The problems of a grower’s utopia

New Zealand could be a grower’s utopia. Its climate enables growing virtually any kind of flower. It is a prosperous country whose people like flowers. And it is quite strict on importing flowers and plants. Still, the number of growers dropped from 1400 several years ago to around 500-600 today. What’s the matter with this grower’s utopia?

New Zealand used to be a large floral exporter. Bruce O’Brien remembers it well. He is the CEO of United Flower Growers (UFG), New Zealand’s largest flower marketing entity with auctions and markets all over the country. “Today we cannot compete with low-wage countries,” Bruce says. “We do grow considerable numbers of Hydrangea, Calla, Peonies, etc. But since our dollar rate has remained quite high, exporting is difficult.

As an organisation we do not auction many imported flowers, but since import flowers are a reality they are sold at our markets and we combine them with local flowers in mixed bouquets. The strict conditions on importing flowers are not always of great benefit as you can never be completely sure what products will be offered. On the other hand, it gives New Zealand growers new opportunities, for instance growing other product groups that are not imported.

As an organisation we also emphasize the importance of a wide assortment. There are plenty of opportunities to grow what the Dutch call ‘summer flowers’. Nowadays we have plenty of Roses, Lilies and Gerberas, but we lack true niche products.”

Many New Zealand growers have closed their businesses in recent years. There are few young people who are starting out as growers or taking over their parents’ nursery. So many growers have now reached retirement age. As a consequence of New Zealand urbanisation, many have offers to sell their land and most do. UFG tries to stimulate the industry, not only because we like to but because someone in the industry needs to try to,” Bruce says. “We try to keep older growers in business by helping them find better opportunities to market their flowers and, at same time, we are looking for ways to bring young growers into the business by researching best practices to assist them.”

The situation of the New Zealand floral business is quite peculiar. “Due to our geographic isolation we are not enormously influenced by the rest of the floral world. Developments with only limited international success can have tremendous influence here, but the reverse applies, as well. One thing is for certain: as a marketing organisation we have a massive responsibility for maintaining our local industry and we do acknowledge this responsibility. By informing, inspiring and stimulating our growers, we help them take chances.”

UFG is a grower-owned organisation. Its objective is to promote, market and distribute flowers and foliage around the country. Growers can rest assured their products are being offered in the right marketplace at the right time to secure the best possible price. Bruce O’Brien added, “We have strengthened ourselves by merging and buying out competitors. UFG has auctions in Auckland and Wellington (both on the North Island) and in Christchurch (South Island) but it has a sophisticated Remote Buying system with live images from the auction hall that enable buyers all over the country to purchase fresh flowers. By creating this system and good transport facilities we have increased the impact of our auction clocks. On top of that we have various wholesale markets on the North and South Islands, so local florists can have their pick of fresh flowers, too.”

“UFG is trying to make a difference for the New Zealand floral industry by creating favourable sales and promotion conditions for our grower members, but also by stimulating them and keeping our industry alive and vibrant.”

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