Green Agenda

Many horticultural entrepreneurs see sustainability issues as a threat. Environmentalists sometimes demand unreasonable things from growers, wholesalers and florists. But in the Netherlands the organisation Green Agenda is researching opportunities sustainability can bring  to the floral industry. Jelle Hiemstra, a senior investigator at Wageningen University & Research and a steering committee member of Green Agenda, has the story.

 “Green Agenda knows that a green environment (in- and outdoors) contributes to the health and well-being of people. There is more and more proof of this, a growing awareness of the benefits of greening. There is money to be made if this knowledge is shared with companies and they incorporate it into their business model. Knowledge, know-how, profits: that’s the story”.

“Green Agenda is an initiative of Royal FloraHolland, GreenCity (a Dutch growers’ organization of nursery stock and flower bulbs and gardeners and landscapers) and Wageningen University & Research in a public-private partnership (PPP). Whatever money the industry puts into research, the Dutch government doubles. This has enabled Green Agenda to start a research programme. For instance, to measure the effects of a green environment on the medical and psychological well-being of people. Or the effect of indoor greening on the quality of air in office buildings. Some of this research leads to concrete action. Like the Tergooi Hospital in Hilversum that created a chemo garden, a green environment for people being treated for cancer. It appears this space has a positive effect on their treatment”.

“Green Agenda focuses on the positive effects of greening (which of course also includes flowers and indoor greenery) on living, working, learning and recovery. It has published several fact sheets about the benefits of greening (which you can read in English at: www.royalfloraholland.com).

People are healthier in a green environment. They will pay fewer visits to their doctor with health problems like diabetes, coronary heart disease or depression. They perform better at work and school. A study shows that in the Netherlands alone, 400 million euros can be saved on healthcare costs by greening the environment. It also appears that people take better care of their personal living environment when it contains well-maintained greenery. Hospital patients that view a green world recover faster than patients that only view an urban environment. Additionally, greening has benefits including combatting urban heat island effect and worldwide climate change. Moreover, there are plants that can purify the air in your room, your office or your classroom”.

“Green Agenda benefits from a high level of interest. Society and government organisations are beginning to see the benefits of a greener world. And of course there are certain milestones like the Paris treatment. The challenge for the horticultural industry is to create concepts to redeem the promise of greening for a more sustainable society. The problem in horticulture is that the industry is too divided. Therefore, it is hard to find companies to invest in green innovations, thus adapting to the benefits that I know exist. Green Agenda is trying to create coalitions and provide information and knowledge for new concepts but it is necessary that companies participate in these projects.

The Green Agenda project finishes at the end of 2018 but we are convinced that we should continue past that deadline. We need more concrete concepts and real action from the green industry to actualize the benefits sustainability offers us.”

Greening Australian cities together

Normally on this page you read about people working together to achieve their goals. This time it’s a different story. It is the entire horticultural industry of Australia cooperating in 202020 Vision and greening all Australian cities. This is quite ambitious as 202020 Vision wants to expand Australian urban green space 20% by the year 2020.

 202020 Vision has eight reasons for greening Australian cities. There is people’s health and well-being, benefitting from parks and other urban green spaces. It’s a fact that green spaces are more successful in pre-existing green environments. People are more likely to meet in green environments; they even have more fun shopping in streets with large trees. Of course, there are sustainability issues. Trees reduce temperatures by up to 8˚C, reducing air conditioner usage and carbon emissions by an estimated 12-15% per annum. Trees diminish the usage of water; they remove air pollution and the larger the tree, the more air pollution is removed. And last, but not least: time spent in nature has been proven to have a positive effect on children’s behaviour.

Everywhere in the world there is ample reason to expand urban green spaces but in Australia, with its warm climate, there is even more reason.

202020 Vision created a nationwide network of governmental and private organisations and individuals from the green industry to make their initiative succeed. They researched why they should green their cities and how to accomplish this. They used their network to collect and disseminate practical information on every aspect of expanding urban green spaces. What plants can you use where? How about soil and composting, about overcoming barriers to improving a park, about talking with green industry professionals  in their own jargon. But they also deliberated how to create an urban forest and a community action plan.

