Netherlands: Pent-up demand, strong prices, vibrant colours, cool varieties, potential hot sellers and excitingly new marketing concepts. These superlatives sum up the mood at the 2021 Orchid Inspiration Days (8-11 June and 14-17 June 2021), the annual open house event of the Dutch orchid industry. (This feature appears in FloraCulture International, July-August 2021, compiled by Ron van der Ploeg and Lauren Yu.)
Over eight days, eleven orchid growers collaboratively opened their doors to customers to share their latest product developments and company news. One big cluster of participants resides in South Holland with five in the Westland, just west of Rotterdam, two in Aalsmeer, one in Delfgauw, south of Delft, and one in Nieuwaal in the province of Gelderland, all within a 90-minute driving distance from each other.
The Orchid Inspiration Days made their debut in June 2017 and are swiftly establishing themselves as Europe’s premier vehicle for launching new orchids varieties and marketing initiatives.
Our first stop was OK Plant, run by second-generation husband and wife team Rob and Desiree Oltshoorn. Situated over two sites in Westland – with Naaldwijk being the epicentre of finished plant production and Maasdijk serving as young plant hub – OK Plant grows around 120,000 plants per week on a combined 8ha greenhouse space.
Sales manager Thijs van der Valk attributes 90 per cent of their turnover to potted phalaenopsis and the remainder 10 per cent to seasonal bedding plants, green foliage plants and ceramic indoor plant pots and décor.
Commenting on the state of the trade, he says sales across all product categories have never been as good. In succulents and green foliage plants, Rhipsalis and Schefflera ‘Luseanna’ in 6cm and 9cm pots are riding the wave of popularity. In contrast, mini phalaenopsis in 9cm pots continue to be their flagship product.
The news from OK Plant is the launch of their lifestyle brand Kolibri Company under which three iconic consumer brands, Kolibri Orchids, Kolibri Greens and Kolibri Home, are coming together. Kolibri Company is about inviting customers to enjoy life to the fullest by feeling the energetic vibes of houseplants which make people feel one with nature, explains Van der Valk.
Effective January 2022, the Kolibri Orchids brand will include potted phalaenopsis in 12 cm pots, which is the most common pot size used by Dutch growers. “While it is true that we have become a household name in mini phalaenopsis orchids, we believe that by adding the popular 12cm pot size to our portfolio will help us to make even better Mix&Match displays in garden centres by using a greater variety of orchids and pots. We think it is important to have combined displays of plants and pots to give people ideas about what they can do with orchids. A good plant/pot presentation can generate upt to 50 per cent more sales in garden centres if it is continuously kept tidy, ordered and well-stocked,” says Van der Valk. He adds that at the time, the Mix&Match idea was born out of a gap in the market with hardly any ceramic plant pots available for their 9cm mini phalaenopsis.
Market research by product manager potted orchids, Cor Middelkoop- affectionally nicknamed ‘Corchidee’ of Royal FloraHolland, the world’s largest trade hub for orchids, reveals that in 2017, potted orchids had a 35.4 per cent market share in the auction’s houseplant segment. However, it dropped to a 26 per cent share in 2020. More specifically, potted phalaenopsis have an 88.9 per cent market share in the auction’s overall potted orchid sales.
For 2020, Royal FloraHolland reports €445 million (-6.2 per cent) in overall potted orchid sales (120 million pieces which equal an 11 per cent decrease from 2019). There are probably two reasons for this.
Already pre-Covid, orchids production in Europe had reached saturation point as it faced increasingly fierce competition from green foliage plants. The revival of these plants is part of a broader trend of humans wanting to be closer to nature. Secondly, the coronavirus pandemic orchid shook the European orchid market from the onset, with auction clocks in free fall and a significant amount of orchids composting. Between week 12 to week 17 in 2020, national governments in Europe ordered garden centres, florists, week markets and street stalls to close, bringing orchid sales on the old continent almost to a complete standstill.
Royal FloraHolland calculated that in 2020 between four and five million pieces of potted phalaenopsis ‘went missing’ in the market: either they ended up in de landfill or had their spikes cut back to delay their harvest 30 weeks.
Ironically, Covid-19 changed the way consumers value and interact with houseplants in their lives, with many of them taking an interest in home decoration and style. This trend explains why the rebound in the Dutch orchid industry was fast. Halfway through April 2020, when the first garden centres and florists in Europe started to reopen, prices across all orchid categories began to soar. Eventually, Royal FloraHolland’s average price for a single potted phalaenopsis in 2020 spiked to €3,65, increasing six per cent from 2019.
