Flowers play a pivotal role in the economies of Colombia and Ecuador, with these countries supplying a substantial portion of the world’s produce. This cargo is moved via air in precise temperature-controlled environments to ensure maximum freshness.
“Flowers have a short shelf life, making timely transportation crucial. Delays at any point in the supply chain can result in them reaching their destination in a less-than-optimal condition,” Claudio Torres, Commercial SVP in South America at LATAM Cargo, explained.
Flowers sourced from Colombia and Ecuador are typically transported by air in sturdy cardboard boxes. The robust construction of these boxes is imperative to facilitate secure stacking during air cargo transportation. Equally crucial is the incorporation of effective humidity control measures within the packaging.
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The objective is to prevent flower dehydration while simultaneously mitigating the risk of the cardboard becoming damp, which could compromise its structural integrity. It is noteworthy that these boxes do not inherently possess built-in temperature control capabilities. Hence, the reliance on the cold chain provided by carriers assumes heightened significance in ensuring the preservation of optimal temperature conditions throughout the transportation process.
The collaboration with carriers becomes pivotal in upholding the freshness and quality of the flowers upon their arrival at the destination. This comprehensive approach underscores the intricate balance between structural robustness, humidity management, and the essential role played by the cold chain in safeguarding the integrity of flowers in transit.
“LATAM Cargo works on streamlining their processes to minimise acceptance, transit and delivery times and ensure efficient handling. Fluctuations in temperature or delays can lead to spoilage, affecting the quality of the products and hence also result in food waste or waste in general,” Torres added.
The United States is one of the largest importers of flowers from South America. Colombian and Ecuadorian flowers, in particular, have a strong presence in the United States market, with Miami serving as a gateway for flowers entering the country.
European countries, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, also serve as major markets for South American flowers. The Netherlands, in particular, is a global hub for the flower trade, with significant imports of roses, carnations, and other flowers.
To meet demand, since 2019, LATAM Cargo has tripled its operations from Medellin and Bogota, going from operating 12 weekly flights in 2019 to 35 in 2023. In the case of Ecuador, the group’s presence has grown by 131% since 2019, with 13 weekly departures from Quito in that year, which will rise to nearly 30 during this year.
“The surge in operational capacity underscores LATAM Cargo’s proactive response to heightened demand and its commitment to fortifying its position in the dynamic and crucial flower export market,” Torres explained.
“LATAM Cargo’s active participation in the flower transportation sector directly contributes to sustaining and bolstering these vital economic activities, aligning with the airline’s commitment to being a positive force in the communities it serves.
“The airline’s role extends beyond transportation; it embodies a responsible stewardship. By nurturing this sector, the airline not only enhances its own operational growth but becomes an integral part of the economic ecosystem, fostering prosperity and becoming a blooming testament to its commitment to being an asset in the communities where it operates,” Torres continued.
The impact of Covid-19 on the flower market has led to a shift in consumer habits. There has been a noticeable increase in the sales of bouquets for home decoration, reflecting a trend towards enhancing domestic environments.
Conversely, the sales of flowers for events have declined due to event cancellations. Simultaneously, the e-commerce market in the flower industry has experienced significant development, adapting to changing consumer preferences and the increased demand for online purchasing.
Importers are under considerable pressure to enhance their competitiveness by aligning tariffs and expenses, enabling them to offer affordable prices in the battle against inflation within the supermarket sector.
“Despite the growth in supermarket sales in the years following the onset of Covid-19, profit margins have shrunk due to persistent inflationary pressure,” Torres outlined. “Transferring these increased costs to consumers for everyday goods has proven challenging, contributing to the ongoing struggle for importers to maintain profitability in this market.”
Understanding market demands and seasonal variations is essential to adapt operations in order to fulfil these market needs.
“LATAM Cargo has demonstrated its ability to handle peak seasons, such as Valentine’s and Mother’s Day for flowers from Colombia and Ecuador. The company achieves this through increased capacity, streamlined operations, and robust planning,” Torres highlighted.
This approach involves adding more frequencies, creating operational plans to meet high demand, ensuring sufficient staff and warehouse capacity, and having a dedicated multidisciplinary team to address disruptions promptly and efficiently.
“Looking forward, the evolution of the flower transportation sector into 2024 and beyond is anticipated to be shaped by escalating quality demands for perishable products, presenting an ongoing challenge for airlines,” Torres said.
“The key drivers for this evolution include a heightened focus on maintaining the cold chain, minimising the use of single-use materials, and enhancing the efficiency of processes throughout the logistics chain.
“In the upcoming years, a notable trend foreseen in 2024 involves major regional airlines expanding and modernising their fleets, specifically targeting the flower market,” Torres stated. “This strategic move is expected to result in increased capacity for the flower business, aligning with the industry’s growing requirements and paving the way for improved transportation capabilities.