Houseplant demand at young plant grower and distributor Vita Farms is through the roof

Established in 2010, Vita Farms is one of the leading growers and distributors of young plants in Guatemala with a reputation for high quality and MPS certified young plant material for supply to the wholesale nursery market in North America and Europe. This article was first published in FloraCulture International in October 2022.

Situated over two sites in Villa Canales and Jocotillo, Vita Farms spans 20 ha of poly-roofed greenhouses, 2 ha of shade halls and 30 ha of open field production. The combined facilities allow the company to produce 200 million cuttings per year. The management of the two farms is in the trusted hands of Luis Pacheco and his two sons. The cutting farms produce and distribute starting material harvested from mother stock that boasts more than 500 varieties of ornamental plants, including tropical foliage plants, succulents, cacti, tillandsias, groundcovers, annuals and perennials. Vita Farms is a significant employer with 450 office workers and field personnel directly employed on a full-time equivalent (FTE) basis.

A proud member of the ForemostCo family

Vita Farms is a proud member of the ForemostCo family that also includes cutting farms Phoenix Foliage in Florida, Ornamentales Sapo Verde in Germania, Costa Rica, Primeros en Follaje in Alajuela, Costa Rica and Produccion Bromeliads de Costa Rica (PBS) in the same town and country.

A worker at Vita Farms carefully packs echeveria cuttings.

ForemostCo Inc’s CEO Joseph C. Roberts IX explains that Vita Farms literally rose from the ashes of an existing ornamental plant nursery. “In 2010, near Pacaya, a volcano lying just southwest of the nursery erupted unexpectedly, destroying the farm which at the time was operated by Mayacrops. ForemostCo had a long-standing relationship with this farm and its people. Within days of the eruption, ForemostCo forged a partnership with Luis Pacheco, who was the general manager at the time, to rebuild the farm, laying the groundwork for what Vita Farms has become today.”

A benign climate and reliable infrastructure

ForemostCo’s decision for locating their farms rely on areas having ideal climate conditions and reliable infrastructure (Vita Farms is only a 35-minute drive from Guatemala City’s international La Aurora airport) and transportation within the country. “Between Guatemala and Costa Rica, we have the appropriate environments and stable logistics to provide a wide range of young plants for the North American and European markets, with both continents being more or less similar and terms of customer needs. “It’s all about relationships. Over the years, we have continually grown the company by cultivating and nurturing relationships with our customers, suppliers and partners. Our goal is to provide high-quality products and superb customer service to meet the ever-changing needs of the grower community.”

‘One of the best challenges we could hope for.’

The pandemic has certainly ignited massive interest in ornamental houseplants, causing well-documented availability and supply issues. Commenting on the situation nearly two years after the first cases of Covid 19, Roberts says, “The pandemic has been very difficult for everyone, but the increased interest and demand on our market has been one of the best challenges we could hope for. Demand is still through the roof, and we are continuing to build our stock and increase availability to meet our customers’ needs. We have been investing heavily in growth since well before the pandemic started, and we expect to see consumers’ demand for foliage continue for some years to come.”

Logistical headaches

As the safety regulations and lockdowns created many urgent situations that required immediate attention in the early days of the pandemic, Vita Farms has now moved into a recovery mode. However, logistics continues to prove a problem with pandemic-related delays and closures, non-stop demand for air and ocean freight, and a lack of capacity and sky-high shipping rates and transit times that are volatile provide daily headaches.

“What is not an issue at the moment? We, like everyone else, are feeling the strains on the global supply chain; to name a few: the astronomical shipping rates; accessibility to and cost of cargo containers; the clogging of ports; the shortage of aluminium, wood, plastic and soil; the scarcity of truck drivers; as well as air freight congestion and space shortage. The key issues facing global supply chains and logistics operations are incredibly complex and were already in motion before the start of the pandemic; Covid has simply accelerated the structural adjustments needed to improve logistics infrastructure systems.”

New tissue culture lab

In July 2021, Vita Farms and ForemostCo® finished building a tissue culture lab to strengthen its supply chain and ability to serve North American and European growers. Vita Labs is an 8,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility with a production capacity of 15 million plants annually. When the space is fully operational, the lab is sure to help avoid supply constraints.

Vita Farms produces 200 million cuttings per year, harvested from healthy mother stock.

“The key focus will be on ornamental plants, with more than 110 varieties currently in-house. Throughout the pandemic, tissue culture labs were affected for several reasons, creating a shortage of tissue culture products available. By improving and developing our production capabilities, we will have more control in supplying clean and healthy starter material to our liner facility in Central Florida.”

Future demand

Roberts thinks that indoor plants sales will continue to boom, especially now that millennials seem to have embraced plants and plant accessories massively.

“The demand for tropical foliage plants has skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic. Plants play a big part in the home or office decor, and it’s no surprise that finding one with beautiful and colourful foliage such as Crotons or Aglaonemas are a top priority for many consumers. We have also seen a particular interest in big leafy plants, Philodendrons, and Alocasia demand has gone through the roof. Also, the desire for easy-care plants, think Pothos, Chlorophytum and Succulents, will continue to be a trend no matter what year it is.”

Does Roberts think the habit of buying houseplants will stick? “There are a lot of positive signs that the future will continue to look bright for the industry. Millennials have made a wide range of things trendy, plants being one of them. The combination of visually-driven social media, Instagram in particular, and a keen interest in all things green has done much good for the popularity of houseplants. The next generation, Gen Z, are growing up with plants around the home and are equally interested in connecting with nature and leading a sustainable lifestyle.”

While the hot market is currently anything tropical, especially in Europe, there is a strong focus on environmentally friendly grown (read certified) plants. Roberts thinks that growing plants with more respect for the planet and its people is both a challenge and an opportunity. He says, “Having recently gone through the MPS certification process, we saw additional labour and effort directed towards implementing more sustainable production. However, we are now assured of remaining in compliance with future market requirements, with the additional benefit that we are lowering the company’s environmental burden.”

Summing up the key issues for the coming year, Roberts mentions increased prices, lack of supply of hard goods, and lack of labour. In terms of sustainability, he stresses that ForemostCo strongly believes that doing business worldwide comes with important responsibilities that extend beyond just running a profitable business. He ends, “We strive to have a positive impact in the markets in which we operate, and our sustainable development strategy includes targets across three key focus areas. These are environmental conservation, giving back to the community and transparency and reporting.”

You can find more information on ForemostCo Inc’s corporate social responsibility on ForemostCo’s website.

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