Recognizing Prime Group’s Roots in Roses

Like most things in the age of COVID, it’s difficult to predict what will flop and what will fly. But one thing is for sure—fresh-cut roses are soon to start flying off the shelf with Valentine’s Day just weeks away.

Even in a normal year, no one can predict the exact volume needed to meet the demand on this “day of lovers.” But of course, these are not normal times, especially considering that Valentine’s Day 2021 lands on a Sunday of a long weekend (President’s Day) in the middle of a global pandemic.

Add to that, a plan by American florists and distributors to play it even safer this year by expanding the holiday throughout the week to help boost sales in such a volatile environment. Just a few variables at play here, right?

Flexibility has always been the name of the game in the perishables industry, but even more so in the handling of fresh-cut flowers. In fact, they say if you succeed in shipping fresh flowers, you can ship anything, anywhere.

Simply stated, Prime Group has succeeded.

“Flowers were always very important to our company,” says CEO Roger Paredes. In fact, Prime Group was formed in 2001 solely to provide local growers and forwarders in Ecuador with the best in customer service, know-how, and logistical management in getting their flowers to Miami and beyond.

Budding Business

“The expertise we gained in those early days, and have since built upon, allowed us to retain long-term customers, while at the same time generate new business over the year along multiple service lines like pharmaceuticals and fresh fish, fruit and vegetables,” Paredes adds.

Initially, the company supported operations between Quito and Miami only, but the flower exports just kept growing, so the next logical step was to enter the Amsterdam market, the primary gateway to the entire European market and beyond.

“As business continued to grow, we did too, by moving into Los Angeles, New York, and Colombia, pretty much following the flowers all over the world,” says Paredes.

Now, after 20 years of success, the company has in fact expanded its scope to shipping just about “anything, anywhere” in the world, but this time of year it’s back to basics—filling dozens of freighters full of long-stem roses, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Recent-year sales of roses on Valentine’s Day have risen to nearly $20 billion, with 250 million roses produced for this holiday alone. Though it is not yet clear the degree to which COVID-19 will impact the market this year, it’s all systems go, from the farm to shelf and every specialized step along the way.

So here we are, entering peak season, with two of Prime Group’s key divisions working tirelessly to meet the enormous demand of Valentine’s Day. Prime Fresh Handling is working hand-in-hand to fine-tune the proper shipping and handling process, while PrimeAir is focused on managing the on-the-ground needs of the company’s air cargo partners, as they double, triple, and in some cases quadruple their regular capacity to meet this annual spike in demand.

“The ingrained mentality is you work until you get it done, and that there is zero margin for error. It’s always been this way and always will be,” Paredes notes.

From Field to Vase

The key ingredients for success center around time and temperature. The stopwatch starts ticking with the snip of a stem at the farm, and product must remain perfectly chilled the entire way until it reaches the retail consumer.

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 fresh-cut flowers as soon as possible after harvest to lengthen vase life, achieve customer satisfaction, and spur repeat sales.

Flowers from farms in Colombia and Ecuador reach North American retailers in as little as four days. So for a rose with an average cut-life of 21 days—with proper care and handling at every stage of its journey—there should be up to 10 to 14 days of vase-life in the consumers’ homes and workplaces.

Once harvested, the supply flow then starts as flowers are placed immediately in refrigerated trucks for transport to Prime Fresh Handling’s facilities where they are prepared for air transport to the center of the U.S. flower distribution system: Miami International Airport. Others head off to Amsterdam for distribution to France, Australia, and the U.K., which also celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way.

Upon arrival at MIA and AMS, the flower shipments 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 are released to a local warehouse, where shipments are broken down and shipped off to down-chain international locations or placed on refrigerated trucks for domestic distribution. Retailers are the final link in the journey where the flowers reach the retail shelf and ultimately into the hands of sweethearts.

As the most popular flower in the world, roses are long coveted for their beauty and sweet fragrance, and Valentine’s Day is their biggest day. But for flower producers and shippers/handlers, this holiday is less a day of love, and more a three-week sprint to the finish line.

It’s hard work, and we love it!