Over 20% of the flowers shipped by growers never reach the final consumer in the export market because they are lost or damaged during the various stages of the distribution chain. Losses can be reduced by ensuring more careful handling, better temperature regulation, attention to phytosanitary requirements and the use of suitable preservation agents. Such measures may be inadequate and even fruitless, however, if not combined with appropriate export packaging.
Because flowers and plants are living and thus developing organisms, they have a limited life span. Suitable methods should therefore be adopted to ensure that the product’s evolution is controlled throughout the shipping process. The choice of an export packaging, adapted to the product as well as to the distribution network and the market, is therefore important to export success.
Single Face Kraft (SFK)
Most growers show a lot of keenness when choosing cartons, sleeves or even refrigerated containers. However, little attention is generally given when choosing SFKs yet they are the first line of protection for the flowers. This has resulted in growers losing many stems which should have turned into dollars. This was revealed by a research carried out recently by this periodical.
In Kenya, there is a wide range of SFK’s available to growers and exporters from different suppliers. Though the reason for selecting a specific type of SFK are not always clear. Pack rates and cost efficiency seem to be prevailing motives according to our research. The outcome, however, is not always what would be best for the flowers.
Speaking to different pack house and production managers, they all agree that, you must use SFK’s while exporting flowers. They also agree that quality was the main determinant factor while choosing the right SFK. However, very few seemed to understand the characteristics of a SFK to establish whether they are getting the right quality in the first place.
To be correctly designed , SFK should have suitable dimensions; means of ventilating; securing and cushioning the product; and any other necessary protective features. To understand the right choice of an SFK, we asked, what do flowers undergo in the cold chain? The study showed flowers undergo serious mechanical, physical and chemical stresses.
This is directly connected with transport handling and warehousing. It includes shocks, drops, compression and vibrations. A distribution chain for flower exports, perhaps several thousand kilometres long, consists not just of one or two transport and handling operations. In most cases the network includes a long series of road, air and sometimes sea or rail transport connections, involving handling before and after each phase, and often with intermediate stages of warehousing or storage.
Consequently the stresses and the risks to which the flowers and their packaging are exposed are multiple. Moreover, the stresses have a cumulative effect, thus significantly reducing the mechanical strength of the SFK as the journey proceeds. The SFK must therefore be designed to withstand the sum of those forces.
Physical and chemical stresses:
The life span of flowers varies with the variety, but it is generally short. The SFK design must therefore take into consideration the diverse hazards that the products undergo, to limit their effects.
Characteristics of a Good SFK.
Speaking during the study, Mr. Ken Mwiti of Kisima Flowers said, “The cumulative natures of these stresses on the product have repercussions on the package durability”. Adding, a number of factors namely heat, cold, humidity (water vapour in the air), dampness (water in a liquid state) and desiccation (lack of water or humidity) must be considered before one purchases the right SFK”.
“The long series of road, air and sometimes sea or rail transport connections, involving handling before and after each phase, and often with intermediate stages of warehousing or cold storage should be considered, said Mr. Kiplagat of Karen Roses.
“It would be foolish to invest millions in production only to loose quality from bruised heads due to an SFK made of substandard recycled paper”, says Mr. Andrew Wambua of Molo River farm. Adding, “the SFK is the first foreign contact the flower has so it should be able to absorb humidity released from respiration of flowers, maintain shape and form of the flowers and ensure wrapping works as a protective agency from pressures”.
Each of the supply chains has its own specific requirements regarding SFK according to suppliers. For instance, in the traditional supply chain, the distance is shorter and the SFK is removed by the importer, who places the flowers in buckets of water before they enter the auction process. These may need E-flute. On the opposite end of the supply chain evolution, direct trade has very different requirements. Ideally, the link at destination (often larger retailers) receives ready-to-use products.
This means fewer handling procedures and the flowers could be sold in the original SFK. In addition, some of the markets like Japan, Russia, and USA are far and they will require higher specifications like C-Flute because of the longer distances to enable better protection. It should be noted that choice of flute (“e” or “c”) only is not sufficient to ensuring the performance of the material. The right paper has to be used as well.
Growers need to understand the different materials used in manufacturing of SFK. In the Kenyan market, E-flute is the smallest pitch with B-flute average and C-Flute with the highest pitch. . Secondly, use of virgin paper like kraft will behave far better than recycled paper. Finally, the higher the grammage of paper used results in better SFK performance. However, growers must be careful of some cheaper recycled material SFKs in the market as they are vulnerable to moisture due to their composition.
Before purchasing SFK, growers must put into consideration their markets as they determine the strength. They must also ensure the SFKs have undergone control tests for short term needs and field tests for long term needs. The impacts on the product and the freight costs should also be put into consideration. “It is prudent for the grower to make money from the quality of the stems but not quantity (volume) of the export”, says Mr. Parit Shah of Silpack Industries Ltd.
Silpack has developed SFK for all types of markets. “For the short distances, we have developed a cost effective SFK made of Kraft liner to replace the commonly used recycled materials. And for the long distance, we have developed a tougher product to protect your flowers all through”, he adds. Silpack also recognizes that the SFK is also a marketing medium for the Grower and has developed branded SFK and are researching other features to include in the SFK that may extend the vase life of the flowers.