Better to love nature

“Investing in a green environment is an investment for yourself and your health. Man is part of nature. Nature helps man get rid of stress and relax. I want to make people aware of that fact.”

Tjisse Brookman is not some obscure environmentalist. For decades (and until recently) he worked for a Dutch health insurance company as their Relations Manager. “Individually or with partners I looked for added value for our company, our clients, partners and society as a whole. It’s an insurer’s social responsibility to encourage people to go outdoors because it is better for their health and a positive outlook. It’s better to love nature than end up a patient. Being more active and, thus, healthy is good for them as individuals, for society as a whole and for the insurer. Our company wishes to add value to our clients’ policies without being overbearing. In doing so there is a connection between nature and health.”

“A green environment adds to people’s health, vitality and well-being. So it also leads to lower health costs although it is not easy to quantify that in insurance premiums. It will reduce the chance, for instance, of diabetes or chronic obstructive respiratory disease but also conditions related to stress. As an example, walking in nature has a positive influence on combatting burnout.

Why? There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon. Trees give off phytoncides that stimulate the operation of our immune system. And because nature provides us with fractal patterns, it lulls the brain into a restful state thus creating the capacity for renewed creativity and taking on new challenges.

We do not know what nature does exactly or which specific diseases are counteracted by a green environment. But we do know that there are positive effects and some of these are very specific. Take, for instance, the fact that some plants purify the air inside a room and think of the possibilities this creates for hospitals, offices, classrooms and homes. There is already a group of growers adapting their output to this knowledge (see also I think growers should be aware of the possibilities and work together in order to create green concepts with commercial value. And at the same time do what they can to contribute to the better health and well-being of humanity.”

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:

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.

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.”

The essence

Talking with Jeroen Mettepenningen is about getting back to basics. Jeroen is the Managing Director of D&M Depot, a Belgian creator of pottery. D&M Depot, being fully aware of current trends, considers plants and flowers to be the starting point for their creations.

“Pots should be decorative but they must be utilitarian. They have to be waterproof. The original plant pot must fit in perfectly. A pot you create for bonsai trees or Japanese maples has to be weatherproof. And you have to realize that some roots grow deep and others grow wide. So we choose to make pots in which roots can breathe. ”

“Today blue is a trendy colour, yet we do not develop blue pottery. Of course we look at trendy colours for our new pots and vases. But blue can hardly be combined with plants. So no blue pots from D&M Depot. In creating new colours and shapes we visit fairs, we follow the clothing industry and we work with a Belgian trend watching agency. They search for trends in flowers and plants and follow growers in their innovations. We see a growing desire for locally produced, handmade pottery.”

“Flowers and plants are increasingly sold in atypical environments. Plant/pot or flower/vase combinations are sold in clothing stores, coffee shops, furniture and concept stores by people who are not experts in their care and handling. That’s why our creations have to be trendy but also technically perfect.”

“The added value is in the plant, not in the pot. Some pottery suppliers constantly create new products emphasizing the pot. We choose to focus on high-end pottery for people who see flowers and plants as the perfect gift, especially in emerging markets like China, Japan and the USA. Our pottery has to be both trendy and beautiful and has to improve the plants’ or flowers’ life.”

“Communicating with clients is important. Twice a year we share our developments with florists. Our worldwide operating agents often have a background in floristry. At shows we try to inspire visitors with special plant/pot and flower/vase combinations. Inspiring clients has to be our USP (unique selling proposition). We know flowers and plants are the essence of what we create. That’s how people know us and we stick to that.”



You would think that breeders of ornamental plants would be fully aware of consumer trends. But it takes four years to grow a tulip bulb that can be forced and 25 years’ lead time to accumulate enough stock of a new tulip variety . New varieties of other flowers and plants can be created in less time. But adapting to actual consumer trends is virtually  impossible.

