Industry Talk: Dr. George Staby
Researcher discusses study using RFID tags in transportation
of cut flowers.
Floral retailers and wholesalers know the vase life of flowers
can be drastically reduced if the cold chain isn’t maintained.
But data loggers that track temperatures of floral shipments
generate huge stacks of paper and data that few people have time
A new product being tested, enhanced Radio Frequency
Identification (RFID) tags, may offer an option for those
concerned with the vase life left in their flowers. Super Floral
Retailing writer Morgan Chilson recently talked with George
Staby, Ph.D., president of the Perishables Research Organization
in Pioneer, Calif., about his latest research with RFID tags.
Here are excerpts from their discussion.
Q. What is an RFID tag?
new generation of tags designed for the floral industry contain
a computer chip, an antenna and a battery. The tags are the size
and thickness of a CD cover and can be programmed to contain
information currently encoded on bar codes, such as grower,
product and transport information. These tags also can log
temperature changes and in the future could be used to measure
humidity and ethylene gas. They are placed inside flower boxes
and can track what happens during the shipment. Readers scan the
RFID tags to download the information.
Q. How is that information different from what florists get
from data loggers?
The RFID tags we are working with calculate a vase life left for
the flower shipment. With data loggers, you see all of this—you
can print it out, you can see every hour, every 30 seconds, it’s
taking a reading. But people aren’t using that information. With
the RFID, you’ll translate it into percentage loss of vase life.
We hope that that makes more of an impression on people in the
Q. Tell us about your recent research project.
We worked with the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier
Association (WF&FSA) and 11 wholesale florists to test the RFID
tags. The wholesalers sent the tags to 48 domestic and offshore
cut-flower growers, where they were placed on flower shipments,
with a total of 78 tags being analyzed in our results.
Aside from procedural issues that were identified, such as
challenges with activating the tags, we got the information
below, keeping in mind that the first two points can be
ascertained from data loggers but the remaining data is unique
to these RFID tags.
• Average time flowers were in transit from growers to
wholesalers was 4.7 days. The shortest time was 1.1 days for an
air shipment, and the longest was 11.5 days for a sea container
• The average temperature the flowers were exposed to during
transit was 50.4 F, while the lowest temperature recorded was
27.7 F and the highest was 95.2 F.
• The average vase life remaining when flowers were received at
wholesale level was 10.7 days, or 86 percent. If the flowers in
this test were put into a flower-food solution upon arrival and
held at 68 F, they would last an average of 10.7 days.
• The shortest vase life was 7.3 days, with only 59 percent of
vase life remaining. The longest vase life remaining was 11.9
days, which is 97 percent.
Q. What does this additional RFID information give the
For retail or wholesale, if you get a product and already 70
percent of the vase life is gone but the flowers look OK, then
you can make an intelligent decision about what to do with those
Q. What is the likelihood that shippers will begin using this
Demand is going to make this work. Mass marketers are going to
demand the tags, and there’s no choice, end of story. We do have
some very progressive growers and shippers who are going to tout
that they’re using this technology. The RFID tags cost $3 to $4
each, and the readers, of which they’ll only need one, are
$1,500 to $4,000 each.
Q. If you were a wholesaler or retailer, would you demand
If I was a receiver, absolutely. I would consider changing
suppliers if they refuse to use them.
Morgan Chilson, formerly a business reporter and editor in
the newspaper industry, is now a freelance writer living in
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