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Flowers: the latest products trialling the maritime cold chain

Flowers: the latest products trialling the maritime cold chain

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Plants and flowers are the latest product group to consider refrigerated ocean containers, a cheaper, more environmentally friendly shipping method, as an alternative to air freight.

Royal FloraHolland’s use of refrigerated containers reflects a broader trend in which shippers of commodities that typically rely on air cargo, such as pharmaceuticals or seafood, have begun to experiment with the maritime cold chain as reefer container technology and control advances, reports

Transitioning from air to ocean freight on key lanes from growers in Africa to the marketplace outside of Amsterdam could cut costs by 38 percent and cut greenhouse gas emissions by another 87 percent, officials at Royal FloraHolland said.

The Dutch florist conglomerate trades more than 12 billion flowers a year. Although the group has been experimenting with ocean containers for nearly 10 years, the number of flowers moving via ocean container is so small officials simply describe the proportion as “not substantial.”

“At the moment, it’s not substantial,” said Edwin Wenink, director of the center’s Floricultural Logistics Optimization Worldwide, or FLOW, program. “But it could, it should, be 30 percent.”

That major modal shift will require a major mental effort to accomplish, said Wenink. That goes for both the conglomerate and for the air cargo carriers, like KLM, which it uses today, and the ocean cargo carriers, like Maersk Line and Mediterranean Shipping Company, where it sees its future. But with the right partners and strategic backhaul opportunities, it’s a real possibility, he said.

Royal FloraHolland is known as Holland’s Wall Street for flowers. It is one of the largest auction companies in the world and handles roughly 50 million shipments every year. While 65 percent of everything traded is sourced directly from the Netherlands, a large portion of the remainder comes from warmer climes in places like Ethiopia and Kenya.

That cargo is transported to auction by air via the nearby Schiphol Airport, Europe’s third-busiest air freight hub just minutes from Royal FloraHolland’s doors.