Colombian floriculture trade adds ocean

Whether it’s bouquets of roses for Valentine’s Day; carnation boutonnieres on a groom’s lapel or wrapped bunches of alstroemeria in water at your local supermarket it’s likely that Colombia is the source of these lovely flowers. Almost 80 percent of all Colombian flower exports are bound for the United States. Overall, Colombia’s floriculture trade totals over $1 billion, generating significant income for the country. 

sealand-July2 So, it’s reasonable that any issue that would negatively impact Colombia’s floriculture trade would cause economic concern within Colombia.  This came to be when the long-established transportation network for floral exports to the United States was impacted. Historically, flowers have exclusively shipped by air to cold storage facilities in Southern Florida and then trucked to U.S. markets. 

In recent years though, Colombian airlines cut capacity and the frequency of flights to the United States. This reduction in services impacted flower growers and the reliability of their floral exports to U.S. customers that depended on them for significant flower buying holiday periods, such as Valentine’s Day roses.  If this shipping delay continued, it could ultimately hurt Colombia’s floriculture trade competitiveness. 

Ocean alternative to air  

Ocean transportation emerged as a viable and beneficial alternative to air to support Colombian growers.  Controlled atmosphere reefer (refrigerated) containers provide the ideal environment for flowers, that once loaded, travel in a stable, unbroken end-to-end cold chain from farm to their final destination.   

Ocean further benefits floral exporters with regular weekly, direct services to a variety of U.S. ports expanding the number of entry points for florals beyond the one Southern Florida gateway.  Port of Philadelphia is an example of a major reefer gateway.  These new routing options enable floral exporters to get closer to consumer markets.  In the case of Philadelphia, closer to the large, highly populated New York Metro area., providing a significant reduction in trucking and product handoffs.  Also, less emissions for more environmentally friendly routing - ocean transport produces fewer emissions as compared to trucking.  Ocean not only offers an alternative to air, but it also opens up new routing options.  

You might think that packaging would vary based on the transportation mode, but it is, in fact, a non-issue.  Whether a grower ships by air or by sea, the design and quality of the packaging is pretty much the same.  Flowers are carefully packed in ventilated boxes for both. 

What does vary when looking at ocean vs. air, is the number of transport handoffs that flowers experience.  With an ocean-going reefer container, flowers are loaded in Colombia and remain in a consistent environment at a set temperature for the entire journey.  Also, since flowers can be shipped as close to the customer as possible with ocean the temperature environment is more dependable and consistent since the flowers remain in the reefer container all the way up to the final destination.  

When flowers are shipped to Southern Florida by air, they’re not refrigerated while in transit.  When they arrive, they’re transferred to a cold storage facility, if space is available, and inspected by agricultural authorities, hopefully in a timely manner.  They are then trucked in a refrigerated trailer from this southern U.S. point to locations throughout the country and Canada. 

Vase-life improvement 

Sealand, an intra-Americas ocean carrier, has been active in promoting and delivering reefer transportation to floral customers in Colombia.  They’ve seen their floral export volumes double year-on-year, since 2017, and expect an even larger percentage increase in full-year 2019.  Their customers have indicated that ocean shipping has enhanced flower quality with ‘vase-life’ increasing 1-1/2 to two days, as compared to air transportation.  ‘Vase life’ is how floral buyers measure flower quality.   

Transport mode 

Jan-March 2018 

Jan-March 2019 

% change 


60,419 tons 

58,970 tons 



3,867 tons 

5,846 tons 


Source:  The Association of Colombian Flower Exporters, www.asocolflores.org 


Today, monitoring technology provides a new level of visibility to reefer data helping to improve the outturn of floral shipments.  Sealand offers RCM - Remote Container Management to monitor reefer shipments in real-time for the full end-to-end journey.  Temperature, humidity, CO2 levels and the power status of the container is measured using sensors that gather this data.  Ultimately, the data can be used strategically to improve the quality of the flowers for customers as they can resolve reefer container issues faster.  If necessary, in-transit adjustments can be made to ensure an optimal environment for the floral shipments.  “Increased visibility helps improve cold chain performance and a longer ‘vase-life’ for floral exports.  We’re thrilled to be contributing a reliable and advanced technology solution to the important, growing Colombia floriculture industry,” Yenia Abadia, Colombia Commercial Manager of Sealand – A Maersk Company. 

Changing the floriculture mindset to embrace marine transport 

As discussed, ocean transportation as an alternative to air is relatively new in Colombia.  Education about this alternative form of transport has been critical to strengthening the floriculture’s global market position.  Even the small floriculture grower community that does not have enough product to fill a full container now can benefit from consolidation services.  Flower shipments may be combined with other growers’ volumes to fill a full container enabling consistent, weekly shipments.  This allows these smaller growers to sell to large volume buyers, such as Walmart and Whole Foods. 

The floriculture industry has responded in a very positive way to container shipping as an alternative mode of transport.  At a recent Floral Conference, a Produce Marketing Association director commented to Sealand, “Thank you for the work you’ve done in Colombia to educate the floriculture industry about the value of ocean transportation.” 

Changing long established practices is not easy.  But, with time and proof, the Colombian floriculture industry has a new transport mode option with ocean shipping to strengthen its market position and spread the joy of flowers. 

Sealand — A Maersk Company is a regional container logistics company that combines passionate local teams and agile-thinking with an unrivalled global network powered by the larger Maersk family. Sealand moves customers’ cargo quickly and efficiently across the Americas, Asia, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Through the close connection to Maersk it ensures customers the benefits of industry-leading logistics expertise and cutting-edge technology. A.P. Moller Maersk operates in 130 countries, employs roughly 76,000 people and works to connect and simplify its customers’ supply chains. 

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