Don’t tell grower Tom Leybaert that Rhododendrons and Azaleas have become a bore. Immediately he’ll point to bold branding examples and breeding breakthroughs. Even if your product struggles with an image problem, you can still engage with your customers. In this FCI edition he reveals his secrets…
Bloemisterij Leybaert is a truly export-oriented company with 19 ha under glass and 5 ha field-production of an estimated 2,500,000 plants per year with Rhododendron and Azalea indica being the major crops.
Leybaert grows his Rhododendrons mainly in two and five litre pots. During summer months plants are moved outside or in revolutionary retractable greenhouses with anti-hail netting. Rhododendrons are a quintessential seasonal business with peak sales in Spring (80%) and Autumn (20%).
Attracting younger consumers by branding
Unlike Rhododendrons, Leybaert Azaleas are a semi-finished product. Danish, Swedish, German, French and Belgian growers start with a budded, ready to finish Azalea forcing them into bloom with adequate light levels and temperatures ranging from 22°C to 25°C.
Leybaert: “Today it is more important than ever to engage with customers. As everyone knows things are not easy. Production areas continue to decrease as the plant suffers from an image problem. But even Azaleas are sexy enough to attract younger consumers. We put a lot of effort into product promotion. For instance, by taking part in consumer-facing events and by launching My Favouritebrand for premium quality, trendy Rhododendrons.”
Enjoying stronger demand by breeding
Leybaert tells us that innovation is the cornerstone of the company: “In Azaleas we are working with the breeders of the Floré Group. They have created a range of potted Hortinno Azaleas that deliver excellent keeping quality for four to six weeks. Also these plants stand out for their lusciously glistening leaves and non-shedding blooms.”
He continues: “One of the first outcomes of the Hortinno breeding programme was the XXL Rhododendron This beautiful new product provides a real wow factor due to its strikingly large racemes and extended flowering period. Enjoying strong demand are our Rhododendron mini trees with a 12-month crop time. Trimmed in lollipop standards, these Rhododendrons feature big, green leaves and large, colorful buds for retail appeal. So they attract younger customers.”