The Logistics of Love

Don't worry, guys – Valentine’s Day puts pressure on supply chains, too.

Whether a man is calm and on top of his game, or in the grip of a last-minute panic, when he walks out of the flower shop with a fresh bouquet of Valentine’s Day flowers, chances are he doesn’t give much thought to how they got there.

He – and I’m being gender-specific because 75 percent of Valentine’s flower buyers are men – can thank a system built on a rigorous combination of distance, travel, time, temperature and dedicated UPSers.

It all comes together in a one-day observance that generates a total of $1.7 billion spent on flowers, which contribute to a total of nearly $19 billion spent on cards, romantic dinners, stuffed animals and all manner of other Valentine’s Day gifts – including everything from frozen steaks and lobsters to six-foot teddy bears.

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Throughout the trip from field to florist, temperature is crucial.

For the record, this was not, as many suspect, all cooked up by the greeting card companies looking to boost business between the Christmas and Mother’s Day. Although a bit murky, Valentine’s Day actually has roots in Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

It may be named for one of the Catholic Church’s three St. Valentines – all were martyrs. Some trace it to the Roman feast of Lupercalia, an order of Roman priests. Whatever the origins, the tradition of giving flowers makes February 14 a very big day for florists.

The Society for American Florists says Valentine’s Day accounts for 36 percent of all holiday transactions and 40 percent of all dollar revenue. What’s more, the National Retail Federation says flowers account for $41 of the $142 consumers spend on average on Valentine’s gifts.

The logistics challenge in the Valentine’s Day flower business begins with the length of the journey. Most fresh flowers come from Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. Throughout the trip from field to florist, temperature is crucial – 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit is optimum. Any warmer and the flowers can “break dormancy,” meaning they bloom and start to fade before they reach their destination. Much colder and they risk freeze damage.

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Miami International Airport handles 90 percent of the flower imports to the U.S.

UPS’s leading role in this temperature-sensitive supply chain centers on being the largest air cargo carrier at Miami International Airport – which handles 90 percent of the flower imports to the U.S. We have direct connections to all the major flower-producing countries.

This year we expect to ship more than 110 million flowers – about 10 million pounds – mainly from Colombia and Ecuador. Flowers are among the most fragile items we ship. We know that one slip anywhere along their journey could have huge consequences for customers. We have to get it right.

The peak period for imports is between January 21 and February 8 – starting with flowers being cut, hydrated and packed in bunches in coolers in the fields.

A refrigerated UPS truck takes them to UPS air cargo. From there, they travel by temperature-controlled aircraft to Miami. UPS regularly runs six flights a week to Bogota Colombia and Quito, Ecuador. To handle the Valentine’s Day rush, we will add an additional 40 flights of 767s, all packed with flowers. There is also a full crew always in reserve for overtime. As you can see, we’re not taking any chances.

Within minutes of arriving in Miami, the flowers – all kinds, with roses the majority – are unloaded on pallets and placed in our 27,000 square-foot cooler, making it the equivalent of five basketball courts packed with boxes of flowers.

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To keep the flowers safe and moving quickly, our people work six- or seven-day weeks, 12 hours a shift.

It’s a technologically advanced facility that features fast-closing doors to make sure the cold stays in and the Miami heat stays out. To keep the flowers safe and moving quickly, our people work six- or seven-day weeks, 12 hours a shift.

Department of Agriculture agents inspect the boxes right at the Miami facility, which speeds clearance and shaves time off the trip. The importers then pick up the cleared shipment in refrigerated trucks, and the flowers are on the way to shops and wholesale distributers across the country. The entire process – from farm to importer – can take as little as 15 hours.

For retailers, the calendar or weather can throw additional challenges into the mix. In 2014, it was both. Last year Valentine’s Day fell on a Friday, which is a challenge for the important office deliveries because many people leave early for romantic weekends or work from home on Fridays.

The degree of difficulty went up even higher last year because Monday was President’s Day. And just to make things especially interesting, the entire East Coast was hit hard by a snow storm that dumped as much as a foot of snow on many areas. This year, Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday, again adding pressure for office deliveries – with major storms early in the week.

emailadOur system is multi-country, multi-modal, technologically advanced and highly synchronized – all so we can greet our loved ones with a bouquet gift of fresh and sweet-smelling flowers. And for anyone who has lost track of the days and walks in the door clueless and empty-handed? Sorry fellas, you’re on your own. goldbrown2

Jose Acosta is UPS Americas Region President of Latin American Operations and Public Affairs.

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