09 September 2013
This story is about the politics of pallets. Pallets are likely to be the most forgettable part of the commercial flower business. Yes, I refer to those wooden squares that are at the base of nearly all the flowers you have ever received.
These simple utilitarian sets of boards are the backbone of the flower industry and carry the load of nearly all flowers here in the Americas. Whether the flowers are arriving by plane or from a greenhouse in California, wooden pallets are a vital part of our industry. Of course, this means that they are valuable and worth more than the wood they are comprised of.
Here in Miami, flowers come off an airplane on a large metal pallet and their next stop is atop a wooden pallet. From there, they are moved into trucks, off the trucks, into and out of coolers, back onto trucks heading out of Florida. The basic process is to deliver your flowers on pallets and then claim the same amount of pallets for those tendered.
At $4 for a good used pallet and $10 for a new one, you can imagine that keeping track of these is worth the effort. But this is a challenge depending on what side of the pallet trade you are on; receiving or shipping. A pallet loaded with flowers does not reveal its true self until it is offloaded. Then you can see if the pallet is just fine or, as often occurs, a broken mess, like a smile with many missing teeth. So those receiving the pallets must be diligent, else they end up with a warehouse full of firewood. However, as a shipper you get to see each empty pallet and evaluate its true value before accepting it.
Sometimes these valuable assets become a problem for wholesale and supermarket customers since being the final destination they often end up with more pallets than they want. Distributors sometimes see them as cost of doing business and find the ease of handing 22 pallets vs. 1200 individual boxes worth the cost.
Some supermarkets use leased pallets painted blue (Chep) in order to minimize the hassle of trying to keep track of them. These get consolidated at a certain point from where they can be retrieved and re-circulated. This is similar to how they manage this issue in Europe. Dutch floral logistics are based on a Danish system where users lease and share reusable metal carts that can be passed on from seller to buyer and back again. This idea is slowly taking off in America, but it appears to only work well when the same truck can deliver and retrieve them.
Here in Miami there is even a black market for pallets so be sure to wear your sunscreen. Miami is HOT!