Supply Chain

Keeping Flowers Fresh: The Logistics Journey from Seed to Vase

Mother’s Day is around the corner and if you are like 31% of Americans, you will buy flowers for the wonderful women in your life. The holiday ranks second only to Valentine’s Day in the number of fresh flowers purchased, which equates to about 89 million. Hopping online or calling your local florist is easy, but have you thought about what it really takes to get those beautiful bouquets to Mom’s doorstep? Delivering perfect petals requires a cold, transcontinental trip, and a tremendous amount of logistics know-how.

Step 1: Ordering the ‘Recipe’

The flowers you buy for Mother’s Day were ordered from growers a year ago. The collection of flowers going into this year’s bouquets are called the “recipe.” Growers use the recipe to plan what flowers their operation will harvest and when. The recipe calls for different types of labor, transportation, and land usage.

Step 2: Harvesting Flowers in Latin America

About 90% of fresh flowers come from Latin America. The minute a flower is picked, it begins to decompose, so this starts a race against the clock. Flowers are immediately cut, bundled, and processed in the early morning.

Growers package flowers differently depending on type. Some can travel horizontally in boxes while others require vertical transport with water or “procona” (from producer to consumer in aqua). Flowers shipped with water are much heavier and take up more space, which commands higher transportation costs.

Step 3: Cold Storage Begins

Processed flowers enter a refrigerated truck just minutes after getting picked. The trucks chill the flowers to about 35°F so they enter a state of dormancy. Keeping flowers cold prevents them from blooming, wilting, or requiring much water. The trucks take the flowers to a cold storage facility near the airport where they are palletized or stacked. Within 90 minutes the flowers get loaded onto a chilled airplane. Each plane holds 50 tons of flowers worth around $1 million. The flowers hit the skies the same day they are picked.

Step 4: Welcome to Miami

Miami is considered America’s flower hub. The international airport accepts nearly 91% of all imported flowers, which equals about 22 million flowers daily. Miami is one of the hottest cities in the U.S., so maintaining a cool temperature becomes even more important. In less than 15 minutes, the cargo is unloaded into coolers and taken to cold storage.

Step 5: Customs Clearance and Inspection

The shipments must clear customs and undergo an inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The inspectors look for fungi, insects, or signs of disease by “spanking the flowers.” This is the process of turning the bunches upside down and hitting them to look for contaminants. Findings in one box could send the entire shipment into quarantine where it is sprayed, then determined safe for sale, or destroyed.

Step 6: Off to the Warehouse

Once the flowers clear, they head to the warehouse of a local importer, brokerage house, or wholesaler. Here the shipments are reconfigured for the next destination or they get consolidated into bouquets.

Step 7: Individual Packaging Becomes Important

Now the flowers head to brick and mortar retail distribution centers, online retailers, or local florists. Depending on the length of journey and sensitivity of the flowers, transportation may come by refrigerated truck or plane. If the flowers were reworked into their final bouquets and have vases included, packaging becomes very important. Floral arrangements are secured inside the box. The vase is separated using a corrugated divider with cushioning to prevent damage.

Step 8: Flowers Ready for Sale

Online retailers send their flowers direct to consumer using final mile deliveries. Retailer distribution networks fan out their flowers to the independent stores. The flowers get rehydrated and only now leave their cold dormancy. In fact, the entire journey from Latin America to the local grocery store includes only about 15 minutes outside of a climate-controlled environment until the flowers are ready for consumer sale.

Flower Logistics: No Time to Smell the Roses

The entire flower process from pick to purchase delivery takes less than a week and sometimes as few as 48 hours. Selecting a bouquet online may be easy, but the logistics to make that bouquet possible is some of the most challenging in the industry. Every hour wasted is 60 minutes less of the customer enjoying their flowers. At Langham Logistics, we take that challenge seriously. A big thanks to all the moms out there and the behind-the-scenes logistics process that makes those floral arrangements possible. A small price to pay for letting Mom know you love her.

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