Understanding the flower supply chain is key to improving it

Flowers are Holland’s #1 import product. Most of these flowers travel from farms in Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and Ecuador, often transferring in Amsterdam on their way to other destinations in Europe and beyond.

Most of these flowers travel from farms in Kenya, Ethiopia, Colombia and Ecuador, often transferring in Amsterdam on their way to other destinations in Europe and beyond.

Visiting flower farms in Naivasha, Kenya

Because understanding how the chain works is key to improving it, the Holland Flower Alliance travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, last month to explore how flowers exactly are being handled from the moment they are plucked, all the way to how they end up on the clock at Royal Floraholland’s auction.

The team met up with growers Bert Louwerse from Blooming Innovations, who specialize in hortensias, delphinium and lymonium, and with Joost Zuurbier from Zuurbier & Co – Bilashaka flowers, who’s farm relies heavily on the export of roses. Both growers showed great passion for their products. The taskforce gained insights in the importance of optimal temperature management throughout the entire journey, the difference between the many varieties of flower boxes used for transportation; of which the most common ones are the ‘Kenian standard’, the ‘Zim’, and the Jumbo box. Boxes vary in many ways and the importance of a good price vs. quality of boxes was stressed, as boxes differ in ways they are made, absorb water, are stacked, etc.

Kenyan Flower Council

A visit to the Kenyan Flower Council (KFC), a voluntary association of independent growers and exporters of cut-flowers, taught the Holland Flower Alliance the importance of an internationally recognized quality assurance system for Kenyan flowers, and stressed the importance of creating awareness of how flowers should be handled once they leave Kenya in order to get an A-quality product to arrive as an A-quality product to consumers worldwide.

Flower handling at the airport

Continuing the journey to the airport, the taskforce was guided around the forwarder’s facilities of Panalpina and Kuehne + Nagel, where flowers arrive after transport from the farms. With specially adapted docking stations leading to the cool warehouse, the flowers that arrive from the trucks are unexposed to ambient temperatures as they are offloaded from the vehicles and security checked at the entrance of the warehouse. The tour focused amongst other things on phyto inspections, done by KEPHIS (Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services), who order that 10% of each shipment needs to be checked, thus ensuring that the flowers do not contain any injurious pests, diseases or noxious weeds. 

Freighters full of flowers

The local team at KLM Cargo further enhanced the group’s insights as they got to experience the loading of the aircraft, and showed how just in time delivery of the pallets into an already cooled aircraft ensures that flower pallets do not remain on the tarmac for an unnecessary amount of time.

The ‘ideal flower box’

The trip was concluded with a packaging workshop, held at the Dutch embassy in Nairobi. Its theme ‘creating the ideal flower box’, provided the Alliance with insights on the importance of finding a right price vs. quality balance, the necessity to include all players in the chain, as well as to have a thorough look at how growers in South American countries pack their flowers for transport.

To the clock

Back in Holland, the taskforce welcomed the MP/KLM flight at Schiphol where the unloading of the aircraft, and handling of the flowers at the airport was tightly followed. A tour around the facilities of Royal Floraholland completed the taskforce’s flower logistics chain adventure, as Jaap Buis from Fresco Flowers showed, and explained to the group how they check, pack and supply their flowers.

For more information on the Holland Flower Alliance, please contact project manager Eline van den Berg at elinevandenberg@royalfloraholland.com