Valentine’s Day and International Women’s Day are back-to-back events that account for the shipment of massive volumes of fresh-but flowers from Colombia and Ecuador. Let’s find out how PrimeAir and Prime Fresh Handling make it through this highly intense period.
We caught up with Regional Sales Director Jose Luis Suarez to share with us what the company does in South America to keep pace with the demand, while providing the highest quality customer service during the peak season for the flower industry.
Q. How do PrimeAir and Prime Fresh Handling support the flower industry during this peak time?
Answer: In the high seasons, PrimeAir has always been characterized by supporting the Ecuadorian and Colombian markets with additional offers to its regular flights to Miami, Amsterdam, and other connections – this year will certainly be no exception. Now, we have Prime Fresh Handling that makes our overall service integral, because we not only offer departures from Bogota or Quito but we also provide support at the destination, making our service even more attractive.
Q. What is the peak period for the transport of flowers from South America?
Answer: Typically, the Valentine’s Day period ends around Feb. 8 at then we move into the Women’s Day peak, Feb. 16-28. After that, we get a break until Mother’s Day, May 12, which means we are super busy again the last week of April through May 4.
Between the Valentine’s and Women’s Day back-to-back period, we have basically one week to recover, get some sleep, and get busy again. But not everything is a dream, as we have our regular flights that need to be attended to. In a new twist, over the past couple years, customers have started moving their shipments to go out just prior to the peak periods in order to get better flower prices.
Q. What is the volume of shipments over this peak period?
Answer: It’s a moving target, but I would say that around 20 million flowers from Colombia and Ecuador are planned be cut, gathered, and shipped with us during the Valentine’s Day and Women’s Day season.
Q. What’s the journey a flower makes from field to florists?
Answer: The clock starts ticking with the snip of a stem at the farm. To get flowers to their destination, the supply flow then starts as flowers are placed immediately in a refrigerated truck for transport to a cool warehouse at the airport. Here, they go through a process we call “pre-cooling,” in which any warm air that might be trapped in the box is vacuumed out. After that important step, the blossoms travel through the center of the U.S. flower distribution system: Miami International Airport, while others head off to Amsterdam. Both airports see huge spikes in volume between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Once there, they are inspected to ensure the flora is free from harmful pests and diseases. This process can take up to four hours. But after they get a green light, they get another pre-cooling and are release to a local warehouse, where shipments are broken down and shipped off to an international location or placed on refrigerated trucks for domestic distribution. Retailers are the final link in the cut-flowers supply chain before the flower reach your sweetheart and/or loving mother’s hands.
Q. Other than managing air transport of flowers, do you provide other logistics services for the industry, such as shipping of bulbs or flower seeds?
Answer: Yes, we ship bulbs and seeds – and because they too are delicate perishables, they need a temperature regime and cooling systems when being transported.
Q. Do fresh flowers need to be packed in specific ways? Vertically or horizontally, with or without water?
Answer: It depends on the type of flower that is being transported. There are some varieties that are shipped with water like the gladiolus that must be transported vertically and with a support of water. In the case of regular fresh-cut flowers such as gypsophila, roses, etc., they are transported in corrugated cartons with enough ventilation so that moisture can get out and, of course, so the flowers can breathe and maintain their freshness.
Q.Who are your main customers requiring the use of air transportation for quick shipments of fresh flowers.
Answer: Freight forwarders who represent growers are the customers who need to access professional air transport services for highly sensitive perishable fresh flowers – so that they reach their destination looking appealing and fresh.
Q. Why is maintaining the cold chain such an important aspect of this process?
Answer: This process, known as cold chain shipping, comes into play in order to allow flowers to make it from the field to the customer at lightning speed. Without proper packaging and express shipping, flower life is cut significantly shorter. Appropriate cooling systems and temperature regime are needed to ensure that the flowers remain in good condition. Of course, retailers want to receive cut flowers as soon as possible after harvest to lengthen vase life, achieve customer satisfaction, and spur repeat sales. So, temperature-controlled transportation, handling, and storage, makes longer supply chains possible, but the time limit still maxes out at about 12 days.
Q. Describe the logistics and sales teams as well as the facilities in both BOG and UIO.
Answer: Each team consists of experienced professionals, highly specialized in their specific function, starting with tailor-made quotes, going through reservations consistent with the clients’ needs, and finally maintaining high-quality transport. All this is based on our premise: to always provide excellent customer service. In Bogota we have our own office located in the Cargo Terminal of the El Dorado International Airport; and in Quito, the offices in the International Cargo Terminal of the Mariscal Sucre Airport. The PrimeAir family continues growing every year and this makes me proud to be part of a team that is determined to remain at the forefront of the logistics business, which is an increasingly challenging task in this highly competitive market.
Q. What is your background with the company and prior to joining the Prime Group?
Answer: I am a Commercial Engineer with separate specializations in Business Administration, Marketing, and Foreign Trade – this last one sparked my interest in airside operations. My career in the logistics area began in 2006 with Lufthansa Cargo, before passing through LAN Cargo in 2015. My Master’s Degree from the Tecnológico de Monterrey encouraged me to grow even more. Since 2016, I have had the opportunity to be in charge of the commercial operations of PrimeAir’s South American region. With a specialty in the movement of perishable cargo such as flowers and fruits. My experience also extends to handling very challenging cargo items such as oversized, high-valued, high-risk material.
Contact Regional Sales Director Jose Luis Suarez:
Mobile: (593-9) 9 555-3195
Office: (593-2) 281-8055 Ext. 1006
Address: Terminal Internacional de Carga, Mezzanine, Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre Quito, Ecuador