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Outlook 2014: Where will flower transportation go?

Several years ago at a major trade show, I attended a panel discussion about the future of transportation in floral. The panel raised serious concerns about many issues including rising fuel costs, driver shortages, increasing insurance costs and fuel surcharges. All of these issues were, and continue to be, major problems for transporting flowers. However, I didn’t hear any discussion about how we could improve transportation to better satisfy consumers.

On one end of the flower supply chain, we have growers producing the finest flowers ever. On the other end, we have potential consumers who love flowers, but aren’t buying them very often or aren’t buying at all. Why not? A recent article in The Produce News featured a consumer study indicating the No. 1 reason consumers don’t buy flowers was insufficient vase life. There is only one logical reason for this lack of consumer satisfaction — we aren’t handling flowers properly from the farms to their arrival in consumers’ homes. Examples of this mishandling are too numerous to mention here, but every instance of improper flower handling contributes to the perception by consumers that flowers just aren’t much of a value, especially compared to other products they can buy.

Of course, there is one segment of flower transportation that is doing an excellent job of maintaining the cold chain — ground transportation. At the panel discussion I mentioned earlier, I suggested that there was a very simple way to reduce costs for ground transportation from Miami or California to United States markets — just ship flowers in unrefrigerated trucks. “We couldn’t do that,” came the answer quickly. Of course not, because everyone expects flowers to be shipped in refrigerated trucks and pays more for doing so. Yet we accept flowers that have not been properly treated after harvest and shipped by air every day without proper temperature controls, even when the cost of using correct methods is relatively small.

So what are my predictions for flower transportation in 2014?

First, I predict a few transportation companies will take the lead in developing consumer-first strategies. They will recognize the importance of their role in ensuring that those wonderfully grown flowers get into the hands of consumers as though they were just cut from plants in production areas around the United States and the world.

My second prediction is that a growing number of key floral companies will hear what consumers are saying about the lack of flower vase life. Those companies will find out for themselves what happens to their flowers from the farms to their doors through the use of temperature monitoring. Then they will take advantage of a great opportunity to increase flower sales by increasing consumer satisfaction through longer vase life.

Terry Johnson of Horticultural Marketing Resources in Mission Viejo, CA, is a speaker, writer and consultant focusing on helping build consumer demand for fresh flowers. He can be contacted at hortmarketing@aol.com.