202020 Vision started in 2014 and has come a long way. The greatest achievement is probably the awareness it has created. Millions of Australians have come into contact with the ideas behind creating more urban green space. Millions of them are now convinced that more urban green space is the answer to many ecological, economic and social problems. It helped the flower and plants industry be more relevant to society. It set an example for the world about how to green your urban environment together. Another achievement is that real projects to improve and expand Australian urban green have begun implementation.

202020 Vision is showing the world what the value of green can be by using one of the industry’s best elements: cooperation.

FrieslandCampina

FrieslandCampina, one of Holland’s largest dairy producers, has been globalizing its activities over the past few decades. Is this because the Dutch don’t produce enough milk? No, it isn’t. The Dutch dairy industry is an export industry. Then why globalize? FrieslandCampina’s CEO Roelof Joosten tells us why.

 Why is FrieslandCampina globalizing?

“FrieslandCampina produces dairy products from the milk of member-farmers – united in a cooperative – who own the company. Since the Dutch produce more milk than they consume, we are export-dependant. So we seek countries that have higher demand for dairy products than they are able to source locally. These countries are to be found in a vast area between West Africa and South East Asia/China. Why? Because in those countries we can add value to our milk on the basis of consumer needs.”

What do your global activities accomplish?

“First, it is vital to focus on what you’re good at and where you can make a difference in product offerings. So we focus on infant formula, dairy-based beverages and branded cheese. Making a difference with these products, you engage with local consumers. Of course you have to adapt to local markets, but it all starts with the milk chain, the foundation from which you produce better products than your competitors.

Part of our job is convincing local entrepreneurs and local consumers of the power of the Dutch dairy industry. FrieslandCampina and other Dutch dairy producers, in contrast with many of our competitors, own the complete supply chain (from grass to glass) with an excellent and unmatched quality system built and nurtured over many years. It’s because of this heritage that you successfully export across borders. And when you adapt your value proposition to local markets, it helps you become successful.

Innovation is another source of success. You need it for your long-term strategy to stay ahead of the game. By the same token, new technology can be successfully implemented into our Dutch business, as well. Our global presence gives us the scale and leveraging capability to implement new technologies and products. It makes us a global leader in dairy products, willing and able to adapt to new trends.”

What are the challenges of  globalizing?

“Probably the major challenge is deciding what not to do. As I said before, you need to focus on what you’re good at. The major trap is that you start to work on many exciting things which are eventually deemed too complex and, therefore, too expensive and unprofitable.

You also need to have a good rapport with local governments. They need our capabilities and skills to produce milk locally so that their country becomes more self-sufficient after allowing us to export dairy products to their country. There has to be a balance in what we can jointly do .”

What should your global activities achieve?

“The simplest answer is the best: a positive earnings model. Value generation allows for a larger premium payout to our farmers in addition to their earnings for milk. Our cost price is based on the average price of milk in Northwestern Europe. Additionally, it is important to provide our members a profitable long-term future which is essential for the continuity of FrieslandCampina and, hence, the continuity of the farms of our member-farmers. So making money is one thing but we should always do this in harmony with the environment/nature and society. The consumer endorses our way of operation if we pay respect to these three elements in total, that will ensure the continued success of our business”

A Cooperative

After an 18 month process, Royal FloraHolland is about to reshape its co-operative principles. On December 7th, members will decide on major changes in regards to membership and a co-operative tariff structure. Next summer decisions will be instituted on co-operative leadership. These changes were prepared by co-operative members, not by the co-operative staff.

 In early 2016, Royal FloraHolland formed a Leading Team of thirteen members/growers who had to come up with proposals on two subjects: future leadership and tariffs and forms of membership. Richard Kneppers, co-owner of Maridadi Flowers in Naivasha, Kenya, Bianca van Eijk, a Dutch grower of Agapanthus and Royal FloraHolland’s Stakeholder Manager, Leo Keijzer, told us about the process and its outcome.

