A thousand and one-night flowers to gain momentum in the global marketplace

Boxes filled with Gypsophylla.

FCI spoke to Alstun Diniz, the young and dynamic general manager overseeing the daily operations of Marquis Flowers in Oman with Bahrain and Qatar subsidiaries. Demand for luxury blooms is strong among an affluent and growing domestic and expat population. But the route to a blooming future is not always sprinkled with rose petals. Commodity price hikes and supply chain woes persist as the Houthi attacks increase air freight rates, translating into shrinking margins.

Alstun Diniz, aged 34, was born and raised in India’s smallest state by area and population, Goa. He grew up in a middle-class family and was already, as a child, used to thinking analytically. So, rather unsurprisingly, he studied finance, and upon graduation, he accepted a job in a five-star hotel in Goa. During the journey towards his big-picture career vision, one of his friends told him that Marquis was hiring account managers and recommended it. “I thought about it and signed up. We both accepted it, and I have been there since 2013.”

Alstun Diniz oversees the daily operations of Marquis Flowers, Oman, in its Bahrain and Qatar subsidiaries.

Alstun Diniz oversees the daily operations of Marquis Flowers, Oman, in its Bahrain and Qatar subsidiaries.

Shopping the world

Diniz is a self-acclaimed communicator, team builder and someone with an eye for detail. He believes it is crucial that Marquis Flowers stays on the edge of the industry.

Marquis Flowers is a floral wholesaler that shops worldwide to bring its customers— retail florists (80 per cent) and event planners (20 per cent)—the greatest selection of wholesale flowers.

The company takes great pride in being one of the Middle East’s top wholesale outlets, providing flowers to the wedding, hospitality, and events industry. Diniz elaborates: “We see ourselves predominantly as a trusted importer and wholesale supplier of retail florist and event flowers. But current wedding trends point towards a resurgence of destination weddings, with many international floral designers and event planners asking us for help. On request, we can support them with logistics and finding floral arrangers.”

Loading of a truck at Marquis Flowers premises.

Floral specialist

Seasoned industry leader Mr Lovett Frank Marquis, whose career in floral wholesale spans three decades – founded Marquis Flowers Trading in 2007.

The company is headquartered in Oman, with branches in Bahrain, Qatar, and India, and employs 250 people. Diniz says Marquis is a floral specialist, attributing 95 per cent of its sales revenues to freshly cut flowers and a minor five per cent to indoor plants.

The wholesaler’s basis for differentiation is a complete portfolio of products with enough variety in size, colour, and texture sourced worldwide.

At the Bahrain and Qatar subsidiaries, managed by Diniz, flowers come from Ecuador, Colombia, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands.

At Marquis Flowers, many Ecuadorian-grown roses change hands.

At Marquis Flowers, many Ecuadorian-grown roses change hands.

No vertical integration so far

So far, the company has not taken direct ownership in cut flower production processes.Diniz sees the benefits of vertical business integration, citing greater efficiencies, reduced supply chain costs, and more control along the production and distribution process.

However, he also thinks vertical integration is a risky, expensive endeavour. “We all have heard stories of giant farm-direct floral wholesalers that own a sizeable number of production farms in Africa and the tie-ups in acquiring the farm-direct products to supply their wholesale units. In my opinion, vertical integration has pros and cons. It may well be fruitful -flowerful- during the peak sales season when production volumes are low and wholly owned ‘sister farms’ can give you more control over the quality, costs and delivery times. On the other hand, it also feels like you are tied up to limited farms. Basically, it forces you to buy irrespective of quality and varieties. We, as a non-vertically integrated business, can choose a seemingly endless array of farms and products.”

Marquis Flowers is a floral wholesaler that shops around the world to bring its customers -retail florists (80 per cent) and event planners (20 per cent) - the greatest selection of wholesale flowers.

Marquis Flowers is a floral wholesaler that shops around the world to bring its customers -retail florists (80 per cent) and event planners (20 per cent) – the greatest selection of wholesale flowers.

Signature flowers

South America and the Netherlands, both with a 30 per cent share, remain Marquis’ biggest suppliers, followed by Kenya (20 per cent), Vietnam 10 per cent, South Africa (five per cent), and Sri Lanka (five per cent).

Large-scale flower farms that mass-produce flowers in Africa and South America are a reality. The other one is that, particularly in the event planning industry, the availability of signature flowers is essential for a diversified product offer. There is some concern that the more unusual flowers will become rarer. Diniz notes, “Customers, in general, are price sensitive. They want exotic flowers but at a cheaper price, which we all know is not possible. I agree that unusual, more exotic flowers are becoming increasingly rare. We do supply niche flowers to a handful of wedding event planners who probably work for business people or the inner circle of royal families.”

The company often goes by the moniker the ‘House of Tropical Flowers’ as brightly coloured tropical florals occupy pride of place in Marquis’ portfolio. Lilies, tulips and cut foliage are sizeable categories imported from the Netherlands.

The cutting of rose stems at a sharp angle to expose fresh tissue that will readily take up flower food.

The cutting of rose stems at a sharp angle to expose fresh tissue that will readily take up flower food.