 Tulip: improving resistance

With a 25-year lead time, breeding tulips to follow trends is useless. Fortunately, in a  normal assortment all colours are present. Breeders do focus on new shapes like double tulips and parrot tulips, but that will not change the assortment in one or two years. Breeders also focus on more resistant varieties since bulb growers have to fight plagues and diseases with a decreasing arsenal  of fertilizers and plant protectors.

Bringing back the lead time of new tulip varieties from 25 years to ten years wouldn’t change the fact that you cannot breed tulips on the basis of consumer trends. Tulip forcers have to add value to keep up with trends.

Perennials, limited possibilities

Depending on the variety, the lead time for new perennials lies between four and seven years for selecting and propagating. Only with very promising novelties can this time be shortened. So breeding for consumer trends is virtually impossible.

Still breeders are keen on trends. Sometimes novelties are kept in stock to be introduced later if they fit into a consumer trend (like vertical gardening). But since breeding is the art of throwing things away, there is only a limited number of varieties in stock.

Fortunately consumer trends in perennials develop slowly. So there is only a limited need to breed for trend changes.

Gerbera, the market decides

Although Gerbera only has a two year lead time, consumer trends aren’t unanimously leaning towards breeding novelties. Changes in preference develop organically , taking more time. Some years ago colours had to be hard; nowadays they are softer.

The major Gerbera breeders see to it that market demand is being reflected in breeding programmes. In the long run they see whether the demand is for single or double flowers or for flowers in special shapes (like spider Gerberas). On the other hand, there are fixed ratios between the various colours within the assortment. But you do need market knowledge to pick the right varieties out of thousands of seedlings.

Pot Chrysanthemums , trends out of your stock

A lead time of four to five years is too long to adapt to current trends. But in Pot Chrysanthemums you can stock good varieties and introduce them if they fit in with a trend. You shouldn’t introduce a red variety if everyone asks for white. So breeders introduce novelties they belief in and find good growers with whom to introduce them.

Breeding is about cultivation technology like reaction time, resistance and production. Sometimes breeders look for special varieties to be introduced on short notice but this is not standard procedure.

Consumer trends

Once upon a time growers could be successful just by growing the best quality crops possible. Today consumers have so many choices that producers must find a niche to set themselves apart. Being distinctive means you have to know your consumer and this requires knowledge of consumer trends.


Aleia Roses, a Spanish rose nursery, sells its Red Naomi’s at Royal FloraHolland in Aalsmeer. Will Zuiderwijk, Aleia’s Dutch Sales Director, wants to know more about his clients and eventually about their customers. Therefore, he works together with trend and consumer expert Francine van Wijk of The Floral Agency ( who supports the company in marketing and communications in several European countries.

Different opinions

Francine defines consumer trends as “a combination of relevant developments within society that influence consumer behaviour. Some say that consumer trends are makeable. I think trendsetters are inspired by what happens in society, too. Nevertheless good marketing can help companies in creating trends (or rather, strengthening them). You can define trends on three levels: mega-trends (10-30 years), maxi-trends (5-10 years) and micro-trends (1-5 years). In the current decade, nature and greening your environment are  considered important which can also be explained as the time spirit. Look at urban and rooftop farming, for example.

Trend-wise, consumers can be separated into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. Innovators start a trend, laggards end it. In this world of social media, trends tend to develop faster than they did twenty years ago as online networks spread news much faster.”

An entrance to consumer

“Our aim at Aleia Roses is to grow the world’s best Red Naomi roses,” says Will. “We started recently and we want to get in touch with clients, trade professionals and consumers. We want to know what they want and what they expect from our product. A rose is not just a rose, it is a story, it is about emotions. We can inspire people by communicating about it, thus targeting the product to the needs of people buying it. Trends come into focus in this targeting. To understand your consumers you have to understand the trends that inspire them. Not necessarily the exact picture that is popular at a certain moment, but the way of thinking on which this picture is based.”