“We started by defining what a co-operative is and should be. Then we started the process of members speaking with fellow members. During the past twelve months, 1,116 unique members attended the member sessions. Some of them came to several sessions, which meant that, in total, the Leading Team welcomed almost 2,300 members to the sessions. Normally the co-operative and its staff would organize such a process, but this time there was only staff to guide the process. We were taught how to lead these types of discussions but were at liberty to debate as we pleased. The real advantage of this approach was that honest discussions occurred. People learned to listen to the others’ points of view. We went back to our co-operative roots. And surprisingly, the differences of opinion weren’t as big as we thought they would be. There were meetings in the Netherlands, Africa, Israel and elsewhere. We held discussions with growers of both large and small nurseries. Nearly everyone agreed that there is a need for co-operatives because people see the benefits of cooperating, just as they did one hundred years ago. If people were critical, it was about the co-operative’s communication style: sending too much information and too little discussion.

“The Leading Team provided another approach. The members could speak candidly and they did. Co-operative staff weren’t even allowed to visit Leading Team sessions, which led to this openness. We were determined to give every member the opportunity to speak his mind. Even members who never speak at meetings had their say. Because it was a Leading Team of members/growers, the proposals about co-operative tariffs were far more numerous than they would have been had the co-operative staff made the proposals. Another result of this process was that we have now started testing a Member’s Council that may replace the General Member’s Meeting.

“A decision on the new tariff structure will be made in December. In the new structure, unlike the current one, costs will be paid by members who benefit directly from them. This may lead to advantages for growers with higher turnovers. Of course this means that growers with smaller nurseries may have to pay additional costs but in the process we have been able to convince them of the practicality of the new structure. In a way, it is what they suggested themselves when we asked for their opinions, from which we created a proposal which was then discussed with them again.

“Basically our starting principle was simple. Royal FloraHolland has 4,200 members. We knew that these 4,200 members would be smarter than a single co-operative. We used the intelligence of our members to strengthen the co-operative. Now we can adapt the co-operative Royal FloraHolland to the 21st century with the support of our members.”

Friedrich Raiffeisen

Basically there are two ways to get societies out of poverty, both rooted in 19th century Germany. One goes back to Karl Marx, urging proletarians to conquer the state to strengthen their economic position. The other goes back to Friedrich Raiffeisen (1818-1888), the Mayor of a village near Cologne. On the basis of his Christian beliefs he taught poor people to help themselves by cooperating. Raiffeisen’s ideas strongly influenced agricultural and horticultural industries.

Professor Theresia Theurl, Head of the Department for Co-operatives at Münster University (Germany) tells us how Raiffeisen’s ideology has influenced co-operatives both then and now.

“Raiffeisen lived in the mid-19th Century when many Europeans were poverty-stricken. He cared about their problems, but unlike Marx he didn’t believe the state should improve their fate, rather, people should find their own solutions. He never stopped explaining his ideas and succeeded in innovating society. He was convinced that you can achieve together what you cannot on your own. All those small German farmers were weak on their own, but strong together. When there was a famine, Raiffeisen wouldn’t buy bread for the poor. Instead he founded a co-operative so they could buy flour and bake their own bread. He also used the co-operative model to establish banks thus giving poor farmers access to credit with which to invest.

“Co-operatives go back to medieval times (Hanze cities, guilds). But Raiffeisen was the right man at the right time, because he understood their potential. He said, ‘I can only help people if they learn to solve their problems themselves.’ Co-operatives are not a form of altruism but rather ‘well-defined self-interest’ as people would say in those days.

By constantly writing and speaking about his ideas and founding co-operatives whenever and wherever he could, he became the founding father of co-operatives in Germany and worldwide. Nowadays there are co-operatives (agricultural and others) in more than one hundred countries.

“In Raiffeisen’s co-operative model, many small owners have a vote. Co-operatives are successful if they are not too large and members agree on key issues. But I also know examples of extremely well-functioning co-operatives with over 40,000 members. Still, a good co-operative needs good organization. And of course it has to be profitable. To be successful it should have existing assets.

If the members of a co-operative think the co-operative has outlived its initial goals, they should ask if it is still relevant and what alternatives exist. It often appears that the alternatives are less attractive than the co-operative itself. Then people are back on track of talking again which is vital for any co-operative. In order to be economically successful you have to solve your group problems together.

“One shouldn’t establish a co-operative if the only goal is a high yield. The achievements of a co-operative and the relations with its members are vital for any co-operative. A co-operative is not about tomorrow’s yield; it is about long-term achievements for its members.

