AIPH World Ornamental Horticulture Summit shows the industry’s future in a digital world

Domingo Iudice of Brainpull, Italy

ALMERE, Netherlands: Horticulture’s future in a digital world was the topic of discussion at the second AIPH World Ornamental Horticulture Summit, held on 28th September at Expo Floriade 2022 in Almere, the Netherlands.

“‘Digital’ is a life attitude,” said keynote speaker Domingo Iudice. “You have to adapt quickly and surf all the opportunities available. It’s painful, but it works.”

Domingo founded the digital marketing agency Brainpull, based in Italy, in 2012. Today, the company has 80 members of staff in Puglia, Milan and the US. In his presentation, he used examples from his career to illustrate the immense benefit of using digital tools to reach potential customers.

“Digital squares change rapidly, but they always offer great opportunities. They are the largest meeting places in the world and influence customer purchases. Digital tools allow businesses to gain feedback, control processes and connect with people.”

Secretary General of AIPH, Tim Briercliffe; CEO of Dutch Flower Group, Jan van Dam; CEO of Royal FloraHolland, Steven van Schilfgaarde; and online, Co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses, Abe van Wingerden.

Industry leaders panel

AIPH Secretary General Tim Briercliffe led a panel on ‘Our future in a digital world.’ He was joined by industry leaders Jan van Dam – CEO of Dutch Flower Group; Steven van Schilfgaarde – CEO of Royal FloraHolland; Abe van Wingerden – Co-CEO of Metrolina Greenhouses; and Pablo Bazzani – Sales and Marketing Director for Plazoleta Flowers.

“There is no one social media; there are so many parts you have to be ready to play in,” Abe commented. “We do research, find out what people are searching for online and share this information with retailers so they can plan their digital content,” said Van Dam. “But this is just a part of the total marketing plan.”

Bazzani added: “We’re always paying attention to the final consumer, what the seasonal trends are, so we can take action about what we’re posting. This way, we try to influence the market. But as a grower, it’s difficult to find the time and energy to commit to these strategies.”

Van Schilfgaarde said: “I’m focusing on the B2B side of things, connecting farmers to sellers. Social media is a useful tool for enabling communication between them.”

Justin Hancock, Senior Brand Marketing Manager for Costa Farms.

It’s all in the data

Attendees also heard from Justin Hancock, Senior Brand Marketing Manager for Costa Farms. He explained how and why Costa Farms is utilising digital tools. “The current consumer might not be using digital, but tomorrow’s consumer is,” he said. “We have to get in front of them.

“More and more consumers are spending more and more time on social media. You don’t want to make consumers come to you, you need to get to where they are. Social media also lets you build a relationship with your consumers.”

Hancock also highlighted the value of collecting data from online sources, which may be from direct feedback by a consumer, but there is an equally valuable source of data that can be taken from social media. Digital platforms allow producers to find what is trending and how people engage with products, giving companies insight into their customers’ needs.

Taking a step away from the digital world, Dr Tosca Ferber, Research Director for Dümmen Orange, presented the cutting-edge science used to secure a successful future in plant breeding. “A breeder creates a specific variety for a specific market,” she said. “Getting the right consumer information is crucial, but there are a lot of gaps between understanding what the consumer wants and production in the greenhouse.”

To achieve this, breeders must utilise game-changing technologies that reduce waste and time while increasing impact. This focus, she says, is the key to innovation in floriculture.

Dr Tosca Ferber, Research Director for Dümmen Orange.

Social Media Influencers

According to a 2022 Shopify report, 61 per cent of consumers trust influencer recommendations. One such influencer is Darryl Cheng, creator of the House Plant Journal and author of The New Plant Parent.

Darryl presented a different perspective on communicating with consumers via social media. He explained his own approach to creating interesting and engaging content. By providing impactful tips and tricks, he enables his followers to have greater success with their houseplants, hence building a positive relationship with the producer who supplied the plant. Darryl, therefore, provides a valuable connection between the producer and the consumer.

Attendees also heard from Michael Perry, better known as Mr Plant Geek. With a background as a Product Developer for Thompson Morgan before switching to his garden personality career, Michael has a unique view of the industry from both the inside and outside. He offered insight into the ever-growing list of social media platforms and how each of them are used in their unique ways. He commented that not every platform is suitable for every business, saying: “Choose the platform that is right for you, and don’t do it because you feel forced to.”

Influencer Darryl Cheng, creator of the House Plant Journal and author of The New Plant Parent.

The Customer is King

Marco van der Sar of the Flower Council Holland led the day’s final panel with a topic focused on consumer demands. Joining him were Phil Paxton – President of Wheatland Trees Ltd; Sirekit Mol – Head Of Commercial Operations for Beekenkamp Plants BV; and Social Media Influencer Michael Perry.

Perry commented: “The product we work with, flowers and plants, is something you can’t experience in the virtual world. You need to touch it and smell it.”

Paxton added: “Using social media to connect is not a conversation through another company; it’s one-on-one. It’s just a tool to build a relationship, and we shouldn’t get to a place where we’re not relationship selling. People want to show the world how they are, what they own, and what they know.”

Influencer and industry insider Michael Perry, aka Mr Plant Geek.

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