It can happen anywhere along the path that takes fresh cut flowers from a grower's facility to a family’s kitchen table. Somewhere along the line, a grower, a shipper, a wholesaler or a retailer breaks "The Cold Chain," allowing flowers to warm up to temperatures high enough to result in increased shrinkage, disappointed customers and decreased profits for all segments of the floral industry.
That's why key industry leaders - growers, transportation companies, big retailers and university researchers, among others - gathered on July 10-13, 2005 for an important session of the Perishables Research Organization (PRO-Institute) in Volcano, Calif. "The US floral industry has changed significantly," explained Dr. George Staby of PRO-Institute and organizer of the conference. "Flowers no longer originate in close proximity to consumers but are transported literally all over the world. The combination of long-distance transportation and poor temperature control has often resulted in flowers with a very short vase life being sold to customers. Consumption trends indicated the results of selling poor quality flowers - per capita sales of cut flowers in the U.S. are low and may even be declining.
This issue is so critical it drew representatives from organizations like the California Cut Flower Commission; growers from all over the world like the Sun Valley Group, Dole Fresh Flowers and Equiflor; transportation companies such as Armellini and Prime Floral; retailers Safeway and Hallmark Flowers; and researchers Ann Chase and Michael Reid.
"The meeting helped focus attention on issues with which some of us have struggled for a long time. The PRO-Institute is providing a needed service for the flower industry," says Lee Murphy, president of the California Cut Flower Commission.
Ideally, most cut flowers and potted plants should be cooled rapidly to 33-35° F and maintained at 41° F or lower throughout the cold chain. Problems evolve when the product isn't properly pre-cooled, is placed next to "hot" boxes during transport or experience erratic temperature spikes.
The result? Flowers can age three times faster, be infected with Botrytis and respond dramatically to ethylene levels, according to the California Cut Flower Commission. All of which lead to poor quality and markedly reduced vase life.
The mission of the PRO-Institute session, and one of the goals of the California Cut Flower Commission, is to educate all sections of the industry to the problems and find ways to work together to reduce, if not eradicate them.
Many growers properly pre-cool flowers, only to have their boxes' temperature rise because of proximity of uncooled boxes during shipping via truck. Air transportation has its own set of challenges due to extreme temperature during flight. Details, data and summaries of the issues and recommendations for solutions are included in a white paper by George Staby, PRO-Institute and Michael Reid, University of California, Davis.
Some of the key recommendations that resulted from the discussions are as follows:
Cut flowers and potted plants should be properly pre-cooled and appropriate temperatures maintained.
Wholesalers and mass marketers should drive improvements by demanding plant temperature management during transportation.
Time/temperature loggers should be in place to document cold chain issues.
Day-ahead flower and plant ordering would ensure adequate time is available to pre-cool product.