A study commissioned by the Dutch Horticultural Board Board (Productschap Tuinbouw) and conducted by Dutch training and consultancy centre, Flowerwatch, revealed that a series of adaptations focused on better cooling can extend vaselife by up to two days. This in essence led to the initiators forming a cold chain protocol that would assist in minimizing loss of flower quality and value while enroute from farm to market. They also suggested a new motto for the chain: ‘Make cool, keep cool and, if necessary, re-cool’.
Roses remain Europe’s number one fresh-cut flower and in the retail business which is a major channel for roses, expectations on quality rise constantly. Even amidst this factor, quite a number of easily preventable quality issues still persist: damaged flowers, bent stems, petal blueing, individual blooms or bouquets with differing opening stages, flowers that don’t open at all in the vase, and a short vase life.
“Some of these problems tend to be accepted,” said Flowerwatch’s Jeroen van der Hulst. “We believe they can be resolved. We launched this study to see if we could identify causes and solve some of the problems.”
On Supply chain
The study had shipments of roses from farms in Uganda and Zimbabwe tracked to their European retail destinations and included logging, visual inspections at various points along the supply chain and a vase life test. Four African farms and floral wholesale companies on both ends of the supply chain, Sierafor, Rose Connect and CARMS, participated. The outcome showed a number of weak points across the whole supply chain and there was evidence showing that tackling these weaknesses could increase vase life by up to two days. Significantly, the hitches were not all on African soil.
“There were farm and transportation issues in Africa, but we discovered a lot of room for improvement in The Netherlands as well. This is a responsibility of the whole supply chain, not just one section of it,” stressed Van der Hulst.
Reducing temperature exposure
While tackling the more structural problems, Flowerwatch followed two leading principles:
1) Roses, ideally, should be stored and transported at a temperature of zero to one degree centigrade;
2) Temperature exposure – defined as the average temperature during transport multiplied by the number of hours, and referred to as ‘degree hours’ – must be reduced.
“Seventy-two hours of transport at an average temperature of twelve degrees means you have a temperature exposure of 864 degree hours. Cutting that figure back by 700 degree hours – which we found to be feasible in our study, will extend the vase life of those roses by two days. Temperature exposure has a huge impact on quality, visual quality and vase life,”explained Van der Hulst.
One of the more surprising outcomes of the study is that reducing temperature exposure is not all that difficult. “There are no major investments required,” said Peter de Jong of Sierafor. “It’s all about simple things like rethinking how to stack and position boxes in cold storage, cutting back the time your roses spend between one cool chain link and the next, being alert to actual temperatures and so on. Essentially, it’s a matter of discipline – which comes down to individual people.”
Remko Donkersloot pointed out that it’s all about awareness – which the groundbreaking study by Flowerwatch clearly raised. “In every business, routines creep in that may be suboptimal but are not questioned by anybody,” he said. “This kind of study shakes things up. We should make this a regular exercise.”
A new protocol
In order to facilitate actual improvement, Flowerwatch has moved on to develop a cold chain protocol outlining specific agreements that need to be made between players all the way from the farm to the retail distribution chain. Sierafor is one of the businesses putting the protocol into action. “Our next step is to call a meeting of all the main players in the chain and try to make firm agreements,” said De Jong.
According to Jeroen van der Hulst this is the kind of response Flowerwatch is hoping for. “We believe in supply chain management and in players taking full responsibility for the quality of their products and services. As far as we’re concerned, the arrangements put forward in the protocol should become common practice in the next two years. Every link in the chain has to be right. It’s what consumers are asking for. On the whole, retail rose quality level is good, but standards are rising and this study offers an easy way to keep ahead of the market.”