What springs to mind when you think of temperature controlled vehicles? Chances are, you will think of food items first and foremost. But did you know that there are many other industries that rely on the cold chain to protect the integrity of their goods? Fresh cut flowers are just one example. These products are a unique commodity and they have quite specific requirements. Therefore, distributors need to have a very good understanding of the supply chain and the temperature requirements.

Flowers are a product that are not only visually appealing but delicate too, so they do require a certain approach and level of care as they are moved through the supply chain. Any incorrect handling at any stage during the transportation process can significantly reduce the shelf life of the flowers, the length of time that customers have them in their homes and the overall quality of the product. In addition, the flower industry has several spikes throughout the year in terms of demand particularly around Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. If flowers are incorrectly transported during these times and an entire shipment is lost, this can cause significant disruption to the business and customers. Therefore, when it comes to temperature control for fresh cut flowers, there really isn’t any room for substandard flowers.

Temperature control for flowers

Most non-chilling sensitive flowers will need to be maintained at a consistent temperature of between 0°c and 1°c. If the temperature moves above or below this level, the quality of the flowers and their vase life will be reduced. This is because flowers will react almost immediately to the ambient environment. Rapid cooling and inadequate temperature maintenance through the entire cold chain is therefore crucial to prevent issues occurring such as higher respiration rates, wilting, gray mould or early aging.

The seasonality of cut flowers and high export value of cut flowers makes temperature monitoring during the transportation and distribution process even more important. When flowers are in demand during peak seasons, entire shipments can be lost with inadequate temperature control. This results in low stock levels as suppliers won’t have replacement flower shipments available to dispatch.

The supply chain for flowers is complex and difficult, particularly in terms of maintaining a consistent temperature. The transportation process for fresh flowers will include a series of steps with many areas for breaks in the cold chain. Typically, this would include:

  • At the point of harvesting.
  • When stored in a cooling facility.
  • During transportation.
  • At distribution centres.
  • When delivered to retailers for sale.

Recognising when and where temperature issues may occur in the supply chain is important to ensure that continuous improvements can be made to maintain product quality.

One of the best ways to monitor temperature, particularly for sensitive items such as flowers is to use technology. Temperature monitors are ideal for distributors who specialise in the delivery of flowers because it will closely monitor the temperature and alert the driver to any changes in the temperature before product quality is affected. Monitors provide real-time temperature collecting and recording with location visibility and more so that distributors can see exactly where issues are occurring in the supply chain.

To help reduce the likelihood of problems occurring, to maintain optimum quality and lengthy vase life, maintaining the right temperature throughout the entire supply chain is essential, even more so if the flowers have to be transported long distances. Real-time monitoring is one of the best ways to improve the system in the cold chain to reduce the risk of damage and protect a sensitive commodity.

Florists will recognise how important it is to maintain the right environment for their floral displays to ensure the longest possible life for their potted plants and flowers. While florists understand the importance of temperature control, many distributors rarely see the significance in transporting flowers under the right conditions.

Most flowers are very sensitive to the environment and delicate in nature, even the hardiest of flowers will prematurely wilt if they are not kept at the right temperature or transported in the right conditions. It is also important to recognise that all flowers are not the same so this must be taken into consideration and the conditions adapted depending on the consignment. Some flowers for example prefer cooler conditions than others, while certain types of flower are best transported in a humid atmosphere.

As flowers are a perishable product, they are subject to four criteria: temperature, humidity, ventilation and packaging. The performance of each flower will depend on its type.

Bulbs and plants – The ideal temperature range should be between 4°c and 14°c and the humidity should be between 65% and 75%.

Cut flowers – The ideal temperature for cut flowers is anywhere between 1°c and 8°c. The moisture level will depend on the particular grade of flower. The transportation of cut flowers does require a carefully planned route and efficiency to get them to the destination as quickly as possible. This is because the lifetime of cut flowers is very short so they can’t withstand lengthy periods of transportation.

Plants in soil – A potted plant in soil will require a temperature of between 0°c and 2°c and they are very dependent on the humidity level.

Prone to disease and deterioration in the wrong conditions, flowers, plants and bulbs need to be transported as carefully as possible. There are many factors that can present a risk to the temperature and these include:

  • Temperatures falling below freezing.
  • Increased humidity levels.
  • Lack of moisture.
  • Temperatures above the recommended maximum level for each type of plant, flower or bulb.

The ideal environment for the transportation of flowers is a temperature-controlled vehicle. When flowers are transported at the right temperature it helps to preserve the shelf life of the flower or plant and maintain its quality for as long as possible.