This price hike went hand in hand with a dramatic drop in supply volumes with 7.5 million fewer orchids changing hands through the Dutch auction clock in 2020, a 30 per cent decrease over 2019. Simultaneously, the clock price for potted orchids increased by 17.5 per cent with the availability of plants being difficult. Pot size 15cm showed the most dramatic decline in output, while in 9cm pots, production levels remained relatively stable.
Judging from the many new cultivars and marketing ideas on display at the Orchid Inspiration Days, the global health crises prompted an outpouring of creativity. OK Plant, for example, put ‘Dubrovnik’ from Dutch breeder Anthura in the limelight. The cultivar from the company’s Jewel collection has a golden background with orange stripes and a red lip. Another jewel in the crown is Phalaenopsis ‘Spider’ available in three colours and featuring remarkable star-shaped deeply incised flowers with pink spots against a creamy background.
Also debuting at the Dutch orchid open house was Kolibri Orchids Root, featuring bare-rooted phalaenopsis in white, violet, pink, yellow, and orange, which grow in water alone. The flowers sit in a 16cm vase with only a minimal amount of roots in the water. Van der Valk ensures that for this concept only those cultivars with sufficient spikes and trunky roots have been selected to guarantee a shelf life that equals bark-grown orchids. Other highlights of the OK Plant show included Angelfall, in which flowers cascade down, and Halo, in which patient workers train three stems along an iron wire in a circle so that it ultimately takes the shape of a neat and round bouquet.
At Ter Laak Orchids, crowned AIPH International Grower of the Year in 2018, hi-tech and clever marketing go hand in hand. Second-generation brothers Eduard and Richard ter Laak has been growing orchids for more than 40 years. Eduard recalls how their father founded the company in 1954 as a specialist grower of vegetables and potted plants. As a grower, Ter Laak senior always kept moving forward and doing new things, so in the 1980s, he decided to try his luck in cut cymbidium. “When he started to propagate his plants by division, he used the surplus of plants in a potted cymbidium trial. Subsequently, he purchased the inventory of a Danish greenhouse with Paphiopedilum Leeanum, to grow them as a cut flower and potted plant,” says Eduard.
Bitten by the orchid bug, Ter Laak introduced the first phalaenopsis in their greenhouses not much later. Ter Laak says, “We purchased our first clones from Floricultura and Arndt, the company which Anthura acquired a few years later. Subsequently we teamed up with fellow orchid growers to conduct trials exposing plants to cooler temperatures to induce the flowering process.”
In this context it is important to remember technological progress in ornamental horticulture hardly ever happens in a vacuum—growers are all in together. Revealing the secrets of cooler temperatures in potted phalaenopsis marked a real breakthrough, plus the beginning of year-round production.
In technology, the company’s pride is the five-hectare glasshouse structure in Wateringen, also known as the DaglichtKas” (Daylight Greenhouse) and completed by Dutch builder Technokas in 2018. The greenhouse has an ingenious system that captures sunlight and transforms it into hot water.
In 2018, Chris Beytes from GrowerTalks described it as follows. “Double glazed glass panes are fitted with Fresnel lenses that focus the sunlight onto steel pipes suspended under the glass that have water pumping trough them. The water pipes are suspended by cables in a way that allows them to be adjusted via computer throughout the day as the sun moves, keeping them in the focus area of the Fresnel lenses. The Fresnel panes are only on the south side of the bays; the north side has double-glazed diffused glass. The north also has the only roof vents. The resulting hot (around 100F/38°C) water is stored for later use in massive tanks and even in the aquifer several hundred feet below the greenhouse. Cool water can be stored the same way, giving Ter Laak an almost unlimited supply of hot and cold water for winter heating and summer cooling.”
Eduard does not regret for a single moment that the company opted for the heat-from-sunlight system. He says, it effectively converts the sun’s energy into hot water that the Daylight Greenhouse, even with no shade paint or shade curtains, is several degrees cooler than their standard greenhouse, which has shade.
Ter Laak Orchids heralded 2021 with a bang, announcing their departure from Decorum, the growers’ alliance of which they were a member since 2002. Their decision to withdraw left Decorum with a 6.5 million premium phalaenopsis gap, which Ter Laak yearly marketed under the Decorum brand.
Eduard ter Laak recalls how by the end of 2017 the market struggled with oversupply, mainly in white; with a 30 per cent market share the dominating colour in potted phalaenopsis.
