NL: Preventing waste by recycling flower bulbs

The Netherlands is a market leader in plants and flowers worldwide (trading 77% of all flower bulbs), but have you ever thought about the bulbs that are being wasted along the way? Imagine as much as 14 times the Keukenhof tossed aside! Startup Bloemenstorm sought to discover a use for this waste and found opportunity in outdoor flower box subscriptions—their concept offers businesses and clients year-round flowers that bloom colourfully from once-lonely bulbs. Let It Grow caught up with Breezand-born founders Frank and Sophie Berbée to hear all about their sustainable mission.

photo: Abel Minnée

Let’s talk about flowers in the Netherlands. Where are you from and what are your backgrounds with flowers?
Sophie: We both grew up in Breezand, a small town in the north of the Netherlands. Breezand is a national hotspot for flower bulb growing, almost everyone living there has been working with or knows people working with flower bulbs. Franks’ dad was a grower, as a kid he helped on the farm. I grew up next door to the flower export company where my father worked, I also spend many hours during the holidays working there. When we started a business it made sense that it had to do something with flower bulbs.

What’s the story of how you both met and fell in love?
Frank: Haha that’s a good question. I guess the magic started with a pair of ripped pants. I somehow managed to rip my pants in the local pub and Sophie just couldn’t stop laughing. I guess I did look funny standing against the wall trying not to show my butt to everyone. Later we started dating and within four months Sophie moved in with me and she never left. We are now almost nine years together and this summer our first baby boy Riff was born. We feel like the luckiest people in the world with this little man.

Tell us about the Bloemenstorm mission.
Sophie: We want to bring more flowers into the streets and reduce as much flower bulb waste as possible while doing so. We feel that when a tourist visits the Netherlands they should see flowers everywhere. We are the number one flower bulb country, it’s something you should be able to notice when you visit a city like Amsterdam. By making use of leftover bulbs we think we have found the perfect way to make that happen.

photo: Abel Minnée

What's the reason that so many bulbs are being wasted and when did you first discover the problem?
Frank: The problem was just there in front of us, the reason there’s so many bulbs leftover is because it’s very hard for growers to predict how many bulbs they will harvest and the demand for various species is always changing. We noticed how many bulbs were being thrown away every year and we just felt we had to do something. The success of food waste fighters Kromkommer inspired us to go for it. The problem was that we had to find a new way to use the flower bulbs, giving them away for free would not solve the problem but only negatively influence the price of flower bulbs. So we found a new b2b market for the bulbs.

How many flower bulbs are you recycling per year?
Frank: Not enough. We can only plant a few kilograms in our boxes. Research shows that 2.4 million kg of flower bulbs are being wasted every year. We want everyone to join the fight. Therefore we’ve made our flower boxes as big as possible and we’re trying to keep the price of our product low so we can reach as many businesses as possible. We want to make as big an impact as possible and we are saving more and more flowers with every single box we sell. For just a few euros per month, we bring a ‘flower explosion’ to your front door and save a few extra kilo.

What is the working processes and what are your individual roles?
Sophie: We work with local growers. We have many growers in our family and we know all the growers we work with personally. At the end of each season we contact them to hear which bulbs they are going to compost – then we collect all the bulbs we can use. We do all the planting ourselves on the old farm of Frank’s family, this is because the way the bulbs are planted is a very important part of our product. When the planting is done, the box stays on the farm for a few months so the bulbs can grow. By the time the flowers are ready to bloom we ship the boxes to our clients who already have flower boxes. Then the process repeats itself. Frank has the lead in sales and projects and I’m in charge of finance and general operations.

What do you hope to achieve over the next five months?
Frank: We want to bring our company to the next level. We already have several satisfied clients but we want to reach a bigger crowd. We’ve already had some sessions with Let it Grow and they’ve all been very informative – what we like the best is the cooperation with the other teams. Everyone is really supportive and we’re really learning from each other. The incubator is really something unique and we are thrilled to be part of this year’s class.

Source: Let It Grow (Kelsey Lee Jones)

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