FCI Feature: Learn more about the world’s most prestigious horticultural awards and prizes, which have a significant economic impact and sometimes even set new quality standards, in March 2022, FloraCulture International.
True innovation is often the result of a lengthy process. In many cases, there is a considerable time lag between the first occurrence of an idea for a new product or service and the first attempt to carry it out in practice. In financing innovation in the early stages – when new solutions have not yet reached their maturity – finding entrepreneurs who believe in it can be daunting.
The road to innovation can be bumpy and risky. As such, awards, prizes, quality marks and recognitions play an essential role in boosting the morale of inventors and innovators.
Recipients of awards make people feel proud of being part of a recognised team, and recognition from an external source, such as an industry association, trade shows or well-respected news outlet, will have more impact than internal recognition.
What’s more, award winners are role models for innovation. They provide an example to peers or colleagues of how vital the role of creation is in a company’s organisation.
Awards, being a third-party endorsement, also give companies and brands the backing to promote themselves with demonstrated external evidence and are highly beneficial in their marketing strategy.
Finally, business awards presented to the different suppliers active in a value chain can be the glue that holds relationships together, especially now when the Covid-19 pandemic forces companies to cement their customer relationships.
In the global horticulture industry, there are many different categories of awards. There are segment-specific awards such as the UK’s GCA Awards and France’s Graines d’Or, both celebrating innovation, customer service and creativity in the garden centre industry or the annual ISU awards for the most outstanding varieties in the international perennial plant business.
There are glitzy and celebrity-filled awards, such as the Dutch Horticultural Entrepreneur Awards, one of the highest accolades in Dutch horticulture. In 2016, Boomkwekerij Ebben scooped up the prize with Queen Máxima of the Netherlands attending the ceremony as guest of honour.
In Colombia, the President usually attends the grand opening of its premier flower trade show Proflora and its impressive quality competition and awards.
Some awards are business awards in the true sense of the word, with floral wholesale giant Dutch Flower Group recognising excellence in supply chain management and quality among its suppliers at home and abroad by presenting the annual DFG Awards. The Best Buyer and Best Grower Award of Dutch grower alliance Decorum are more or less serving the same purpose.
Awards can also recognise individual achievements, such as Italy’s former Fabio Rizzi Award, a prize that recognised progressive growers or Taspo’s Gold Entrepreneur Award, won by Matthias Redlefsen, director of Ernst Benary Samenzuch GmbH.
In Italy, the late Carlo Calì founded the Garofano d’Argenta (Silver Carnation) Awards 46 years ago. His purpose was to welcome industry professionals from home and abroad to Giarre (Sicily) to meet flower and plant growers in person and give them a clear picture of the size, professionality and hospitality of the Sicilian and Italian ornamentals industry. Over the past decades, over 400 Garofano d’Argento awards have been won by people who have significantly contributed to the Italian and international flower industry. The horticultural award winners include Robert F. Zurel, Wim van Meeuwen, Jan Petiet, Pierre Barandou, Nancy Laws, Egon Galinnis, Jaap Kras, Ron van der Ploeg, Nobel Prize winner Francesco Bruno Gnisci, Ester Nunziata, Arturo Croci and FCI correspondent Marta Pizano.
At the same time, companies seeking recognition for their products or services can vie for Product Awards. For example, Poland’s Green is Life trade show hosts its Plant Novelties Competition each year, featuring Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals for breeding breakthroughs in mostly nursery stock plants. The same applies to the UK’s HTA National Plant Show, with its New Plant Awards at the show’s heart.
Awards are linked to trade shows – for example, the Innovert Awards hosted by France’s horticultural trade show Salon du Végétal; the Florall Awards hosted by Belgium’s eponymous trade show or the Medal of Excellence and Retailers’ Choice Award at the American trade show Cultivate.
Awards can also be an association with trade publications: Horticulture Week in the UK runs its annual Business Awards, a pan-industry awards scheme to honour the outstanding achievements of businesses operating in production, garden retail, landscape contracting and arboriculture. German horticultural media outlet Taspo has its awards.
The awards ceremony is usually the starting point for a year-round package of winners’ business benefits in media partnerships, including editorial coverage and social media promotion.
The International Grower of the Year (IGOTY) is undoubtingly the most significant initiative globally. It promotes and recognises best practices in horticultural production by the top ornamental production nurseries from around the globe.
Each year, this trophy is hosted by the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) at the IPM Essen show in Germany. Following the postponement of IPM Essen this year, the awards ceremony will now take place on 14th June 2022 at GreenTech Amsterdam, the top horticulture technology event in the Netherlands.
Since 2009, these industry awards have given peer recognition to production achievements in horticulture. The awards also help to stimulate and promote best practices by providing global attention to outstanding producers and promoting knowledge throughout the industry.