Customer journey

“In order to understand trends and be able to adapt to them, you must watch the time spirit,” says Francine. “For me, the trend insights given by the Flower Council of Holland are useful. They help us present products (for instance, Red Naomi roses) in pictures and text thus reaching our target group. Besides that, you must always bear in mind that it is important to know the customer journey of your product or service. If you follow your customer’s activities and preferences you will find out what their motivation is. And when you know that, you can reach them more effectively. If the consumer I want to reach appears to visit festivals we’ll focus on festivals. If they buy online, we’ll go online. Be where the customer is!”

Preference position

For Will Zuiderwijk this helps in creating a top-of-mind position for Aleia’s Red Naomi roses. “Quality is the basis of all, that on which we built our marketing, aiming to be distinctive for wholesalers, retailers, florists and consumers. Be good and express it. It’s Aleia Roses ambition to create a brand in which the word Aleia stand for the best red roses money can buy, like Bentley or Moët et Chandon. Knowledge about preferences and social trends help us give our roses the look and feel that matches our product.”


Read more about Aleia Roses at

Big Data

You think the digital revolution is over? You’re wrong. We’re in the midst of it. Finding, processing, analysing and distributing Big Data digitally is changing both the world and the floral business. So says Frans Feldberg, a Professor of Data Driven Business Innovation at VU University, Amsterdam.

Volume, variety, velocity

“Big Data is about large quantities of information from various sources being processed into action-oriented insights. Dealing with these volumes, varieties and velocities requires new, high performance technologies, computers of an enormous complexity and power not only to collect, but also process and analyse this data.”

Improve and innovate

“Entrepreneurs (growers and exporters, too) can use Big Data Analytics to improve their business by using sensors in their crops, for instance, to accurately predict problems and help solve them.

Big Data can also be used to innovate business models and create new services in relation to the product. Nowadays a grower isn’t just a grower anymore. Wherever his products are (soil, greenhouse, cooling store, truck, ship containers), he can install sensors, thus, generating data. By combining and analysing these numerous and various data sources using computer power and sophisticated models, new ways of growing, processing, and trading can be found, but also product and service innovation. By doing so organizations will discover new insight into recently-discovered issues. So as a grower you need to  know these previously unknown things before your competitor does.

When the 17th century Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope, this enabled him to look beyond cell walls, thus discovering the existence of bacteria and other microorganisms; things we didn’t know before the microscope was invented. In the end, the microscope has enabled human progress ever since. As such, Big Data Analytics is the 21st century equivalent of the microscope.”

It’s moving fast, extremely fast

“Don’t think there is time to lose. Don’t think you can wait and see how Big Data will change your world. Technical possibilities will follow Moore’s law and double every 18 months. This implies exponential growth: in five years, digital possibilities will be eight times larger than they are currently. So it won’t stop.”

If I was a rose grower…

“If I was a grower I would stay on top of developments. The thing is that data is portable because it can be disconnected from its artefacts, like flowers or soil. You used to need a record or CD to play music. Nowadays you don’t because music has become data that can travel anywhere thanks to the Internet. Combining the data of numerous MRI-scans, for instance, can give tremendous insights into  human health conditions. But does the doctor who makes the scans own the data or the supplier of the MRI equipment? Ownership of data will be decisive for future business: in health care and horticulture, among others. Being a grower, I would be keen to know who owns the data. Because the insights developed using this data can determine who will be in charge in establishing and managing relationships with important associates such as customers and suppliers. If others own my data, they can gain insights into my business and, based on these insights, take an advantageous  lead in many important processes, even disrupting my business. So  the question becomes: is that what I want?”

Cooperation is vital

“Big Data isn’t simple or cheap. Even multinational companies cannot explore every possibility and reap the benefits of being data-driven on their own. So the horticultural branch should be cooperative and create data-driven ecosystems in which many organizations join forces. Growers and traders should be aware with which business partners they can collect, process and analyse data in order to add value. Worldwide, Big Data-driven ecosystems are being incorporated into businesses.”

