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Sunday, 15 May 2016

Are Dutch consumers disbanding their own floriculturists, by settling for cheaper Kenyan produce alone?!

Globalization can hurt sometimes and it can seem very unfair indeed...

A few days ago I was buying flowers for my beloved wife Olga. She was having her birthday that day and we were also celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary AND mother’s day earlier that week. So, it was the right time to indulge her with a really beautiful bouquet of the best roses that money can buy!

One of the perks of living in my city Almere is that one can buy the freshest, most exclusive and most beautiful roses, ‘straight from the motherlode’; in other words, from the floriculturists who grow these flowers in their massive greenhouses at the edge of our city.

For many floriculturists, having a small flower shop within their greenhouse is a welcome way to earn a few extra bucks, as times for such floriculturists are still very hard indeed. 

In the early weeks of this year, I already wrote an article about the sad demise of floriculturist Termeulen Roses in Almere:

Yesterday I learned from my beloved wife Olga that Termeulen Roses in Almere Buiten and a few other horticultural companies in my city had defaulted during 2015. This was very sad news for me.

Especially Termeulen Roses was one of those companies that make a person proud of his city. The enormous greenhouses of this one-man business, vibrant of life and with sizes as large as football fields,  were filled to the brim with beautiful, growing roses in all colours of the rainbow. And visitors were welcomed with the delicate fragrances, spread by the different sorts of roses that Termeulen produced. This all made the greenhouse such an inspirational environment.

The roses and plants in the greenhouses were litterally humming from the insects that acted as natural fertilizers (bees and bumblebees) or as environmentally friendly parasite exterminators (a.o. lady bugs), while the greenhouses themselves – in spite of their enormous energy consumption especially during  night – acted as huge energy cells, returning loads of excess energy to the energy grid.

The entrance part of the greenhouse complex was a sheer jungle of stainless steel, as a complex of assembly lines, rail systems, gathering machines, bundling machines and packaging machines turned the freshly cut roses into wrapped rose bouquets within minutes. After being packaged, the roses were sent to the cold store, in order to wait for the beginning of their – sometimes long – journey to someone’s house or office, as the ultimate token of appreciation and love.

For me this company – and a few other horticultural companies in the same area as well – was the place to be when I wanted to buy the best and most beautiful roses for my wife and for other people, who deserved a special attention.

This week, I visited Stricker Rozen in Almere: a renowned grower of absolutely stunning roses and – together with the aforementioned Termeulen Roses who sadly defaulted in the beginning of this year – traditionally one of my skyhigh favorites for buying a nice bouquet, because of the impeccable quality and long-lasting beauty of their produce.

A stunning bouquet of roses, delivered by Stricker Rozen, Almere
Picture by: Ernst Labruyère
Click to enjoy!
Yet again, Stricker amazed me with a mindblowing new kind of roses that he developed and produced exclusively in his greenhouse: an exquisite flower that was based upon years of ennoblement and hard work.

I could not help asking Remco Stricker  the current owner of family business Stricker Rozen who had replaced his father Jan as main entrepreneur  how he managed to get their company through the crisis? This in the light of Termeulen’s default and that of some of his other competitors in Almere.

His answer surprised me slightly, as I expected him to complain about disappointing exports and the boycott of the EU against Russia and vice versa:

Stricker: “We have survived until now and we still manage to survive. Yet, times are very hard for us indeed. Of course, this boycott with Russia is a drag, but it is not our biggest problem. Actually, the exports of our flowers is the cork on which our company floats.

No, our biggest concern is the fact that the Dutch people themselves do not want to purchase Dutch flowers anymore. They settle for roses from Kenia, as these are much cheaper, because of the much, much lower labour expenses and the circumstance that labour regulations and other conditions are much looser than in The Netherlands.”

Ernst: “I thought it were only the supermarkets and large retailers of cheap flowers (i.e. mostly petrol stations), which bought the Kenian ‘stuff’ and not the specialized flower shops?!”