“Due to the global rise to prominence of green foliage plants, potted phalaenopsis is facing a strong competitor. Fortunately, there is now a better balance between supply and demand and prices have been good since Europe started to reopen in May 2020. However, the orchid market continues to be crowded and therefore we feel an-ever increasing need to differentiate ourselves with branding and premium quality, and to maintain exclusivity.”
Ter Laak does not say it out loud, but maybe over the past few years the potted phalaenopsis has too quickly gone too ‘mass’, with lower-priced products, entry-level plants threatening the moth orchid’s image of exclusivity.
The company has launched a new global lifestyle brand in orchids called Mimemis (greek for reflection) to turn the tide. Eduard ter Laak explains that the in-house brand will have five premium product lines launching initially: Mimesis Originals (tried-and-tested orchids), Mimesis Marvellous (two 4-5-spike plants combined to produce an abundance of flowers), Muse (arty and trained phalaenopsis that seem to swirl around gently), Mimesis No7 with an hommage to one of the world’s famous perfume makers and includes a group of fragrant orchids, and Mimemis Spirit, including a range of relatively short-stemmed phalaenopsis with huge flowers.
Occupying pride of place within the Mimesis brand are Ter Laak’s wholly-owned and bred line of exclusive phalaenopsis (propagated by Hark in Germany) with ‘Donau’, ‘Lempa’, ‘Rhône’, ‘Magdalena’, and ‘Ural’ already enjoying recognition in the market.
For Ter Laak, exclusivity can only realistically be obtained by selling a limited quantity of plants to a smaller audience, that is, the high-end garden retailer and florist. Ter Laak grows between eight-nine million potted phalaenopsis per year in 17.5ha of hi-tech greenhouse space and aims at selling seven million under their new Mimesis brand. Eduard ter Laak does not exclude the brand will welcome other potted plant growers in the future.
The company grows most of its phalaenopsis in 9 and 12 cm pots, but the aim is to become the one-stop shop for potted phalaenopsis, so 6 and 17cm pots can also be found in the company’s portfolio.
Our third stop was the 6.2 ha potted phalaenopsis nursery Stolk Flora in Bleiswijk, owned and run by second-generation grower Jan Stolk. The sales and marketing manager Manon Greeve invited us to take a look at their mini orchid trolley fair.
But not before she has extensively explained that sustainability is in the company’s owner DNA. He wants Stolk Flora to be an environmentally friendly orchid business to the core. Four MPS certificates plus Florimark Production are proof that Stolk Flora’s green credentials are third-party-verified. Plus, the MPS Product Proof certification scheme provides the grower with a calculation tool to develop comprehensive and reliable inventories of possible (systemic) pesticides on their plants.
An accurate assessment of substances helps the company demonstrate to their customers – supermarket chains, florists and wholesalers – the absence of specific active ingredients used in crop protection products and that all present substances are safe.
A giant poster stuck to the walls of the processing area explains the bigger story behind the nursery’s Your Natural Orchid tagline.
Growing potted phalaenopsis with respect for the planet means an optimum blend of beneficial moulds, bacteria and vitamins replacing chemicals in daily practice. Stolk Flora has also partnered with biocontrols supplier Koppert which provides swirski-mites, crypto bugs, and macro bugs to control spider mites, mealybugs and pot worms biologically.
Greeve notes that the company has taken a big step forward in the upgrade of its portfolio. “Only three years ago, most of our business boiled down to 2-spike plants in a 12cm pot and with a 65cm height. Since we have hugely expanded our product range. Take Manta More, a marketing concept featuring the next generation of orchid, that is, an orchid whose blooms resemble one of the most graceful fish in our seas: Manta rays. The Manta More orchid stands out for its larger lip, more open and flatter blooms. Levoplant, Anthura and Ter Laak form the creative team behind this orchid breeding breakthrough for which Stolk Flora has been granted exclusivity. Manta
More debuted in the tumultuous spring of 2020 with some hesitating sales at the beginning which quickly rebounded. We explain to our customers that Manta More will help them to drive their orchid sales. Manta More orchids as such should be able to yield an additional 20 cent price for us,” says Greeve.
Another unusual offering in phalaenopsis is Stolk Flora’s Arc (de Triomphe). The 2-spike plant’s unstaked and budded stems (ideally the bud is the size of a marble) are trained along a curved wire with the stem attached with twist ties every few centimetres. Greeve notes the technique is time-consuming and requires a six-week lead time and therefore command a premium price.
