What if the grower's list of criteria doesn't match the buyer's? Claim problems arise, and this usually leads to commercial breaks between producer and buyer. Andres Romero saw this scenario unfold often between South American growers and US buyers and discovered that it is a field that was not working objectively. So, in 2001, he established High Control Group, a company specialized in fresh cut flowers with a focus on preventing quality problems throughout the chain. Currently, they make inspections on small and large farms in Ecuador (approx. 1,100 ha in total) and Colombia (approx. 1,500 ha in total).
Quality - since when a hot topic?
According to Romero, quality has always been a hot topic. "Relationships in the flower industry mature and grow based on quality, trust and service. If one of these factors breaks, the commercial relationship will be in danger." But he thinks it all started when the communication between the supplier and the client became digital and grew with the help of modern technology. "As a consequence, there appeared more ways to demonstrate the lack of satisfaction with a product, so then a greater demand for quality begun."
Lack of objectivity
The lack of objectivity that he discovered among Ecuadorian growers motivated Romero to establish High Control Group. "We saw that it is a field that was not worked objectively. Each company believed they are handling the best quality according to their own criteria, which often was not the same criteria as the buyer’s. Claim problems were an everyday normal issue and usually led to commercial breaks between producer and buyer."
"So the objective of creating the High Control Group was to create objective parameters for flower quality, which are requested by the client and provided by the farm with the help of an auditor like High Control - that guarantees the compliance with those parameters." With these parameters, they aim to prevent quality problems in all processes, from growing and cutting to packaging and transportation conditions. "Actually, we are the facilitators between the client and the farm"
So, the business works in two main directions: towards flower producers and towards flower buyers. "For the producers, we have developed cost reducing and quality maintaining processes, quality systems improvements, and also evaluation and comparison of quality, our own special Farm Ranking. And for flower buyers, we developed quality controls on farms and cargo agencies, weight/volume ratio and optimization, vase life evaluation and testing of new products.
Click here to see the video that shows how High Control Group flower quality control works
Spreading the word on quality - not an easy job
They started providing their services to Ecuadorian growers and their US clients. In 2001, they established their office in Quito and started spreading the word regarding the importance of quality and objective parameters. However, this was not an easy job. "Many flower industry actors did not believe that betting on quality was the right thing to grow as a business. At the beginning, we had to explain to everyone, point by point, the role and importance of High Control Group in the flower industry. In this time we developed many control, packaging and efficiency optimization systems, as well as getting to know the world markets. We started visiting customers, started living their realities and understanding their needs. Now, lots of producers and customers have understood that investing in quality has made their business grow and maintain over time"
In Colombia, they opened several years later, in 2013, on the recommendation of several clients who needed their services in both Ecuador and Colombia. "We decided to bet on opening new offices, and in fact, our growth exceeded our expectations. We discovered that in this country there were many people willing to work in quality." Now they have offices in Bogotá and Medellin.
In the US, their service focuses mainly on quality control of the fresh cut flowers upon arrival. And providing these services in Miami, FL, is, according to Romero, a milestone point. "Considering modern transportation tendencies - many cargo providers are now consolidated there for the further distribution to the whole North American territory. Therefore, High Control Group is a very useful quality filter for all our customers in the USA."
Over the years, High Control Group has grown significantly. Currently, they make inspections on small and large farms in Ecuador (approx. 1,100 ha in total) and Colombia (approx. 1,500 ha in total). But what is the secret of their growth? Romero: "One of the important points that has helped us grow is that we are facilitators between the client and the farm, where the business’ success consists in not just refusing a damaged product, but to help the producer to come out with the characteristics that the client is looking for."
Besides that, they attach great value to legal recognition. "Nowadays there are people who offer quality controls on a very informal level. That is quite unappropriated because there is no legal responsibility of those private 'quality inspectors' facing any control problem such as presence of drugs in the dispatch, formal payment to their coworkers, taxing, etc. We had another vision; we legally constituted companies in each country where we work. So we are legally recognized and even security certified (BASC certification - Business Alliance Security Commerce), entering into all the salary and security legalities in each country, and even supporting charity foundations with part of our profits. That all makes us a real, law friendly and social responsible company."
And High Control Group is planning to continue their growth. "Now we are considering the expansion to one of the main distribution points in Europe – that is Holland, and I am very positive that soon it will become a reality!"
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High Control Group