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The Surprisingly Complex Journey a Rose Takes from Colombia to Chicago

Photo: Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune

A fourth of all freight shipments in the country passes through Chicago at some point—that’s why the city has a booming logistics industry, a business that you’ve probably never heard of but can’t live without. C.H. Robinson, a major local player profiled in Chicago’s May issue, coordinates the shipping of a billion dollars’ worth of goods every week.

Why is the industry so important? Let’s say a major flower supplier needs to get fresh blooms from a grower in South America to Chicago-area retailers in time for Mother’s Day. It couldn’t get done without logistics reps shepherding the cargo every step of the way. Here’s how a company like C.H. Robinson handles it.

Early April

  • Having gathered information from growers to gauge consumer demand—including preferences for long-stem versus short-stem roses—Robinson works directly with retailers to finalize purchase orders.

May 7

  • At a greenhouse outside Medellín, Colombia, the roses are harvested by hand and measured. (Long stems mean higher prices.)
  • A Robinson carrier rep confirms the temperature-control guidelines with the local trucking company taking the roses to the airport near Medellín. (Roses must be kept at around 35 degrees during transit to induce a state of dormancy.)
  • A Robinson rep starts looking for refrigerated trucks available in and around Miami, where the roses are due to arrive the next day.
  • At the same time, greenhouse workers pack the roses according to retailer’s specifications: 10 to 12 roses per bouquet, two bouquets per bucket, 10 buckets per box.
  • Oops! A hiccup on the U.S. delivery end: One of the supplier’s retailers revises its order down, requiring a Robinson rep to search the Miami area for a “less than load” trucker.

May 8

  • The roses arrive at Miami International Airport, where they are inspected for contraband by customs officials in a special air-conditioned facility. This takes eight to 12 hours. Robinson adjusts the schedule after learning that the inspection will take less time than expected.

May 9

  • The roses are transported to supplier’s refrigerated warehouse near the airport and immediately recooled to 35 degrees.
  • The roses are unpacked, and the stems are trimmed before the flowers are repackaged in buckets with a few inches of water in the bottom. The buckets are boxed, and the boxes are palletized, 18 per pallet, per the supplier’s specs. Some roses are put in display-ready packaging at the request of one retailer.

May 10

  • A Robinson rep OKs the dispatching of refrigerated trucks to the airport and accommodates for a delay: The supplier wants to treat the roses with an ethylene inhibitor—to prevent premature blooming—before they’re loaded onto trucks. The rep revises the shipment’s ETA.

May 11

  • Last truckload arrives at a Robinson warehouse in Des Plaines. Robinson arranges dispatching of small trucks to get roses to various retailers.
  • Robinson reps track all deliveries, confirming completion of every order with the supplier.

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