“Since Raiffeisen’s day his ideas have spread worldwide. You also find co-operatives in Latin America and Africa, established to strengthen people’s stake in their vocation. People  have  realized that you may move fast on your own, but you need to cooperate to reach the finish line. I think that is the foremost idea Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen taught us.”

Mayesh

Mayesh, one of the USA’s leading wholesale distributors of cut flowers, has added a Luxe Blooms showcase for the cream of the ornamental crop.

Signature flowers from Holland help Mayesh to differentiate their brand. Meanwhile, the Luxe Blooms line is a way for Dutch growers to anticipate fulfillment needs and exceed the expectations of Mayesh and their customers.

American high-end florists and event planners talk a lot about Dutch flowers. But they never had a focal point to bring together the absolute best of the ‘Flowers from Holland’. That is, until now. The Luxe Blooms/Flowers from Holland specialty section at the 17 Mayesh locations in the continental US offers luxury blooms that will make every day shine.

Over the years, Patrick Dahlson has developed a soft spot for Dutch flowers. “The Dutch have always produced excellent quality flowers. Lately, there has been more specialization with growers focusing on one crop that they are extremely passionate about. I believe high-end cut flowers are like wine;  there is a market for more beautiful and therefore more expensive flowers.”

The Luxe Blooms display comes alive with flowers that wow. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “Our clients expect us to be ahead of the curve. We bring them flowers of superior quality and the newest varieties to stoke their floral passions. For our discerning clientele the best of the best can be a very important selling point differentiation. It gives us a competitive edge.”

Mayesh uses cross-media marketing. “We plan on creating a link on our website to the sites of the growers we are working with. It’s their personal stories that help make the connections. We’ve also posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram in addition to some videos.”

Henriette Brinkman business developer at Royal FloraHolland stresses the ties that bind. “Mayesh indicated one of the auction-based exporters whom they wanted to involve in this experiment.  The auction facilitated efforts between the growers, Mayesh and the exporter. Giving specific attention to this niche market might also encourage other exporters to broaden their market share in this US market segment.”

East Africa

In the past four decades East Africa has grown into a flower production region of global importance. How did this happen?

 An abundance of available labour coupled with low wages has influenced the development of East African flower production. But there are lots of African countries that have low wages so that cannot be the sole reason for success. So what is?

Certainly stability is an important factor. Both politically and economically, Kenya and Ethiopia have had a relatively stable investment climate compared to other African countries. Although Kenya has a more liberal economy and Ethiopia has a more Marxist one, both governments have tried to stimulate floral production because of its positive influence on employment and exports.

In contrast to the benefits of this stability, there have been negative aspects. Politics in Kenya haven’t been that stable lately and there were riots in Ethiopia when angry rebels burned down nurseries. But no doubt political and economic stability has been a plus for the region.

On top of that, both Kenya and Ethiopia already had relatively strong regional economies when their flower industries started. This means there already existed well-established trade networks and usable logistics. This made it easier to export flowers from Nairobi or Addis Ababa than it was from Accra or Harare.

Both in Kenya and Ethiopia emergent companies were soon strong and wise enough to form trade associations. Early on there was cooperation to invest in greenhouses, fertilizer, etc. Cooperation also developed quickly in logistics so that flowers could be flown from Nairobi and Addis Ababa airports to destinations worldwide. It is remarkable that unlike Latin America, East Africa has embraced the cooperative principle. Many growers, both with and without Dutch backgrounds, joined Royal FloraHolland. Not that this is an easy process. Organizations like Royal FloraHolland should do their utmost to be cognizant of what African growers need from their cooperatives.

A good example of cooperating is the Flower Business Park near Lake Naivasha where growers from Kenya and abroad joined together with Dutch breeders to create a robust production area. Although growers in Kenya came from different backgrounds (Kenyan/British, Kenyan/Indian and Dutch), they managed to create a floral awareness in the region thanks to organizations like the Kenya Flower Council. And although Ethiopian floristry has a different history, this floral awareness arose there, too. Governments see the added value of the floral business for their economy. Growers themselves have started to train their staff and take care of health care and education for them.

