Transporting fresh-cut flowers is increasingly taking place by boat rather than by airplane, the Wall Street Journal signals. A change that, however innocuous perhaps, can have significant consequences for the floristry trade.
In 2012, worldwide cut-flower sales approached $14 billion (10.9 billion euros). The vast majority of those blooms, which usually originate in Africa and South America, are transported by cargo plane. Fuel costs are rising however, and cold storage technology is improving, inspiring a shift to transport by sea.
Such ocean transport can cost half as much as airfreight and retailers are increasingly minding their costs in this tough business environment, demanding cheaper flowers. Consumers, meanwhile, are unlikely to notice the difference when it comes to the bouquets they buy.
A spokesperson for FloraHolland, the world’s largest flower auction in The Netherlands, estimates that about 35% of Colombian flowers and 20% of the blooms from Kenya may be transported by ship rather than airplane in just five years from now. The president of Colombian flower exporters association Asocolflores, Augusto Solano, is more modest, but still assumes a rise from the current 3% to about 10% in 2018.
If accurate, that would represent a major change in a global market where air-cargo companies completely dominate. Almost two-thirds of fresh flowers sold in the U.S. are derived from import nowadays. In Europe, the figure stands at about one third, but it was still less than 10% just two decades ago.
Transporting flowers over sea requires significant effort and cooperation in the supply chain however. Blooms are near-frozen shortly after harvest and kept that way for up to two weeks as they make the journey by ship in refrigerated containers.
Some flower varieties simply cannot handle that treatment. For the more robust blooms, however, it will likely increasingly become the standard.