The competition grows in stature yearly, attracting more substantial entries, incorporating additional award categories (Sustainability Award and Young International Grower of the Year Award) and drawing more and more horticultural members to celebrate achievements in this formal awards ceremony.
In 2020, anthurium and orchid breeder and propagator Anthura won the Gold Rose Award while also being awarded Gold in the Young Plants and Sustainability category. Hasfarm Holdings, Hong Kong, China, won Gold in the Cut Flowers and Bulbs category, and Hangzhou Huazhiyan Agricultural Investment won Gold in the Finished Plants and Trees category.
“One important role of AIPH is to promote best practice. The businesses that reach the finals of the IGOTY Awards are exceptional, and every one of us can learn from them so that collectively we can move our industry onwards and upwards”, says Bernard Oosterom, AIPH President.
Some horticultural awards and seals of approval expand far more beyond their sector than others. This recognition is especially the case for the awards in the bedding plants sector, which often has a long and rich history and whose sphere of influence includes the end consumer.
Founded in 1804, the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) promotes horticulture through events such as the iconic Chelsea Flower Show and the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM), which made its debut in 1922 The AGM, with its recognisable cup symbol on plant labels, helps gardeners choose the best plants for their garden. The seal of approval that the plant performs reliably in the garden. Awards are usually given after a trial period, often at Wisley, and are judged by RHS expert forums. Plants of all kinds can be considered for the AGM, including fruit and vegetables.
The list currently includes more than 7,500 plants, but new awards are made each year to keep the award list as up-to-date as possible. Breeders and growers alike dream of earning an AGM for their plants; RHS recognition can create a flurry of media attention and attract industry respect and new customers. But the quality can also come with the stress surrounding the acquisition or loss of a Michelin star because the AGM is subject to regular review to ensure that every plant still merits its place on the list. The first review took place in 2002: more than 1,300 plants that no longer met the AGM criteria lost the award, while 900 plants were added to the list. In the second review, in 2012, some 1,900 plants were removed from the list, and 1,600 were counted. Since 2013, reviews have been conducted by each plant committee on a rolling review.
The All-America Selections (AAS) was established in 1932. AAS is the oldest, independent, not-for-profit organisation that tests new flower and edible varieties for the home gardener in North America. After an entire season of anonymous trialling by a panel of expert judges, only the top garden performers receive the AAS Winner award designation for their superior performance.
The first trials were in 1933, and the first winners were Delphinium‘ Cambridge Blue’ and Lupine ‘Giant King’.
AAS executive director Diane Blazek says, “Nineteen is a lot for one year, and we surpassed that in 2017 when we had 24 winners.” She continues, “The initial idea behind AAS was for a neutral non-profit to be an independent tester of new varieties to see if they lived up to the breeder’s claims. That is still exactly what we do today.”
Blazek comments on AAS’s impact in terms of B2B and B2C business: “For B2B, we make it much easier for brokers, growers and retailers to sell new varieties because AAS Winners have the reputation of being great garden performers with a brand promise. They don’t have to go through a long trialling process before carrying them because that work is done. The same sentiment holds true for B2C. And for consumers, they are assured that if they buy and plant an AAS WInner, they know the professionals have trialled it and have verified that it will perform well in the garden.”
Asked about AAS plans for the future, Blazek says, “We will continue to refine and adapt our trials for today’s marketplace. Back in 1932, there were two trials. Next year, we will have seven trials because we are adding container trials. As breeding companies continue to reach above and beyond, we will adapt our trials to fit those advancements. Of course, our marketing will adapt as well. Eleven years ago, we did not have a social media presence. Now we have a community of over 100,000 enthusiastic followers. Who knows what will be the next hot thing after Instagram and TikTok, but we’ll have to adapt and adopt.”
Blazek says there are many good reasons to join AAS. “The major benefits include the independence of our organisation, and the rigorous trial all entries go through by our volunteer judges. It’s a tough competition, so the genetics have to be good to earn the AAS award designation. Our Display Gardens are an important part of our marketing. By working with 200 public gardens throughout North America, the public can see these varieties in a real garden setting.”
Fleuroselect is an international organisation for the ornamental plants industry. For 50 years, industry professionals have joined together to test and evaluate new pot and bedding plants, promote award winners, protect member varieties, network with each other, and contribute to the development and advancement of the industry as a whole. The Fleuroselect Gold Medal is awarded to new varieties surpassing existing ones in breeding innovation and beauty. Entries are evaluated via existing commercial comparison varieties by expert and independent judges on criteria including innovation, practical use, floriferousness and pack, pot, and garden performance.
