The Logistics of Keeping Flowers Fresh

With more than 100 million stems shipped, flowers may be the most-loved cargo in the cold-chain logistics process.

The roses in your living room. The blueberries in your salad. The fish you’re having for dinner.

These products have likely traveled thousands of miles before arriving in your home, so how are they as fresh as the day they were harvested?

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These products have traveled thousands of miles.

The answer lies in the logistics “cold chain” that speeds flowers and other highly perishable goods across oceans and through customs checks to preserve their freshness.

Around major flower-buying holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the cold chain goes into overdrive, offering a glimpse into the logistics network that keeps fragile goods at their peak even after a long trip.

Several weeks before Valentine’s Day, UPS nearly doubles the number of flights from Bogota, Colombia and Quito, Ecuador to Miami International Airport, where 90 percent of the world’s imported flowers arrive during this season.

Click to enlarge. Courtesy: Continental Flowers.

Click to enlarge. Courtesy: Continental Flowers.

That’s also where UPS, the airport’s largest air cargo carrier, maintains a massive cooler the size of more than five basketball courts with an average round-the-clock temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

From South America with love

The flowers’ journey starts at sunrise, when workers at South American flower farms cut blooms, hydrate them, and quickly place them in coolers on site.

Refrigerated trucks bring them to gateways like Quito, Ecuador, and Bogota, Colombia where they are loaded onto UPS 767 and 757 cargo planes.

The flowers, which are placed in boxes of as many as 250 blooms, are carefully loaded onto pallets that interlock to distribute weight.

After about four hours, the flower-filled cargo planes land in Miami in the afternoon.

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In the run-up to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, UPS increases operational resources, adding staff and equipment to expedite incoming flower shipments.

To increase efficiency, UPS parks its wide-body planes almost directly in front of the cooler.

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The journey only takes 24 to 48 hours.

UPS staff move quickly: From the first pallet to the last, it only takes about 45 minutes. Each pallet might take five minutes to be unloaded from the plane and moved into the cooler, so that’s the only time it’s not in a refrigerated environment. And all that time, the flowers that are still on the plane remain cool.

At this point, inspectors from U.S. Customs and Border Protection step in to check random flower packages – for example, to ensure the boxes contain the correct contents, and that there is no sign of insects.

These inspections take place in a separate room in the cooler to maintain cold chain operations throughout the examination process.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Once the shipments have cleared customs, importers and wholesalers bring their own refrigerated trucks to the UPS cooler and pick up their flowers, delivering them to customers around the country.

From the flower farm to the importer, the journey only takes 24 to 48 hours — which is why that bouquet of roses in your home will maintain its beauty for several more days.

The cold-chain process for flowers is similar to what UPS deploys when shipping delicate goods like okra from Nicaragua, blueberries from Argentina, or fish such as tilapia from Honduras and Costa Rica.

But with more than 100 million stems shipped via UPS cargo planes during the peak weeks of the Valentine’s Day season, flowers may be the most-loved cargo in the cold-chain logistics process. goldbrown2


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Domingo Mendez is the Air Cargo Marketing Manager of UPS Americas Region.

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