In October 2022, Lochristi (Flanders)-based Azalea breeders and growers FlorAmor and Hortibreed have joined Azanova. In 2008, twenty forward-thinking Azalea growers, in collaboration with research institute ILVO established this innovation network that focuses on customer-centric Azalea innovation and smart plant breeding.
The collaboration is logical, say the partners, given that the sector itself has changed and the cost of innovation remains feasible this way. Six growers, fewer than before, are members of this new club.
Over the last 10 years, many Azalea growers have stopped production or switched to other crops. The remaining companies are larger, serve an international market and want to secure their access to sustainable and aesthetically pleasing innovations.
FlorAmor and Hortibreed, both headquartered in Lochristi and led by Alain De Mol, see a clear added value to a more integrated innovation network.
Alain De Mol: “Through our entry and investment, we are entering a broader knowledge environment that comprises both the historical azalea collection and the latest genetic breeding tools. This gives us more opportunity for interesting potential innovations, and above all for well-organised valorisation.”
Hortibreed specialises in breeding and marketing Azaleas and Rhododendron. Stefan Laridon, business unit development: “To ensure continuity on the breeding side, we recently hired an ornamentals researcher, Steven Engelen. He brings over 15 years of experience at Bayer and, together with the ILVO experts, he will supervise the breeding programme for AZANOVA and draw up its breeding objectives.” Additional marketing know-how will become available in the AZANOVA group through Hortibreed.
Dr. Johan Van Huylenbroeck, Scientific Director of floriculture at ILVO: “This expansion means that for the first time we span the entire chain from research to consumer-oriented marketing. That is a strength. For the first time in azalea breeding there is also real balanced private-public cooperation. As a result, the fundamental knowledge development at ILVO receives accelerated valorization.”
The breeders’ rights of the new introductions are jointly managed by ILVO and Hortibreed.
Geert Verbruggen is one of the participating Azalea growers: “Through marketing knowledge, the grower group will now know better how much of which (new) cultivar can be set up to collectively obtain a better price for the producer. That means an evolution from price taking to price setting, which is a favorable perspective.”
A first feat from the new Azanova network is already being announced. Christoph Stevens, sales and marketing manager at FlorAmor: “To mark Flandresse’s silver jubilee, the group presents the new line Flandresse Premium Aiko. That line includes high-quality cultivars from the ILVO breeding programme.” The Aiko cultivars are known for their special flowers and extra-long shelf life in the living room.
As a result of the above consortium, the future of the Azalea industry looks bright. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we already saw a resurgence of general interest in plants and also houseplants among consumers. With the current energy crisis, it seems that the less heat-hungry ornamental plant species are becoming more important within the entire ornamental plant sector,” say the partners of the renewed innovation network.