Valentine’s day, the day of love. The following Tuesday, 14 February, is the day. Millions of roses will be bought and given to loved ones. Where does the custom come from? A common rumour, which sounds plausible, says that the florists had a great influence on the matter. After all, they are always looking forward to the most revenue-generating period year after year. We cannot answer where the custom comes from, but we know where and how the beautiful flowers are distributed. Definitely not from next door at this time of year.
Roses need light, warmth and water to blossom. There is a lack of light and warmth in winter in our countries, and for this reason the roses’ journey begins in warmer latitudes. There they flourish the best. The largest exporters of roses are Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Colombia. An average of 9 million roses per day are transported to the Netherlands during Valentine’s and 4 million roses arrive at Frankfurt, Germany, 4 times a week.
Some people might ask themselves why flowers have to travel so far to end up in a vase. The costs for cultivating high resistant roses in greenhouses is at least as high as when they grow in a natural environment, are harvested and transported. A few things have changed in the last few years concerning environmental protection and sustainability so that the farmers can obtain the International Fairtrade Certification Mark, which consumers in Europe request. Thus much less water is consumed and processes are more efficient. The working conditions and salaries have also improved.
The delicate flowers are picked by hand. Only this way it is guaranteed that they are picked at the perfect time. And not only a 100 women pick roses, there are approximately 50,000 people only on the plantations around Naivasha, Kenya’s capital city for roses. One farm stands next to the other around Lake Naivasha. On an average day around half a million roses leave the farms each day. During peaks as Valentine’s or Mothers day there are much more. Also Ethiopia and Colombia report an increase in the export of delicate flowers.
After the flowers have been picked, they are directly packed in buckets with water and transported at 5° C by truck 90 km to the airport in Nairobi. Here they go directly into the Jumbo towards Europe. Once they arrive in Europe, they are distributed. For the transport of perishable goods, including flowers, the special product Fresh/td was developed making it possible to transport the roses 8,000 km.
If the cooling-chain is interrupted once, even if it is for only a short time, it is not guaranteed that roses will last for a week. The storage temperature is 3-5 °C so that the flower does not open and give bacteria a chance. Each farmer keeps a bouquet of his rose harvest for quality assurance. If their bouquet lasts longer than the one sold in the store, it is often a sign that the cooling-chain was interrupted. 10 minutes of bright sun are already enough.
In 2011, Lufthansa Cargo transported approx. 700 tons of roses which is equivalent to about 30 million flowers! 90 tons of roses can be transported in a freight aeroplane. It is still less than comparable perishable foods like fruit and vegetables due to its volume. Happy Valentine’s Day!