Praise for Holex

There’s a strong affinity with the Dutch, particularly with the Dutch-based flower exporter Holex. Diniz says, “Holex helps us in a big way, especially Rick Rusman, who always goes the extra mile to support us and the industry as a whole. Our clients can also log into the Holex webshop account, browse products online and order speciality flowers quickly and easily. This gives them the opportunity and freedom to buy exotic flowers of choice and makes them less dependent on what the wholesaler imports. Marquis subsequently unburdens them by taking care of the global shipping and delivery.”

If it is not possible to process floral shipments immediately upon receipt, boxes and wrapped flowers are kept at a cool temperature in one of the cold stores.

If it is not possible to process floral shipments immediately upon receipt, boxes and wrapped flowers are kept at a cool temperature in one of the cold stores.

Cold chain plays a vital role

Unsurprisingly, a temperature-controlled supply chain encompassing the storage, transportation and handling of perishable products plays a crucial role in safeguarding imported flowers.

“It gets scorching hot here in the summer, so it is very important to maintain the flowers at the right temperature. We are fortunate to have refrigerated warehousing facilities to ensure product quality by controlling their temperature at all stages of the logistic process. Monitoring systems and protocols are in place to maintain the desired temperature.”

When asked about the multi-million, 35-ha Dubai Flower Centre (DFC), which opened near Dubai’s international airport in 2006, Diniz is unable to provide a good answer. “I am not the right person to answer that question as I was only a kid at the time and only learned about it more recently, thanks to our CEO. It was without doubt a visionary project which did not bring the anticipated success for whatsoever reason.”

Growing market

At the time, DFG positioned the Middle East as a top-notch global hub for logistics while it paid little attention to the region as a growing market for flowers and plants. Its market is overly dependent on imported blooms, and where an increasing domestic and expat population and higher disposable incomes are important drivers for growth.

In analysing the market for flowers and plants in the Middle East further, Diniz notes, “Despite being a notoriously price-sensitive market, I dare to say that the Middle Eastern countries stand out because of their consistency in sales, year in and year out. However, everyone knows that there have been price increases across the board. It becomes increasingly challenging to cope as we work on very thin margins. Also, fiercer competition has made increasing prices difficult. For a wholesaler, particularly in the Middle East, we have seen a downward trend in pricing in countries such as Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar. Up to 95 per cent of our imported flowers are airfreighted, and the increase in freight cost has also hit us very badly.”

Spiralling air freight costs

Houthi rebels are currently attacking ships in the Red Sea. Consequently, they are increasingly opting for air freight. In the realm of floriculture, there was a ship that carried Kenyan flowers destined for Western European supermarket sales. The ship returned to Dubai with the floral cargo, which was subsequently flown to the UK. Diniz says, “Thankfully, we have not come across such incidents. But I would say the concerned authorities should take necessary actions to avoid them in the future.”

Horticultural Expo Doha

The good news is that Qatar is currently hosting an AIPH-approved world horticultural Expo to promote the products of the horticultural industry to the general public, businesses and governments.

Diniz notes, “Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to visit the horticulture expo in Doha due to personal reasons. As per my colleagues who visited it, it was fabulous. More generally speaking, I think that the FIFA World Cup has also put Qatar on a bigger stage with worldwide recognition. I have to mention the commendable efforts and initiatives taken by the concerned authorities to host events of such magnitude.”

How deeply steeped is floral tradition?

A green expo to demonstrate to the world the beauty, importance, and value of horticulture seems like no luxury in the Middle East, a region where flowers and plants are not per se deeply anchored in tradition and culture.

Diniz elaborates, “Valentine’s Day is not celebrated the way it is done in Europe; tradition and culture are very different than that of Europe. For us, Valentine’s Day represents a limited increase in monthly sales. Floral holidays that do make a difference in the Middle East include Mother’s Day and Eid al-Fitr (aka Sugar Feast). These two events make up 10 per cent of our annual sales.”

For Diniz, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, all is definitely not rosy. He says, “In a bid to make extra money, farms skyrocket the prices of red flowers. Flower farms began charging Valentine’s Day prices from the last week of January onwards. And for us in this country, who don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way, it becomes increasingly difficult to explain to customers why the prices increase so early. Farms try to hold onto stocks so that they can sell expensive for Valentine’s Day, which also results in bad product quality being received by the wholesalers. Farms also want to sell to markets who offer higher prices, putting a question mark on loyalty to customers who buy regularly throughout the year.”

On the subject of loyalty, there is an unwritten rule for Dutch flower exporters to never bypass the wholesaler and distribute directly if their customer has a built strong relationship with an importing wholesaler. Diniz comments, “I think this rule no longer exists. I have noticed that every other Dutch exporter wants to deal with small flower shops, probably because they get a premium price. This has disrupted the supply chain and killed the purpose of our existence.”

What’s next?

To conclude, Diniz urges the global flower industry not to consider the Middle East market as like Europe and America regarding pricing. “I would also insist that farms need to be loyal to their clients and, if possible, to offer exclusivity, deal with one wholesaler per market.
What’s next for Marquis Flowers? I would say that we are still doing some things the traditional way. WhatsApp is the only thing that we use extensively. Digitalisation is definitely on our radar. On an immediate basis, we are planning to expand our business to Saudi Arabia and eventually have our presence in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Also in the pipeline is our own webshop where our customers can shop online. We also want to venture into floral accessories, with Marquis becoming a one-stop shop for every flower professional.”

This article was first published in the March 2024 issue of FloraCulture International.

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