Stricker: “Oh no, everybody in The Netherlands is now settling for Kenyan roses! Supermarkets... Large retailers... But also the specialized flowershops. Our roses are now mainly produced for exports!”

This answer baffled me... 

Especially roses are a product built upon emotion. A product that people buy with their hearts and not only with their brains and wallets. A product of which the scent and the sheer beauty alone have to seduce people into buying.

Personally, I have very little to hold against Kenyan roses, but I thought that they were the kind of “mass-produced, slightly dull and somewhat ordinary stuff” that only cheapskates buy to indulge their wives, girlfriends or secretaries: not because they are very beautiful, but because they are 'good enough', cheap and amply available. Or the hurried customer, who does not have time to go to a specialized flower shop, but settles for a cheap, mass-produced bouquet from the gas station or the supermarket instead.

The sad truth is, however, that – probably without knowing / realizing it virtually everybody buys Kenyan roses in The Netherlands. The Dutch produce is exported to “greener pastures”, where people DO want to spend serious money, in exchange for having the best quality of roses. The Dutch settle for less, obviously.

Yet, I do understand this.

Myself, I almost always go straight to these floriculturists nowadays to buy flowers, as they are residing in my home town at only a few kilometers from my home. On top of that, they sell the best and longest lasting flowers in the business. 

But also before I discovered these growers in Almere, I often settled for the convenience of supermarket and petrol station; especially for their extended opening hours in the evening and on Sundays. Consequently, I seldomly visit(ed) a specialized flowershop anymore, to be honest. When I did once, on Valentine’s day a few years ago, I was unpleasantly surprised by the substantial price per flower: a price to which I was not used anymore.

Besides that, especially this category of retailers is struck very hard by the enduring economic crisis, as flowers – and especially the more expensive ones from a specialized flowershop – are merely a luxury good that people skip easily, when they can’t miss the money for it.

One should realize that the current consumer expenditure in The Netherlands is still lying below(!) the level of consumer spending as measured in early 2008, months before the crisis started. This is what economist and journalist Mathijs Bouman stated in his weekly column about the Dutch economy in Het Financieele Dagblad:

In the meantime, the gross domestic product (GDP) [in The Netherlands – EL] has increased to levels slightly higher than before the crisis started. However, due to the population growth that took place in these eight crisis years, this is not true for the GDP per capita.

Consumer expenditure has been lagging since 2008. There was no 11% growth for private consumption in those eight years, but in fact a 2% decline between 2008Q1 and 2016Q1.

This is the sad truth for flower sales and flower cultivation in The Netherlands. 

Specialized flower shops are losing business, due to the fact that:

a. their customers settle for the convenience and lower sales prices of supermarkets and petrol stations with their inexpensive, Kenyan roses and

b. their private customers in general have much less money to spend on flowers in 2016 than they had in 2008. This is the consequence of an income that stayed almost equal during this whole timeframe, while the tax expenses are much higher now than eight years ago.

In order to compete with the large retailers and supermarkets, these flowershops themselves apparently have to settle for Kenyan roses nowadays, as these are still much more inexpensive than Dutch roses, in spite of the costs of air transport covering thousands of kilometers.

And so the Dutch involuntary help to disband their own floriculturists, by not buying their more expensive flowers, but settling for cheaper ones from abroad. 

The most beautiful roses in the world, in my not so humble opinion, are mostly sent to other people than the Dutch, who grow them but don’t see them bloom anymore.  This is the bitter taste of globalization going slightly awry.

Still, once you have looked at the sheer beauty and impeccable quality of Dutch roses, why would you settle for less?! I'm certain I will not do that anymore...

The new variety of roses by Stricker Rozen, Almere
Picture by: Ernst Labruyère
Click to enjoy!
And you go see for yourself by looking at this picture: did you ever see more beautiful flowers? Well, did you?!

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