Business Monday

Flora Logistics a major player in shipping flowers and produce

Nuvia Jarquín, employee of Flora Logistics Inc., working on June 7, 2016 in Miami.
Nuvia Jarquín, employee of Flora Logistics Inc., working on June 7, 2016 in Miami. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

The company: Miami-based Flora Logistics provides the full range of supply chain services for clients shipping perishable commodities, including cut flowers, produce, dairy and meat.

Virtually all the flowers and produce handled by the privately owned firm originate in Latin America and are destined for markets in Florida and the rest of the U.S. The company also handles exports and imports worldwide.

During most of the year, about 60 percent of business is in flowers and 40 percent in produce. For Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, it’s 80 percent flowers and 20 percent produce.

Flora Logistics operates a 380,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse and 40,000 square feet of adjacent office space. It can stage up to 50 trucks at once and has the capacity to load more than 1,200 trucks daily.

On a recent visit to the enormous warehouse (in an area kept at 35 degrees Fahrenheit), forklifts scudded along the aisles between shelves packed with merchandise, carrying flowers from Ecuador and Colombia to waiting trucks. Other workers were sorting and bagging onions from Peru and stacking boxes of pineapples from Costa Rica.

“We don’t buy or sell anything,” said Linda Nuñez, director of sales and marketing. “We are strictly a third-party logistics company.” This type of company, often called a 3PL, provides a range of services for clients, including transportation, warehousing, sorting, packing, etc., moving merchandise from origin to final destination.

“We work 24 hours a day and are open 365 days a year for pickups and deliveries, which I believe is one thing that gives us an edge in the industry,” Nuñez said. She has worked in logistics since 1972 and started at Flora 15 years ago. “We have to be open to serve our clients. I came in on Christmas morning last year and felt so bad that people were working,” she said. “I brought in plates of food.”

Services: Flowers and produce arrive from Miami International Airport (also produce from PortMiami), and any products that need to be fumigated are processed by an outside firm. Managers move products to a storage area, determining the right temperature and humidity required.

Some merchandise is unpacked, inspected, sorted and repacked for shipment, while other items are already set for transfer to one of the company’s trucks. Employees, who keep track of all merchandise through scannable labels and tablet computers, move shipments out as quickly as possible to meet clients’ schedules and preserve shelf life.

Getting started: “The main purpose of setting up Flora Logistics in 1991 was to service the growing market for flowers,” Nuñez said. “The perishable market was not an underserved market, it was just not served well.” Providing better service “was the whole idea behind Flora Logistics.” Flora Logistics had clients from the start because parent company FBF Transportation had been working with flower imports for years. FBF provided the resources to start the new company.

The difference: The company has invested heavily in a state-of-the-art hydro cooling system that allows it to divide its 380,000-square-foot warehouse space into separate units and temperature zones as needed (from 34 degrees Fahrenheit and up), providing the most suitable temperature and humidity conditions for different perishables and dry goods. The company also manages air pressure and circulation to minimize the effects of ethylene gas. This colorless and odorless gas is produced by ripening fruit and causes cut flowers to wilt, sharply reducing their shelf life. In addition, the firm has an in-house fleet of 19 refrigerated tractor-trailers and two vans, plus access to the parent company’s fleet of more than 500 trucks. This means that perishables can be dispatched quickly, while some logistics firms must rely on independent trucking companies that may not have trucks available for immediate service.

Sales: Merchandise volume increased by 35 percent in 2015, and the outlook for 2016 is similar.

Competitors: Other logistics firms dealing in perishables like Hellmann Worldwide Logistics and Flagler Global Logistics.

Analyst: “They have been one of the leaders in expanding international trade in the perishables sector and a strong force in innovation,” said Eric Olafson, manager for trade development and for Foreign Trade Zone 281 at PortMiami. “Their state-of-the-art facilities and handling capacity have allowed customers to save money and extend the shelf life of products,” he said.

Also, their cold-train technology and efficiency have helped bring some perishable shipments to Miami that used to go to Philadelphia and other ports in the North.

What customers say: “This is our second year with Flora. . . . We decided to switch from another company,” said Conrad Alfonso, one of the three owners of Miami-based Trilogy Floral, which sells cut flowers throughout the U.S. and Canada. “Cold chain is the key to shelf life, and Flora has excellent cold storage facilities, the best by far. They also have their own fleet of trucks and very competitive prices.”

“In perishables, everything is about shelf life,” said Marc Fishman, owner of Jolo Flowers in Miami, which supplies supermarkets in the eastern, southern and southwestern U.S. “We buy premium product, and Flora provides the best environment for handling our product.” Flora’s state-of the-art cooling system and in-house trucking line set it apart, he said.

“They handle 100 percent of what comes in from other countries for us.”

Outlook and challenges: “We’re starting to develop new capacity for handling the pharma market, including imports from China,” Nuñez said. “We’ve invested heavily in technology and efficiency, and we continue to do this to meet the needs of our customers.

The writer can be reached at josephmannjr@gmail.com.

Business: A Miami-based logistics firm, Floral Logistics (doing business as Flora Logistics) uses its 380,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse and in-house trucking company to receive, sort, pack, repack, store and ship perishables — mainly cut flowers and produce — for its clients. The firm transports merchandise in refrigerated trucks from Miami throughout the U.S. and Canada, and by air to the Caribbean for a wide range of importers and exporters. It is one of the country’s largest handlers of perishable merchandise.

Founded: 1991.

Senior management: Linda Nuñez, director of sales and marketing, and Carlos Aguirrebeña, operations manager.

Headquarters: 3400 NW 74th Ave., Unit 1, Miami.

Employees: 170 full time, plus up to 150 additional for periods of heavy traffic.

Ownership: Flora Logistics is a subsidiary of Miami-based FBF Transportation, a large trucking company that handles refrigerated cargo, warehousing, freight consolidation and logistics. Ralph Milman, a businessman involved for many years in trucking and importing cut flowers, owns FBF.

Website: www.floralogistics.com

Source: Flora Logistics

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