This process also applies to hand-trained Angel orchids in which stems are trained in a circular shape to resemble a colourful and round orchid bouquet featuring xl blooms in all colours of the rainbow. On a coffee table, Angel, only standing 30cm tall, is a real eye-catcher. Moreover, it comes in a trendy plant pot: white and smooth or hued with subtle decoration.
Stolk Flora endeavours to use biodegradable packaging wherever possible, using paper and paper fibre trays instead of cellophane and poly ribbon to wrap their plants.
The Orchidaceae family comprises around 750 genera, almost 20,000 species and many thousands of more hybrids. With the 88.9 market share phalaenopsis is having at the Dutch auction, one would nearly forget that in potted orchids something different exists. A stop at Nootdorp-based Inca Orchids helps to put things into better perspective.
The company, run by second-generation husband and wife team André and Carolien van der Goes (the latter previously worked for Dümmen Orange and currently works for Syngenta Flowers), grows cambria, miltonia, brassia, oncidium, zygopetalum, miltoniopsis, colmanara, burrageara, bratonia and beallara.
Speciality orchids – also known as niche type or orchids miscellaneous- are far from playing a subservient role. At Royal FloraHolland this group of orchids represented €45 million in sales (-11 per cent) and 11 million traded plants (-10.7 per cent) in 2020. Lower supply volumes in 2020 led to an average price of 4.27 euro, up 0.5 per cent from 2019.
Orchid miscellaneous has a ten per cent share in overall potted orchid sales, which means that out of ten potted orchids, nine are phalaenopsis, and one is a speciality orchid. Playing a prominent role at Inca Orchids’ Open House was Bouquesh, an orchid mix in a 17cm pot (with the allure of an orchid bouquet) combining the bold, bright colours of Oncidium, Zygopetalum, and several types of Cambria.
Another show stopper included Odontoglossum ‘Rennaissance White’ featuring xl blooms in creamy white with dark red markings. Zygopetalum Impasto Blue’s primary flower shades are purple and blue, which is a highly sought-after colour in orchids.
The lavishly flowering Grand Sapa is a lavishly flowering cambria in a 17cm pot, also known as the King of the Andes, and makes the ideal indoor and outdoor orchid.
Situated across two locations in Nootdorp, Van der Goes was previously a bell pepper grower, who was not always happy with the mass market aspect of the Dutch vegetable business.
That’s why in 2007, he started growing the more rare orchids, which can be both an exciting but also a very challenging job. Speciality orchids are much more difficult to ‘tame’ in a pot and represent a world on their own.
Inca Orchids dislikes being constantly compared to phalaenopsis growers as their product is an entirely different range of orchids.
Inca Orchids’ main products are in 9cm and 12cm pots; France is the biggest market for the company. The country accounts for 40 per cent of its sales. Inca Orchids also has a line of scented orchids. When asked about the shelf life of fragrant orchids compared to non-fragrant ones, sales managers Luiza Gawrysiak and René Tas said they did not observe much difference. On average, all their products have around 12 weeks of shelf life depending on the variety.
Contrary to what is seen in phalaenopsis production, Inca Orchids does not boast state-of-the-art techniques as most of their varieties are not grown year-round with the usual exceptions to the rule. Although it is a challenge to supply what customers desire, the solution is an orchid mix. The mix is being carefully selected to meet the aesthetic value and quality standard.
René shows FCI how Inca Orchids comply with sustainable production. They use pots made from consumer-recycled plastic, resulting in 40 per cent less plastic use. Pest control is biological and the orchid nursery uses 100 per cent water recycled water.
The business was severely hit when the Coronavirus pandemic started on week 12, leaving four weeks with no sales. The company’s sales picked up two weeks later than phalaenopsis, which is still one of the most familiar plants to consumers. When asked about what variety Luiza loves most, she said it varies day per day because you never know what will flower next.
Hoog Orchids grows around two million potted dendrobium nobilé per year on a combined greenhouse space of 5ha. In placing these figures into context, it is helpful to know that the Netherlands hosts three dendrobium nobilé growers. These include De Hoog Orchids, Bos Flowers&Orchids, and Wooning Orchids. The latter is to suspend their dendrobium production now that the new owner, Green’05, has decided to focus on potted phalaenopsis only.
De Hoog Orchids and Bos Flowers&Orchids combined growth output is approximately three million dendrobium nobilé plants per year on 7.5ha of greenhouse space. De Hoog Orchids maintains the distinction of being the Dutch dendrobium nobilé industry’s largest supplier.
