African growers threaten Dutch flower power
By Thomas Escritt
AALSMEER, Netherlands (Reuters) - The Netherlands is fighting to retain its crown as the world's top auction house for flowers as growers in Africa and elsewhere increasingly sell directly to buyers.
The country grew wealthy selling tulip bulbs in the 17th century during the so-called Dutch Golden Age and remains the second largest agricultural exporter behind the United States.
For decades the FloraHolland cooperative has acted as the hub from which planeloads of flowers from around the world are distributed from vast, air-conditioned warehouses in Aalsmeer, near Amsterdam airport.
The company says it distributes almost 50 percent of all flowers sold worldwide and last year it reported sales of 4.6 billion euros ($5.13 billion), mostly from matching growers and buyers at its famous early-morning daily auctions.
But worryingly for FloraHolland Chief Executive Lucas Vos,
sales of flowers by growers directly to buyers have overtaken those sold through FloraHolland's auctions.
Direct sales from members of the cooperative bypassing the auctions rose by 3.8 percent to 2.3 billion euros last year.
Auction sales stood at 2.1 billion euros, down 1 percent. Continued...