Fresh Flowers Cold Chain, Ecuador-United States

ProcessTimeQuality deterioration
Post-harvest on farm, Ecuador4 – 8 hoursMedium
Storage on farm12 – 72 hoursLow – medium
Transportation to cargo agencies1 – 6 hoursMedium
Storage at cargo agency4 hoursLow
Palletizing, Quito6 hoursMedium – High
Customs clearance, Quito0.5 hourLow
Loading to aircraft, Quito1 – 2 hoursMedium – High
Flight UIO-MIA nonstop4 hoursHigh
Customs clearance, Miami4 – 12 hoursLow
De-palletizing, Miami2 – 4 hoursHigh
Storage at cargo agency, Miami4 – 72 hoursLow – Medium
Transportation to U.S. retailer2 hours – 5 daysMedium

Source: H.L. Vega (2008) Trade and Transportation Costs in Ecuador: A Case Study of Fresh Flowers, LAEBA 2008 Fourth Annual Meeting Lima, June 17, 2008.

The globalization of the fresh flower industry started in the early 1970s with the development of long-distance jet services that could carry time and temperature-sensitive flower shipments to markets. Conventionally, flower retailers were being supplied from nearby farms, and shipments were processed and assembled on site. In order to decrease production costs, grow flowers in more suitable conditions (increase quality) and increase output through economies of scale, flower production went to offshore locations. The outcome has been a remarkable shift in the geography of flower production, which like many other manufacturing sectors was transformed by globalization. For instance, while in 1971 1.2 billion blooms were produced and 100 million blooms were imported in the United States, this figure shifted in 2003 to a production of 100 million blooms and imports of 2 billion blooms. The world’s main producers have become Columbia and Kenya, with Colombia alone accounting for 70% of the American market. What has also changed is the division of labor since all labor-intensive tasks are performed close to the production site, namely the assembly and wrapping of bouquets, and once the flowers leave to be airlifted what remains is mostly a matter of freight distribution.

A complex cold chain is involved to forward flowers. Once they are harvested and cut to the required size, they are dipped into an anti-fungal solution, assembled into bouquets (composition depending on fashion and specific events such as Christmas or mother’s day), and wrapped. Bouquets are then stored in refrigerated warehouses at temperatures just above the freezing point to maximize the shelf life of the lot. The lots are then ready to be palletized and brought to the airport where once cleared through customs they will be loaded to a direct 4 hours flight bound for Miami. Once customs have been cleared (the main concern being pests) the loads are broken down and sent to retailers across the country, which can take between 2 hours and 5 days depending on the final destination. Bouquets arrive at retail outlets ready to be sold to the final consumer. At each step of the cold chain, there is a risk that the lot could be damaged, either directly or indirectly through a breach in the integrity of the chain.