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The world’s major container shipping alliances are missing a “huge opportunity” by neglecting the flower trade between east Africa and Europe.

A leading figure in the international flower supply chain said the savings for cargo owners would also be significant if container lines offered better refrigerated services on the route.

Edwin Wenink, supply chain development manager at FloraHolland,  explained that the Netherlands-based flower sales co-operative which turns over €4.2 billion annually, had already proved that flowers – roses in particular – can withstand weeks of ocean transit, provided the shipping service is reliable and direct.

Retailers typically demand that flowers should have a “vase life” of seven days.

Italy-based Messina Line currently operates the only suitable container service, a fortnightly run from Mombasa to Barcelona, but Mr Wenink told delegates at the Cool Logistics Global event in Rotterdam that there were not enough speedy and reliable shipping lines.

“We think there will always be a [sea-air] mix, but for shipping alliances there is a huge opportunity. And this is new ocean cargo. Obviously container lines would compete with air, but from east Africa they would not be competing for share from other lines.

“We want to see an interest from the shipping industry in our needs. Roses especially are very difficult to ship, so to achieve the right result you need a robust supply chain. We need a steady weekly sailing because if you don’t have that then it is impossible to build a business.”

The Africa-Europe flower trade is currently dominated by air freight providers, but FloraHolland said its 5,000 members could save between 30% and 40% in logistics costs, and emit 90% less carbon, by switching to ocean freight. Mr Wenin estimated that transport costs currently formed between 30% and 60% of the landed price of African flowers.

He outlined a vision in which the industry’s entire base load would be shipped in sea containers, while fluctuations in demand would be met by air freight.

“It also has to do with the consumer,” added Mr Wenink. “A consumer thinks that a flower cut yesterday is fresh, but the picture we’ve seen is of flowers that are fresh at 60 days old.”


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