Scott Alan Case | Position: Global
A ring of the doorbell. A knock at the door. A co-worker delivering them to your desk. The flowers you receive for Valentine’s Day have most likely taken a long ride from South America, or Spain or perhaps even from Africa. The question is: do you know how it happens?
Beginning in lush fields in countries such as Columbia, Spain and South Africa, flowers are picked for shipment and immediately cooled to retain peak freshness. Depending upon the variety, their bulbs may be individually wrapped to protect them while in transit.
Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are two huge holidays for imported flowers. About 80 percent of fresh flowers that people purchase in the United States are imported, said Christine Boldt, Executive Vice President of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida. But for these similar holidays, there is one key difference – Valentine’s Day is about one major flower – the rose.
“Ecuadorian roses are in particularly high demand for Valentine’s Day,” said Allan Zarach, Executive Vice President of Edward J. Zarach & Associates, a customs broker and freight forwarder headquartered in Chicago.
Airlines at this time of year will book additional capacity northbound from Latin and South America and into Europe to carry these must-arrive loads. The rush leading up to Valentine’s Day is not unlike the rush leading to the Christmas holidays when aircraft are chartered and filled to capacity with last-minute consumer electronics and must-have toys.
Most flowers travel at temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. At origin, flowers are protected using thermal blankets to keep them cool and fresh. The low temperatures even prevent some species from blooming in transit. The rush is then on to get them to gateway airports for distribution throughout the U.S. Miami International Airport alone sees nearly 90 percent of those arrivals, followed by Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Laredo, TX and Chicago to round out the top six.
Once arriving in the U.S, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) entry is required, as well as an inspection from Plant Protection & Quarantine (PPQ). According to CBP, from January 1 through February 14, 2017, CBP agricultural inspectors nationwide inspected 823 actionable pests and processed more than one billion cut flower stems.
Once cleared through Customs, the next step is to move the flowers to their final destination. Some flowers which warmed up in transit may require another chilling before taking the next leg of their journey.
“The destination, deadline and flower’s durability and life span will determine how it travels onward from the airport,” Zarach added. “If arriving midweek with a weekend deadline, many flower importers opt for air over truck, especially in February when weather can be a factor in the more northern states.”
The entire transit from field to florist can be thousands of miles, but happens in as few as four days, ensuring that from the moment they are delivered to the lucky recipient they have the longest possible time to be appreciated.
Scott Alan Case is Founder and Chief Storyteller at Position: Global. He can be reached at [email protected]