Flowers from all over the world are being transported to the FloraHolland auction in the Netherlands. Over there, these flower boxes are being unpacked and prepared for the auction. But how does it work exactly, unpacking? We had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of a Dutch unpacking company, named Optimal Connection, at the FloraHolland auction in Aalsmeer, the Netherlands. At this location, roses from 10 Kenyan growers and summer flowers from 200 growers from Kenya, Israel and Ethiopia are being unpacked and prepared for the auction or direct sales. Jan Renting, Sales Manager at Optimal Connection gave us an inside look at their business.
Jan Renting. "Flower Optimal Connection offers solutions and unpacking services to growers from Kenya, Ethiopia and Israel for roses, summer flowers and foliage. With our sourcing managers we create deals for short and longer term. In this way we build product lines between customers all over Europe and our growers. It enables our customers to receive the flowers packed and handled according to their required specifications."
The flowers are brought to the unpacking station in Aalsmeer directly from the airport. They arrive on the airplane plateaus in boxes. Then, the boxes are being loaded on trolleys and taken to the cooling area, which has a temperature of between two and three degrees.
On the left: These boxes with flowers just arrived. On the rigth: The cooling area.
Upper left: Finger line. Upper right: Summer flower line. Pictures on the bottom: Regular line for roses.
Afterwards, the flowers are brought to the processing area. Here, the large head roses are put on the so called finger line and the smaller head roses are put on the regular processing line. At both lines, the flowers are being cut, binded and wrapped into a sleeve. In contrast to the regular line, where the flowers lay horizontally on the band, the roses at the finger line are being hung on the machine vertically. The reason for hanging them are the large heads. “If you make a bunch of large head roses and lay them down, they will fall apart, while smaller head roses stay together,” explains Renting. In total, including the summer flower lines, they have 12 lines. “The amount of work differs per day, but the absolute peak period is Valentine’s Day. Then, the machines are running for like 20 hours in a row.”
When the flowers are cut and binded, they will be sleeved. These sleeves are chosen by the grower and provided by Optimal Connection. "At home the grower can choose the material and design of the sleeves. Then, we will give their preferences to our sleeve manufacturer here in the Netherlands which will supply it directly to us." According to Renting, sleeves are very important and the decision for which sleeve to use is not always that easy for a grower. “A sleeve with large or special prints does stand out, but is at the same time often more expensive. Then the grower has to consider what price his flower will reach on the clock with this particular sleeve."
Sisters Melena and Monica.
During the entire processing, the quality of the flowers are being checked. Monica is responsible for the quality control at Optimal Connection. When the boxes are being unpacked and just before they are brought to the auction, Monica takes samples to check on quality. "I look if the flowers are not damaged or if they do not have botrytis. I also take samples and put them in the vase to check the vase life." Melena, the sister of Monica, also checks on quality just before the flowers leave the processing area. Her main task is to put the flowers nicely on the trolley. While doing this, she also looks at the quality of the flowers and calls her sister when she notices a deviation. When a grower fails on the quality check of Monica, she will send pictures of the flowers in case to the growers. Then she will, together with the growers, try to find the possible cause and a solution.
Supply to different auctions
Some final checks before the flowers leave the processing area.
After processing the flowers, they are brought to the auction. This does not necessarily have to be the auction in Aalsmeer. “We have someone who is constantly looking at the prices at different auctions in the Netherlands and one in Germany. During the day, we continuously look at the clocks from the different auctions as we supply to five different auctions in the Netherlands. If we see a high price for a particular flower at one of these auctions, we bring it over there. In this way, we can get the highest prices for our growers," says Renting. This also counts for their other unpacking stations in Eden, Rheinbergen, Aalsmeer, Naaldwijk and soon also in Germany.
On the Left, Martin, he is responsible for the planning of the deliveries and also the hours of workers. On the right Jan Renting.
Auction not for dumping flowers
According to Renting, the auction has been used as a dumping place over the last months. This is because of the fact that there has been a shift from auction supply to direct supply over the last few years. "Some growers are not even supplying the auctions anymore. Many growers, for example, started supplying directly to Russia. But now, with the low rouble rates they try to put their flowers on the auction. As a consequence, the price of the flowers will drop. Even though this means more work for us as an unpacker on the short term, on the long term no one will benefit. If growers cannot survive we cannot either. Therefore, it is important, as an unpacker to know how much the market can handle before putting everything on it.”
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