Royal FloraHolland figures provide even more context: in speciality orchids, the auction reported €45 million in sales (-11 per cent) and 11 million traded plants (-10.7 per cent) in 2020. In the auction’s potted orchid miscellaneous range, dendrobium nobilé has the largest market share (30 per cent).
The De Hoogs have deep roots in horticulture which go back to 1928 when the great-grandpa of today’s owners Marco and Arjan de Hoog started to grow roses, carnations, freesias, and much later also strelitzias, and cut cymbidium.
From 1990 onwards, the company is a specialist supplier of a diverse range of potted dendrobium nobilé. Miniature dendrobium, for example, comes in a 9cm pot, more standardised plants in 12cm pot. In comparison, a Dendrobium Nobile ‘mini garden’ combines three lavishly flowering plants in a 21 cm pot, a hot seller among high-end florists in Italy and France.
De Hoog Orchids is keen to stay at the forefront of business innovation with Appolon Bow, including stem-trained plants into graceful arches.
Currently, De Hoog Orchids’ portfolio comprises tried-and-tested Appolon (white), Akatsuki (purple), Bright Eye (pink with the bright centre), Kumiko (soft pink with a subtle creamy centre), and ‘Sunny Eye’ (pearly white flowers with pink edges and dark centre).
The news from De Hoog Orchids is the arrival of a new golden-yellow cultivar. Welcome to Songbird as the substitute of Sunny Bird Shine Day which has not always proved reliable in cultivation and blooming.
Apart from sourcing their tissue culture young plants directly from their trusted partner Floricultura, Arjan and his father Nico also carry out several dozens of crossings per year. Their latest breeding breakthrough – still under number- is a perfectly shaped and abundantly flowering cultivar, that in the long run, will replace the purple Akatsuki. In addition, the De Hoog brothers frequently visit and liaise with breeders around the world and travel to Chinese Tapei and Hawai to bring new blood into their gene pool.
During one of these business meetings, they came across one of the most fragrant orchids: rhynchotylis gigantea (foxtail orchid). The specimen orchid has between 15 to 50 blooms on each flower spike, and its fragrance is powerful and flowery.
The holy grail in dendrobium nobilé continues to be a bold orange cultivar. In its natural habit in Southeast Asia, there are several orange specimens, but none of them is suited to be tamed under greenhouse circumstances. An important lesson to learn: always be wary of blue dendrobiums: orchids do not naturally produce true-blue flowers. So, when you come across blue dendrobiums they are dyed blue. De Hoog Orchids is not a massive fan of them.
De Hoog Orchids has a sustainable marketing message. There are 5,000 solar panels mounted on the roofs of the company’s packing sheds, the LED lighting used in their three-tier cool chamber (used to establish flower buds) and their heat pump that generates both warm and cold water to heat and cool the greenhouse.
Over the years, the company has become a household name for strong and healthy dendrobium nobilé but company prestige can come with many unanticipated challenges.
The fight against dreaded pests such as thrips and spider mites is not easy due to diminishing chemical options. Thrips rank without any doubt among the pest most difficult to eradicate with biocontrols as Transeius montdorensis, Orius and Amblyseius swirskii not always giving the best value for money as after administering them to the crop they are not always easy to trace. Phytoseilus persimilis, in turn, prove more efficient to control spider mites.
Cultivating dendrobium nobilé is not for the faint-hearted. Crop times are longer than in phalaenopsis, while lighting, cooling and relative humidity require full attention. That’s why De Hoog Orchids is not happy with how the garden retailers display their high-end products. More than often, they see that the glossy, linear leaves and the distinctive tropical blooms of dendrobium remain hidden behind plastic when garden centres do not take the effort to unpack plants. Also, the De Hoog family thinks there is a world to win on the retail floor with the right pot and plant mix.
In comparison with phalaenopsis, the plant’s higher pricing may also be an issue. But the good news for the company is that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a price hike in phalaenopsis, while dendrobium prices remained more or less stable, bridging the price gap between both types of orchids.
Over the past 15 years, new greenhouse space and land purchases have provided the resources to grow and invest in modern technology and marketing. Five years ago, the company launched its premium brand Florallure including the cream of the dendrobium crop with a minimum of twenty clusters of blooms per plant, a minimum 50cm stem height and lush green foliage opposite each cluster. Between 20 to 30 per cent of plants currently sell under Florallure.