Flowers & Plants

Flowers and plants are beautiful. People buy them to cheer up, to make life more colourful or to be green. Some plants even clean the air you’re breathing. But that’s about it. Or is there more?

 Yes, there is more. Some flowers contain ingredients that can be extracted and used by the pharmaceutical or cosmetic industries. A striking example is found in Daffodils. They contain galantamine, found  in medication to combat Alzheimer’s disease. This is but one of many  examples. The use of flowers in the cosmetic industry has a long and storied history.

In order to create new opportunities for the industry, a number of growers/breeders of food and plants have joined forces with Wageningen University. One of these opportunities is the production of plant ingredients for medications, fragrances, dyes and seasonings. The challenge of bringing this to fruition lies in finding the optimal climate conditions to raise these plants and discovering additional promising crops.

Leaving chemical production

It makes sense to use ingredients that are natural to ornamental plants in medicines and cosmetics. For over one hundred years, the development of new medicines and cosmetics has often entailed the use of chemical ingredients and methods. In a sustainable world this is increasingly less viable. Consumers now ask for ‘cleaner’ medicines and cosmetics. Using ornamental plants for   ingredients is relatively new so there is much to unearth. New partnerships  of commercial horticultural firms, research institutes and producers of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics are on the rise because they all see game-changing opportunities.

Chances for producers

As we speak, Daffodils are being produced for the extraction of galantamine. There is an increasing body of knowledge being built up about this process. It is only a matter of time before there will be substantial production of certain flowers, not for their beauty but for their ingredients. This would  create opportunities worldwide because if the flower or bulb isn’t the main goal of growing  Daffodils, you could probably  do this anywhere in the world.

It goes without saying that this production will have to follow strict regulations. Using chemical pesticides, for instance, is likely to be forbidden. And if you do business with pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, a steady supply will be vital.

Having said that, growing plants for their ingredients sure might have a future.

Global Sourcing

Given its importance in the world flower trade, Holland has to source globally to keep its position. ”It is in the interest of our member-growers that Royal FloraHolland plays a key role in global sourcing,” says Lucas Vos, CEO of Royal FloraHolland.

 “Globalization has already occurred in n other markets. Worldwide production is the standard and new export destinations are emerging (Turkey, China). Besides the weather,  currency rates are a major influence on floral sales. Exporting to European countries is only risky when, like Kenya, your costs are in dollars. Holland has to globalize so that we can offer a wide assortment (the Dutch USP) and minimize currency risks. Our major customers should do so and Royal FloraHolland should do so, as well . In the interest of our growers, we want to remain a strong marketplace for flowers and plants.”

“Global sourcing means building relationships. You can do so by sharing knowledge with  foreign partners. The Turks, for instance, can benefit from Dutch knowledge. We bring them knowledge that helps them achieve their export goals in neighboring  countries. In return, they open their market to  Dutch flowers and plants. That’s how it should work to make everybody happy.”

“There’s more than one global approach. Your approach might differ per country. In China we developed our  market by helping Dutch clients with custom facilities. Dutch export firms bring flowers to China. In China, Royal FloraHolland acts as the importer and takes care of delivery to Chinese customers. That way we build up new markets and gain new knowledge about local customs, banks, governments, et cetera, creating new commercial opportunities  for our growers.”

“Globalization has its uncertainties. For Ecuador and Colombia, Donald Trump is an uncertainty. If the USA creates import barriers for Latin American flowers, it could benefit Dutch flower growers who then would have a level playing field in regards to trade. But Ecuador and Colombia would likely try to strengthen their position in  European markets. In my opinion, Royal FloraHolland should help them in their efforts. That’s not easy to explain to our current Dutch and international members, but I’m sure it is in their interest that Royal FloraHolland attracts global streams and markets to its marketplace. This all is inherent in  the Dutch position in  the world market. We have to play our role in a global world.”