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Resilience and Positivity in the face of adversity at the AIPH Recovery from Crisis Conference

On 15th September 2020, the International Association of Horticultural Producers (AIPH) brought together an impressive line-up of expert international industry speakers to share experiences of the impact of COVID-19 on the horticultural industry and the prospective outlook for the future.

The 200 plus delegates at ‘Recovery from Crisis – the future for ornamentals’, held in a virtual format for the first time, heard about the key challenges faced by the industry over the last six months, the lessons learned, and plans for the future.

The opening session on Crisis Management was opened by keynote speaker Dr Charlie Hall from Texas A&M University, USA. He spoke about the requirement for strong leadership during this challenging period with the need to balance an empathetic approach to your workforce and customers with a rational line to protect financial performance.

Ms Carin van Huet from Rabobank looked at the challenges that lie ahead, including higher unemployment, reduced labour turnover, and lower disposable incomes. Working together to help raise the profile of the sector is key to demonstrating the value that flowers, plants, and green infrastructure bring to our lives.

The horticulture industry has demonstrated its resilience by bucking the international downturn in market consolidation. Mr Frank de Hek from Oaklins in the Netherlands outlined how April saw a substantial dip for the sector in terms of mergers and acquisitions with May matching 2019 figures and June and July exceeding 2019. A trend set to continue in the future.

Mr Josh McBain from the Foresight Factory, UK highlighted that many existing consumer trends have accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 environment. Increased use of digital platforms is one notable trend that the industry needs to capitalise on. The ‘Back to Nature’ trend is also favourable for horticulture. Research shows that in the UK, 36% of people did more gardening during lockdown with 18% saying they will continue to do more post lockdown. Significantly, this number rises to 30% for 35-44-year-olds demonstrating the opportunity ahead to engage with this new audience to keep them gardening.

In the next session, The Future for Cut Flowers, delegates heard Ms Emma Coupe from UK based retailer, Marks & Spencertalk about the importance of really knowing your customer and working to ensure that new habits in terms of buying everyday flowers more frequently are sustained. Mr Simon Ogrizek , President of Florint highlighted how those businesses that diversify their business models are most likely to survive and thrive. Innovation will also play an important role. This point was echoed by Mr Steven van Schlifgaarde, CEO Royal FloraHolland, who outlined their plans to evolve the Floriday system into a B2B platform for the worldwide horticultural market.

In Australia Craig Musson from WAFEX highlighted how the impact of the reduction in production and logistics will impact the market for the year ahead. Demand for more local and native plants grew and whilst the wedding/events sector continues to suffer they are looking forward to a bumper season in 2021. Mr Vadim Bogdanov from online wholesale business Potted showed how their sales have grown with B2B customers expecting the same digital experience at B2C customers. Ms Gao Rongmei from Kunming International Flower Auction, China explained how as well as dealing with the pandemic the industry suffered from a period of heavy snowfall as well, causing the loss of 20 million stems in the first quarter.

A panel session on creating a more resilient supply chain for flowers provided great insight into the experiences of trading through the pandemic from three continents. It appears that there were common issues caused by the pandemic in Colombia, Kenya, and Japan – most notably around freight and logistics.

Mr John Simko from Sunshine Bouquet Company/Esmeralda Group spoke about how they held their nerve throughout the pandemic, enabling them to be in a strong position when demand from the supermarkets returned. He encouraged us to highlight the importance of plants and flowers for our emotional needs, given the role they play in so many occasions throughout our lives.

The afternoon session on The Future for Ornamental Plants and Trees heard from Mr Jan-Dieter Bruns, President of the European Nurserystock Association (ENA) about how they supported their members throughout the crisis communicating regularly and sharing resources. Speaking candidly about their experience Mr Michiel de Haan from Royal Lemkes said that whilst it had been an impactful period it had also been one providing great insight for them. The key messages they are taking forward are the greater need for flexibility, the importance of genuine cooperation throughout the supply chain, and the role that sustainability will play in the future.

The ‘Creating a strong industry for the future’ panel session looked at the impacts of the pandemic across the world, despite the challenges some have found operational efficiencies in new ways of working which they will take forward in a post COVID environment. On a worldwide basis, there has been greater recognition of the positive effect of the industry on climate, health, and quality of life. The key message was ‘be ready to adapt’ to take advantage of the opportunity for growth over the next few years.

Stimulating market demand is key for the future, and the final panel session looked at various initiatives taking place including ‘Flowers for the Soul’ in Brazil, ‘Let Hope Bloom’, and ‘Feel the Distance with Beauty’ in Holland/Europe. With an increased focus on social media, marketing campaigns must continue to capitalise on increased interest. This promotion will help to sustain demand, especially amongst those that have created new habits in regularly buying plants and flowers.

Closing the conference AIPH Secretary General, Tim Briercliffe said “With the very real prospect of businesses facing disaster as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic it was reassuring to hear how many are emerging from this difficult period positively. Whilst there is a recognition that this is not the case for all, and there are challenges ahead, it is truly inspiring to see how the global horticulture industry is responding to face a bright and positive future. Innovation and best practice have come to the fore with some operational changes made resulting in lasting efficiencies for the future. With people spending more time in their gardens and green spaces during lockdown there is a new consumer group to nurture and understand to grow the future market.”

The conference videos and PowerPoint slides are available on the AIPH website:

Rachel Wakefield

Communications Executive and Associate Editor
United Kingdom