NAPLES, Italy: In the world of cut flowers, competition is fierce. But in Italy Dianthus barbatus growers are fighting back against poor imitations. The Italian growers are facing increasing rivalry from floral wholesalers across Europe who are using the web to upload catalogues or product listings of Dianthus barbatus that are illicitly sold under the iconic brand name Aldo.
Frequent travelers to Italy know that in every popular touristy neighborhood in Milan, Rome or Naples, you’ll find row upon row of street vendors selling bargain and counterfeit imitations. But if you think that only famous luxury brands are among the counterfeit products, it’s time to think again.
Take the Cooperativa del Golfo, a traditionally-structured floricultural cooperative with 280 member growers. Violation of their Aldo trade mark is a growing problem. “No one is allowed to use the Aldo trade mark. It is a registered and protected trade mark and it is our property,” said the cooperative’s General Sales Manager Francesco Esposito.
One of the world’s best
By Aldo he was referencing to the EU mark (trade mark registration in the 28 countries of the European Union for wording, logo and packaging) for a one-of-a-kind line of Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, which they registered in 2014 to distinguish the sun-kissed origin of their flowers from the competition.
Grown in the Agro Nocerino Sarnese area on the lower slopes of Mount Vesuvius at100 to 500 metres above sea level, the line of Aldo Dianthus barbatus is arguably one of the world’s best.
A combination of successful and extensive breeding programmes, intense sunlight, fertile volcanic soils and a dedicated workforce provide optimal conditions to produce extraordinary Sweet Williams. “Aldo is a model of successful cooperation between plant breeder and propagator Albani e Ruggieri from Civitavecchia (known for their RE-AL quality brand) and the team behind Cooperativa Del Golfo. Eight years ago, Anna Maria Albani came up with a great idea –to create a line of Dianthus barbatus for off-season production. The method of lab-based micro propagation produces plants in a shorter timeframe which are free of disease (fusarium),” outlined Esposito.
He was quick to add that the Aldo series have brought new interest to an underutilized plant category. “In Italy, Dianthus barbatus is known as the poet’s flower but despite their dazzling and often fragrant blooms it is not used much as a cut flower. Until now because we expect Aldo to be catalyst for renewed interest in the species,” enthused Esposito.
Brand ambassador Piet van Dam
Foreseeing a trend before it happened, both Cooperativa del Golfo and Albani e Ruggieri knew that year round availability of Dianthus barbatus was initially something customers had to grow familiar with. “We had our fair share of peaks and valleys in the market. However, the Aldo brand is now quickly gaining momentum. By teaming up with floral wholesaler Piet van Dam we were able to successfully grow our customer base in the Netherlands, a country that accounts for 70 to 80% of Aldo sales.”
Providing successful promotion and visibility to the Aldo brand, Piet knows the floral wholesale business inside out. “He is our sales agent in the Netherlands, all direct orders must be placed through him while they will be invoiced through Royal FloraHolland, with whom we’ve been full members since 2006. Piet is also our long term friend and it was he who came up with the idea to name our Dianthus barbatus series Aldo, to honour a friend who ended up in a wheelchair following a car accident.”
Uniform across all colours
Propagated from tissue culture, Aldo Dianthus barbatus is very uniform across all colours. “Also it flowers very early between October and April,” said Esposito.
The Aldo series offers eighteen eye-catching colours including green, scarlet, crimson, red and pink. Currently underway are three new, outstanding varieties Fortuna, Hot Pink and Coral which are set to increase yields for conventional flower growers. “The latest members of the Aldo family are truly spectacular in terms of colour and growing performance and will be protected by EU PBR,” announced Esposito.
Flowering profusely, Aldo also stands out for its extremely long shelf life (minimum 3 weeks) as well as stems that stay perfectly sturdy and erect when trucked in buckets of water to the Netherlands. This is where the Coop del Golfo has an advantage over rivals from Africa, Israel and South America where dry packed air freight transport of Dianthus barbatus will always result in curved stems.
Even playing field
As the market is currently flooded with easily identifiable Aldo look-alikes, Esposito has mixed feelings as he realizes that illegal Aldos are both a form of flattery and theft at the same time. The more people copy, the more successful the brand.
In the quest for a fair and even playing field and to reflect all the viewpoints in the debate the Cooperativa del Golfo has turned to Royal FloraHolland for expert advice.
“Aside from the 100% payment guarantee and the speed of payments, Royal FloraHolland, personified by its International Account Manager, Jan Betjes, is always there to help us, providing advice on what to grow, how to pack, when to sell and to whom and in this case how to protect our products,” said Esposito.
As illegal Aldos end up costing the legitimate owner tens of thousands of euros, the Cooperativa del Golfo will now use their statutory rights against sellers. “We not only are seeing our revenues stolen but also our brand reputation damaged. When you grant Dutch exporters and wholesalers exclusivity with Aldo, which later turns out to be worthless as they can find the product elsewhere, it damages your brand and image and affects your credibility as a whole,” stated Esposito.
He warned traders in his own country and across Europe to be careful of freely exchanged Aldo varieties. At stake, Esposito said, is the very integrity of the Italian Sweet William itself. “Trust is hard to gain but easy to lose.”
Cooperativa del Golfo’s annual production of Aldo Dianthus barbatus currently stands in excess of one and a half million stems grown on 5 to 7ha of land.