Eastern Europeans like flowers, but as far as production is concerned, there has never been a Naivasha, Bogota or Westland in the region. Nevertheless, there are growers in every country, and they are increasing in number and size. "After yet another expansion or investment, I have often thought this or that grower would sit back and take it easy for at least the coming years. But then the following year yet more growth follows."
Arjen Vlasman at the FlowersExpo Moscow, edition 2019
We talked to Arjen Vlasman, representative of rose breeder De Ruiter in Eastern Europe. He first visited the region in 2008 and since then he has been getting on a plane every few weeks to visit his customers in Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Hungary, Romania and a dozen other countries. Or rather, he used to, because since March last year everything is different. But the fact is that in all those countries there are some serious, high-tech rose growers to be found. Russia has about twenty, Poland maybe fifteen, in Ukraine it's a handful, and everywhere else you can find at least couple of them.
The growth in the region, in terms of production but certainly also in varieties, is especially present in Russia and, remarkably, in Armenia. This country, which is small and mountainous, has one big adventage as compared to its big northern neighbor: sunshine and altitude. "It's not like Kenya or South America," Arjen explains, "but in terms of climate it's sort of in between. In addition, the country has a good business climate and the government encourages investments in horticulture. Besides, there seems to be no limit to the demand from Russia, which buys about 90% of the stems."
Higher numbers, more diversity
Arjen is convinced that production and turnover will continue to rise in the coming years. "We have an increasingly wide range, which is partly due to the increasing demand for more and more diversity. The spray roses called Bubbles are particularly popular. Misty Bubbles is a favorite and many growers have planted it. And speaking of Armenia, growers are all increasing in size and in varieties. There are only 6 or 7 of them, but where they used to be satisfied with 6 or 7 varieties, now they all want 15 or 20. And it's not just Armenia, exactly the same thing we see all over Eastern Europe. That demand translates into growth opportunities, which we at De Ruiter, thanks to our large assortment, are well positioned to seize."
"One thing to note is that these expansions also increase costs," Arjen continues. "Varieties that are sold have to be protected and that takes time and financial means. Unfortunately, there are still growers who do not follow the rules and illegally propagate plants themselves. Fortunately, these are becoming fewer and fewer each year. In recent years we have been well supported by the authorities in the countries concerned."
De Ruiter has offices all over the world, but nowhere in Eastern Europe. However, there is an office in Moscow, from where a Russian lady, Olga Aristova, helpes out with managing accounts. "That's a great solution, and even more so now, because she can still visit our customers. Moreover, she speaks the language. In the future I hope we can open our own show greenhouse somewhere in or around Moscow. That would be a godsend, who says all that pre-covid traveling will really come back? But those are just ideas, as of now in this regard nothing has been decided."
Since covid took off in March last year, the flower market in Eastern Europe has roughly gone through the same developments as here in Europe. Initially there was great panic and a lot of chaos, followed soon after by a strong recovery in demand and continuous good sales. The biggest difference, Arjen observes, is that the lack of weddings and funerals hit even harder than elsewhere. Flowers are particular important with events, and since weddings are now to take place again, sales are likely to get an extra boost.
All the more reason to go visit the FlowersExpo Moscow in September 14-16. The fair is the most important floriculture business event of Eastern Europa, and of course Arjen hopes to be able to attend.