Being aware of opportunities has been vital in developing the East African floral business. Kenyan production started at low altitudes like Lake Naivasha and led to the production of so-called ‘supermarket roses’. The Equator, for example, boasts exceptional conditions for growing roses: steady temperatures and twelve hours of sunlight per day. Soon growers in Kenya and Ethiopia discovered the advantages of growing at higher altitudes, allowing them to cultivate long stem, large bud roses for a high-end market.

Where there are positives there are also potential negatives. We already mentioned possible political instability which could lead to economic instability. Additionally, growers in East Africa have to deal with four or more currencies (Euro, US dollar, Asian and Australian currencies in addition to local currencies). This point is well worth considering.

Another possible threat lies in sustainability. Most East African growers try to cultivate with as little damage to the environment as possible. But you don’t have to be clairvoyant to predict that someday consumers in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia will start asking questions about flowers transported halfway around the world that only last one week.

Still, East Africa has become a major, steadily growing player in global flower production due in part to a well-established infrastructure. With good logistic connections, not only to Europe but also to regions like the US, Asia and Australia, East Africa is here to stay as a leading floral producer.

Colviveros

Adding value to a plant or flower can improve its price or help attract new customers to buy it. Worldwide, adding value is embraced by more and more growers, which is also true in Colombia. Members of a new organization, the Association of Colombian Nurseries and Ornamental Growers (Colviveros) are actively working to add value to their products.

 Piante® produces mainly Phalaenopsis plants. Nicolás Vélez points out that his company’s specialty isn’t plants, but customer experience. “Adding value is more than just upgrading the look of a plant. It’s about the entire customer experience and exceeding expectations in order to make them come back. Quality is the starting point but we emphasize the benefits of our plants by teaching customers how to handle them so they will last for years. Once our plants bloom four or five times, we are successful. We see ourselves as our customers’ partner. We are only happy with our products when they are.”

Meanwhile, creative companies have been developed to help growers communicate the value they add. One of these is De Origen-Espacios Verdes founded by David Rubiano who specializes in the design of decorative products with ornamental and live plants. The company has seen good results with ‘handmade’ products for the Colombian market. Innovation, design, presentation, but also care, handling and specific customer needs are the keywords for De Origen.

Rocia Muñoz of Plantaciones Flor Verde is still young. Being a grower’s daughter, she started her own nursery after she had earned her degree. “I didn’t want to produce the same plants that others do so I chose to focus on Calathea. Quality is not my usp, it’s simply my starting point. This requires organization which means the nursery looks neat so that when customers (wholesalers) visit, they have a pleasant experience. Plants that have been produced in a neat environment have a better chance of a long life.”

Epiflora, a production company of Orchids (mainly Phalaenopsis), focuses on online activities. “A price strategy alone is useless,” says Epiflora’s founder Santiago Piedrahita. “There will always be someone who is willing to sell at a lower price. Therefore, we focus on quality, innovation and presentation. We offer different options in size and product packaging and try to innovate by improving our assortment. We use the web to give consumers useful information about the care and handling of our plants (with videos) and we organize special web sales. By doing so we are creating a brand which gives us an emotional connection to our customers.”

Adding value can also be attained by changing your policy. Aydée and Thomas Toulemonde, whose Anthurium flowers gave their nursery a huge turnaround, focused on potted plants and adding Orchids and Bromelia to their assortment. The packaging and presentation of their plants make them highly appreciated, not only by the domestic market, but also as exports. Why? Because as Thomas Toulemonde says, “we do not sell plants in the traditional way; we propagate  emotions.”

 

More info at www.colviveros.org

 

Chrysanthemums

In its own right the picture was iconic. A girl bathing in a Chrysanthemum covered bath. It wasn’t interesting because of the naked girl – sex had been selling for ages – but because it was the first effort to make a dull flower hip again. Chrysanthemums were considered to be old-fashioned and boring. Varieties were chosen because of their production rate, not to surprise consumers. Mums had become grandmum flowers.