Fleuroselect trial greenhouses and fields are located across Europe and beyond and bring the entrants valuable information for the variety’s commercial launch. The Fleuroselect Secretariat promotes the recent winners throughout the industry.
The first Gold Medals were awarded in 1973.
In recent discussions with founder member Simon Groot, he pointed out that Pelargonium zonale ‘Sprinter’ awarded in that first year was a real breakthrough. It was the first Pelargonium zonale variety from seed rather than from cuttings. Many of the older varieties are still successful today, such as Calendula officinalis ‘Fiesta Gitana’, awarded in 1977 and Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’, awarded in 1978. Sometimes, Gold Medal winners even become the new standard in the industry. For example, Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata’ was awarded a Gold Medal at its introduction in 1991 as the new benchmark variety in the compact Cosmos segment. Meanwhile, the 2013 winner Lewisia cotyledon ‘Elise’ has revolutionised the market as an annual flowering requiring no vernalisation. Despite Covid restrictions in 2021, Fleuroselect tested 25 new varieties bred by its members at multiple trial locations.
Since their instigation, Fleuroselect trials have also provided a basis for members to protect their breeding achievements via a Novelty Protection arrangement. New varieties are granted Approved Novelty status when the Fleuroselect trial judges have recognised them as sufficiently new and different from existing cultivars. They must also pass the rigorous requirement for uniformity. The membership then protects these innovative cultivars from reproduction by a gentleman’s agreement among its members.
The FleuroStar Contest is held annually during the FlowerTrials® week in June in the Netherlands and Germany. The competing varieties are grown by member breeders and displayed at nine contest locations. An independent panel of more than 30 expert judges from across the industry, including fellow breeders, young plant producers, growers, distributors, retailers, marketing experts and journalists, choose the winner with the ‘wow’ effect at the point of sale. This prestigious award supports FleuroStar winners to become genuine eye-catchers in garden centres and reach millions of consumer gardens. Dianthus Diabunda Purple Picotee won the first FleuroStar Contest held in 2010. Winners from previous editions include many successful introductions such as Fragaria Toscana, Verbena Twister Red, Canna Cannova, Osteospermum Purple Sun, Petunia NightSky and Dahlia Sincerity from Syngenta Flowers. In 2021, the FleuroStar Award 2021/22 went to Begonia I’CONIA Aroma Peach from Dümmen Orange.
Representing a class of their own are the companies that earn royal recognition. In the Netherlands, bulb cooperative CNB was one of the latest companies to receive a royal warrant, a rare credit and highly regarded as a mark of quality and excellence.
Royal warrants in the Netherlands are granted to companies that have provided exceptional goods or services for at least 100 years. The title ‘Koninklijk’ is granted for a 25-year period. Over 400 royal warrants have been given to a broad cross-section of trade and industry, ranging from traditional craftspeople to global and multinational firms such as Royal FloraHolland, Royal Brinkman and Royal Van Zanten and industry bodies such as Royal Anthos. Grantees must personally ensure that the warrant is correctly used. Warrant holders may display the relevant royal coat of arms and the legend ‘Purveyor to the Royal Household’ on their products, premises, stationery, vehicles and advertising. During the reign of King Willem I (1815-1840), the distinction of Purveyor to the Royal Household was awarded only to a selected group of companies that delivered to the Royal Household. After King Willem III came to the throne (1849), the title was given a more expansive interpretation, and actual delivery to the Royal Household was no longer necessary.
Kings and queens also recognise individual achievements through the Order of Orange Nassau. Well-known industry leaders who have been appointed an Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau include the late VBN chairman and AIPH President Doeke Faber (in 2009); former FloraHolland chairman Gerrit Ravensbergen (in 2009); the late DFG boss Art van Duyn (in 2010) and Henk Salome, former director of DFG’s retail division (in 2014).
The nature of celebrity can be ephemeral of all the grandeur and prestige surrounding awards, merits and orders. Take the illustrious Csizik Award. It was named after the late Hungarian-born Andor Pal Csizik, former secretary of what once was called the Bedrijfschap voor de Groothandel in Bloemkwekerijproducten (the organisation that tracked turnover in the floriculture sector). The annual Csizik Award awarded the best stand at the Vaktentoonstelling Aalsmeer (International Flower Trade Show).
In the 20th century, the Vaktentoonstelling was the Netherlands’ premier floriculture trade show. When the event merged with greenhouse technology show NTV in 2000, it moved from Aalsmeer to Amsterdam to become known under the name Horti Fair, the world’s largest dedicated greenhouse technology and ornamental horticulture event under one roof at RAI Amsterdam. Horti Fair meant the beginning of the end for the Csizik Award. The prize that for so many years had helped to raise the profile and international brand recognition of horticultural companies survived two further years before being given a place of honour in Aalsmeer’s town hall in 2012.