How a controlled cold chain will set the new product quality standard in the floral industry

NL: Floral pioneer in the land of "degree hours"

Who doesn’t love the crispy sound of fresh Tulips when you put them in a vase? The look of a perfect bridal bouquet, and knowing for sure that this will be the bride’s best day ever? The smell of Lilac that’s put in the enormous centerpiece that you see when you enter your hotel lobby? Flowers nourish our senses. But only when they are in impeccable condition when we encounter them.

Getting flowers in perfect condition from nursery to consumer is a great challenge. During all stages, the people involved do their utmost best to maintain good product quality. But doing your best isn’t always enough, Holex has seen. Why is it that some flowers are of poor quality, and others are shining in the vase for two weeks? Well, thanks to FlowerWatch we have the answer: it all depends on the degree hours.

Degree hours
Through their work with scientists and floriculture businesses, FlowerWatch has developed unique insights into the industry’s success factors. They have developed the ‘500 Degree Hour Norm’ quality assurance method which is central to their standards. In this method, FlowerWatch uses the Celsius temperature scale. How it works? It describes the time-temperature exposure, which is expressed in degree hours. This is the average temperature of a given shipment of fresh flowers throughout transport, multiplied by the number of hours (1 degree hour = 1 hour x 1°C). Every 500 degree hours, from grower to consignee, reduces vase life by 1 day. The key to successful cold chain performance is to minimize the number of degree hours that a flower is exposed to, from the moment of cutting until it reaches the florist.

Holex’ challenge of staying below 500
Holex customers, wholesale florists, are located all around the world. New York, Dubai, Seoul, Shanghai... just a few places where the Holex flower shipments arrive by plane every week. They travel thousands of kilometers to shine at the moment of need. Whether that is in a simple vase at a kitchen table, a stunning brides bouquet, or as sympathy flowers, it is very important that they perform at their best. To be able to keep the Holex quality, that so many wholesale florists count on, Holex has undertaken a lot of actions to get more in control of the degree hours, according to the FlowerWatch Quality Standard.

In addition to the existing extensive precooling facilities, Holex has also had a vacuum cooler installed at their shipping department recently. This makes them the first flower exporting company in the Netherlands working inhouse with vacuum cooling techniques on flowers.

In cooperation with FlowerWatch, there have been developed practical procedures to make sure internally all FlowerWatch Quality Standard steps are taken: from arriving of flowers from the auctions or directly from growers, to storage, picking, and packing. Next to this, Holex also has redesigned their complete range of flower shipping boxes. Sizes that match airplane skids perfectly, and make sure that air circulation around the boxes is guaranteed so that air respiration of the flowers themselves cannot cause the flowers to heat up.

With these developments, Holex is able to reduce the degree hours in such a way, that they are at an appropriate level when the consignments leave the premises. In the following example, you can see how degree hours matter during the transport of your shipment.

Example: shipment from greenhouse, NL to Miami, USA
It’s Wednesday morning. The Holex buyers have received your order for Saturday arrival, and they are arranging the needed products at the Dutch growers. The products are transported to Holex, where they are stored in the cold room for 24 hours. On Thursday, the products are picked and packed. After this, the boxes are brought to the Expedition cold room, where – for 24 hours – they are cooled down (at the vacuum cooler or the pre-cooling units) even more and will be put on airplane skids.

On Friday afternoon, the shipment is leaving the Holex facility and is transported to London Heathrow by truck, where it arrives Saturday morning. The airplane skids are loaded on the plane, and in a few hours it will take off for a 9 hours flight to Miami airport, USA.

Due to time differences, the plane arrives at Miami Airport, USA on Saturday evening. The shipment goes through customs clearance, and after this, the shipment is brought to the freight agent. In Miami, Holex works with K&M Handling. In their warehouse the shipment is cooled back to 2°C. On Sunday morning, the cooled shipment is ready for pick up by the wholesale florist or their trucker for the trip to its destination, the cash & carry.

That’s quite a trip, don’t you think? This is the moment where everyone should look at the degree hours build up during this transport. You will see, because of the cooling process during the stay at the Holex facility, the complete traveling will have very little effect on the vase life of the products!

The Pioneer Accredited for FlowerWatch Distributor Standard Holex Flower is the first Dutch flower export company that is accredited for the FlowerWatch Distributor Standard, as a part of the FlowerWatch Quality Standard for Global Flower Supply Chains. This standard makes sure that Holex uses a set of critical control points, in order to prevent unwanted “temperature exposure” and organizes a fast and efficient supply chain. This results in a minimum loss of vase and shelf life, as well as loss of quality and value.

Jeroen van der Hulst, FlowerWatch: “Holex Flower has proven to take working with a complete cold chain, from grower to wholesale florist, very seriously. Besides the adjustments and expansions of their production process, also the employees have been extensively educated the past year. They have passed all FlowerWatch tests with great success!”

Keeping the degree hours low yourself
First of all, it is important to understand that the earlier you give in your order on our webshop, the more time we have to cool your shipment for transport. It may seem like you will get “fresher flowers” when you order later on in the week, but when the degree hour rule is kept in mind, your flowers will arrive fresher at their destination because they are cooled down better.

When your shipment arrives, make sure it gets to a cold room with a set point of temperature between 1-2°C (33.8-35.6°F). Avoid peaks higher than 4°C (39.2°F)! Take care of continuous monitoring and meticulous registration of the temperature, to make sure that you are aware of temperature changes in your cold room. It is also very important that all flowers in the cold room are cooled evenly. Position them properly and make sure that there is even air circulation throughout the cold room.

Furthermore, all areas where flowers are stored or processed must be kept free of any external ethylene sources, and free of flowers older than 7 days to prevent to development of sources of botrytis.

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