Swissport Flower Corridor keeps roses fresh for Valentine's Day

Swissport has handled over 9,000 tons of flowers on its Flower Corridor, transporting flowers from Kenya to Europe.

Every week, 4-500 tons of cargo, 85% of which are fresh flowers, pass through Swissport’s 10,400 square-metre cargo centre in Nairobi and volumes increase 50-55% in the run-up to Valentine’s Day.

The IATA CEIV Fresh facility handles general cargo, perishables and temperature-sensitive goods, with a focus on flowers, which are a major export from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Edwin Musungu, Head of Cargo Services at Swissport Nairobi says demand for fresh-cut flowers peaks during the Valentine’s Day season, which starts in late January.

He said: “For the current year, we anticipate to handle approximately 9,000 tons of flowers, a slight decrease from previous years attributed to aircraft capacity constraints, with carriers prioritising the lucrative Chinese market due to the overlap with the Lunar New Year in 2024.”

Swissport’s Flower Corridor initiative addresses the logistical challenges of handling fresh-cut flowers connecting Nairobi with key European locations such as Liege, Brussels and Amsterdam, as well as markets in the Middle East and the Far East.

The Flower Corridor connects farmers, airlines and forwarders with major carriers including Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa Group airlines, China Southern and EgyptAir using the service.

They create an ecosystem aimed at extending the shelf-life of flowers by seven days and reducing waste.

The journey at Swissport starts with the delivery truck docking at the hermetically sealed gateway connected to the temperature-controlled perishables centre.

After unloading, flowers undergo temperature screening and when they are in the centre, they are assembled into ULDs based on carrier bookings with optional vacuum cooling before transport to the cold room for aircraft loading.

The facility has a 110 pallet interconnected cold room spanning 750 square metres and provides access from landside to airside and a two-pallet main deck vacuum cooler has the power to cool down two main deck pallets from 24C to 2C in 22 minutes.

Musungu says it is not just about shortening handling times but maintaining the right temperature.

He said: “The primary objective is to ensure that every single rose arrives at its destination as fresh as the moment it was harvested, creating consumer happiness and improving the carbon footprint.”

The Flower Corridor is also key for sustainability with research commissioned by a leading Swiss retail group and published in 2018 finding that the greenhouse gas emissions from fairtrade roses produced in Kenya were four to six times lower than roses grown in European greenhouses and required 6.5 times less energy including air transport due to Africa’s optimal climate for cultivating flowers compared to recreating the environment in Europe.

Related articles