The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the entire flower supply chain from the grower to the seller.
Holland Flower Alliance (HFA) member Air France KLM Martinair (AFKLMP) Cargo and airfreight handling company Total Touch Cargo, have been working closely to navigate the difficulties the crisis has brought to the industry.
Pier Luigi Vigada, Director Eastern & Southern Africa, AFKLMP Cargo, said the airline group has continued to embrace the market support policy that’s been kept alive during the worst days of COVID-19.
“Today the relationship between our company and flower industry players is fully transparent and we are in full listening mode towards each other’s needs,” he said.
Harry Van Der Plas, CEO of Total Touch Cargo, said the main goal in this extreme period has been to do the “utmost for clients”.
He explained that the focus has been on enhancing existing partnerships with airlines like AFKLMP Cargo to manage capacity.
Every part of the flower supply chain has been impacted by COVID-19, as consumer markets disintegrated, capacity shrank due to a lack of passenger flights, and growers slowed production. Moreover working conditions for handling companies at airports were demanding due to strong protocols , extra paper work, and understaffed departments.
Flowers usually represent 75% of KLM loads to/from Kenya, but since the start of COVID-19, volumes have dropped by 25 per cent.
The flower market’s capacity dropped from 5,000 tonnes a week to 1,200 tonnes a week, according to Vigada, resulting in a huge capacity shortage to support exports from Kenya.
“We immediately engaged with our network department to ensure extra capacity would be brought in to support the horticultural industry and the flower sector in particular.
“We did manage and are glad the industry appreciated our efforts by supporting both KLM and Air France through cargo-only passenger flights.
“These extra flights together with our continued freighter operations, have guaranteed some relief to the flowers trade.”
Total Touch’s regular cargo capacity dropped by 60 per cent during COVID-19, but it still had 40 per cent capacity on key airlines, which it reserved selectively and fairly for clients.
“In addition, we managed in cooperation with our airlines to bring additional spot cargo capacity although at exceptional prices,” said Van Der Plas.
“We have acted towards the situation assertively and benefitted from our long-term relationships with our airlines. In this way we have helped our key clients to their satisfaction given the situation.”
KLM and Total Touch have worked closely during COVID-19 and recovery and collaboration are key to ensuring the sector continues to function efficiently.
In the opinion of Van der Plas, the recovery of the flower market all depends on whether the COVID-19 pandemic continues as it is, or comes to an end.
“If COVID-19 picks up again, less flower industry committed airlines will shine through no-shows for the flower industry, which will result again, in a big shortage of airfreight capacity for flowers,” he explained.
Long-term relationships with airlines and handling companies have been crucial for the flower sector during the pandemic, according to Vigada.
“It became clear that many aggressive new entrants in the industry failed dramatically to fulfill their clients’ needs in this difficult period,” he said.
“The situation also shows which airlines are committed to the flower industry and which ones were not and left the flower industry for high-priced spot markets.”
Total Touch has been working closely with airlines, especially KLM, to meet the challenges that the pandemic has created.
“We have built up solid relationships with airlines that we value as strongly committed to the flower industry and will manage this situation properly for our clients,” said Van der Plas.
“KLM has been extremely dedicated to the industry and to us and has delivered stunning performance for our company and clients.
“Despite their tough financial situation, they never left the flower industry and continued to fly regularly and responded fast with bringing extra spot capacity.”
OPPORTUNITIES AND LEARNINGS
Despite much uncertainty, partnerships and collaborations have been strengthened in the flower industry and there has been an opportunity to focus on quality.
Vigada said long-lasting relationships and agreements have formed the basis their commercial approach is built on in these difficult times.
“We could have had a much more opportunistic approach, but we do believe in continuing sustaining the economies and the realities which has made our partnerships,” he said.
“We have learned our organization can be much more flexible and rapid in taking decisions than it used to be in the past. This has created several win-win opportunities for us and our customers building an even stronger link with horticultural industry players.”
AFKLMP Cargo has further capitalised on increasing transparency in the industry, where all players are working closely to ensure every single inch of capacity is fully utilised.
This has included ensuring better packaging, smoother and better planned farm to shed operations and an increased usage of digital tools, which Vigada said has increased results in all areas.
The flower industry has been dealt challenges like never before during the COVID-19 pandemic, but through close collaboration it is aiming to emerge stronger.