the backing of the Dutch government, aims to optimize the flower supply chain into the Netherlands and solidify Schiphol’s role as Europe’s leading gateway for this traffic.

Besides providing advocacy and promoting Holland’s role as the world’s leading flower hub, the major focus of the alliance is to identify ways to refine the supply. To that end, Marcel de Nooijer, executive vice president of AF-KLM Cargo, said the HFA has teamed up with two Dutch universities, and also invited other players to join.

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