 At the turn of the century, Dutch Chrysanthemum growers and breeders took action. They didn’t want their product to end up in the gutter so they started promoting it and still do today. Of course there were lots of USPs to promote. Chrysanthemums are durable and for sale in numerous shapes and colours. The JustChrys campaign proved that mums could be hip. Improving the assortment helped confirm this belief. Recently we visited a JustChrys event. Dutch bloggers, writing about living and interior decorating, were introduced to mums’ numerous possibilities.

Bloggers are important stakeholders. Consumers are influenced by what they write and follow their advice. Bloggers can help you spread the word about your flower or plant.

The JustChrys event focussed on one particular trend, Rebel. Rebel is a reaction to today’s troubles and intensity. It’s loose, colourful and averse to conventions. Designer and florist Geert Maas showed his audience how the many shaped and coloured Chrysanthemums can work within this trend. The arrangements he showed were impressive, yet simple to make. And Geert showed the bloggers how.

Chrysanthemums are easy to work with and they make a great impression. That was the simple, yet powerful message to the bloggers. Today’s floristry is full of contrasts. With mums you can make any contrast you like because there are so many varieties, shapes and colours (disbudded, spray, santini). The stems are lengthy enough to create height differences within a bouquet. If you take care of Chrysanthemums, by removing the leaves and cutting the stems diagonally, you will be  rewarded with a long vase life. On top of that it’s not difficult to make your own bouquet with Chrysanthemums, which today’s consumers like to do. The bloggers did so too, experiencing the joy of flowers.

 

JustChrys spreads the message that mums are fun and easy to work with by partnering with traditional and social media. This leads to TV coverage, articles in lifestyle and home decor magazines and blogs with a renewed interest in Chrysanthemums. These steps are the ABCs to make mums hip again.

 

Garden Centres

Garden centres sell both software (flowers and plants) and hardware (decorations, furniture, etc.). The green assortment is a constant whereas the hardware assortment changes each season. How do garden centres cope with trends? What role do flowers and plants play? We met Martina Mensing in the historic city of Bad Arolsen in Germany. She is co-owner of nine garden centres in Middle Germany and President of the Association of German Garden Centres.

 You recognize relevant trends by thinking outside the box.

“You should also recognize what’s happening in society; you should travel and visit shops, preferably in other sectors. Clothing stores show you which colours are hot and which are not. Look at them with an open mind and adapt these trends in your stores. Our business is in a small city in the countryside. We adapt to that. People in Bad Arolsen don’t like things just because they do in Tokyo. In our garden centre we seek the perfect mix between trends and price point, with lots of inspiration thrown in because I sell dreams.”

Trends in ornamental products develop slower than trends in hardware.

“Preferences and trends differ by country, especially in decorative and Christmas products. In Italy they build little cribs, in Holland little Christmas houses. The Germans only put up  their Christmas trees  on December 24. People in different countries also have different opinions about colours, shapes, etc. The Germans and the British like a classic tint of red, the Dutch use a different tint. No doubt the Japanese or the Mexicans use other tints. When it comes to garden plants, be aware of location. Plants that survive the Italian or Irish winters will undoubtedly die in our North Hesse climate.

You can add value with flowers and plants, for instance by offering garden plants that are bee- and butterfly-friendly. In creating special ‘bee and butterfly’ tables, we make the client feel better which is good for sales. Certain animals are not sold in our garden centres, because we cannot verify how these animals were raised.

In a garden centre you have to offer mainstream products but you continuously have to renew yourself. That’s what trends bring you. In a garden you can create colours and blooms, a place for working and relaxing, but only if you have patience. But not all consumers are as patient as they used to be. Therefore, people buy plants when they look their best and if they bleed out they buy the next season’s beauties . So you have to have a wide assortment of blooming garden plants and trees in optimum quality at fair prices. Grower concepts can help you adapt to trends, but so many growers develop concepts that it sometimes looks like overkill which is disturbing for the consumer.”

The Verband Deutscher Garten-Center (VDG, Association of German Garden Centres) is aware of trends.

“VDG has a covenant with the German government about bee and butterfly protection. We also advise our members about staff policy. Consumers want to be advised about the merchandise they purchase. That’s where our employees come in. They also have to be familiar with trends. Therefore, VDG has the Gartencenter Akademie where they can follow all kinds of courses to improve their skills.”