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VGB in strategic gear

Not so long ago, the Flower and Plant Wholesale Association (VGB) was 'reduced to its foundations.' This year, however, carries the promise of a new dynamic period. That raises questions which Walter Landesbergen, working as an independent communications specialist at the VGB, among others, puts to board chairman Cees van der Meij and managing director Matthijs Mesken below.

Cees van der Meij and Matthijs Mesken

Why this strategic acceleration?
Matthijs Mesken: "It was time for a recalibration. Six years ago, we started rebuilding VGB. 2023 is the year to determine whether we are on the right track and whether we should expand our activities. This has culminated in our Strategic Plan 2023-2025. In it, we indicate that we will continue to do what we were doing, supplemented with new activities, because the challenges for floriculture are great."

Cees van der Meij: "Look at the world around you, global, local, everywhere you see the same phenomenon: fragmentation, far-reaching individualization. Laws and regulations and the high degree of prosperity have given us the feeling that we no longer need each other at the expense of the collective. Those who look more sharply also see the need for connection and a sense of community. This applies to people and businesses alike. 'Alone you go faster' is true, especially in times of prosperity. But 'together you get further' is also true. Especially when conditions get tougher, it is effective to make a fist together. In our sector, such a united fist is needed now when you see the challenges we face."

Which challenges are there?
Matthijs Mesken: "The biggest challenges the VGB has identified with six policy themes: sustainability; labor; public affairs & promotion; market access; standardization & logistics and data & digital. For each theme, we face serious challenges. To make it concrete with examples: fulfilling the obligations attached to the Greendeal; striving for continuity in the recruitment of skilled workers; maintaining the preferred position of flowers and plants among consumers, Brexit, optimal logistics, cybersecurity... all complex issues that affect the sector as a whole and that you have to tackle centrally. And the list of issues is even longer.

On all these non-competitive policy topics, you need a powerful neutral voice representing the sector at a higher level: the VGB.

For the VGB to make a difference to offer added value to its members, we need to accelerate on the aforementioned policy issues. This requires scaling up the organization, with specialists on the chosen policy themes."

What is new about this insight, surely you can expect this from a trade association?
Cees van der Meij: "The 'old' VGB was more pragmatic and operationally oriented, think about achieving procurement benefits. It was about tangible things with a direct individual benefit. The current VGB operates more on a strategic level. At a higher level, the VGB can play a more valuable role when it comes to advocacy and strengthening the market position of its members. For members, this is somewhat more abstract and perhaps less visible. It is, therefore up to the organization to show the value of our collective, for example, by concluding a good collective labor agreement, taking the initiative in sustainability so that we maintain our license to operate in a practicable way, keeping a finger on the pulse from a phytosanitary point of view; ensuring that promotional funds are well spent. All issues where there are sectoral benefits to be gained."

What is distinctive about the new VGB?
Matthijs Mesken: "The VGB organization is mainly facilitative and expert on the chosen policy themes. The VGB has good ears, a keen working antenna, is a convincing carrier of the common message, and a reliable partner."

Cees van der Meij: "But it is the members who always remain in the lead and are at the forefront when the credits are awarded. On the other hand, we stick to the democratic principle that the right to speak is exercised in our members' meeting."

Will there be a figurehead?
Cees van der Meij: "We are not choosing a nationally prominent or former politician at the moment. But this is not a policy. While figureheads enjoy fame, they do not always have adequate knowledge of the sector. At the moment, we do not prefer such an old-fashioned influencer. For now, we think we can serve our interests well on our own."

How do you unite big and small?
Matthijs Mesken: "The diversity of companies is a tricky one for any collective. Big, small, and everything in between has its own truth and its own interests. The trick within the collective is to allow each to have its own truth. For the VGB organization, this means, among other things, being very clear about the various interests. Being clear in what we do and what we don't do. For example, what we no longer do is negotiate buying rates at auction. What we do do is focus on issues of common interest. It is clear that large members make the biggest contributions to the VGB organization. Literally in money and certainly also in labor and commitment. Take, for example the Accelerators within the VGB, which is a group of large companies that play a pioneering role on, for example, the topic of sustainability. Large companies are more likely to feel the legally enforced urgency of sustainability. But all members benefit from the results achieved by the Accelerators and the products made under their auspices. Accelerators are driving forces that pull the entire sector along.
Of course, companies balance their own interests and the common good. However, self-interest is a prerequisite for commitment to the VGB. For every member, there must be something to gain from the VGB. But we will also have to tell our supporters that sector interest is a form of self-interest."

Strategic plan 2013-2025. For an enterprising and decisive branch organization.

What has the VGB already achieved?
Matthijs Mesken: "In our sector, we are the dominant player, with an 80% market share. The VGB is the Founding Father of FSI and a founding member of EPT. We currently have the lead when it comes to creating a sectoral sustainability dashboard and are active on perhaps the most essential topic: market access, think Brexit, and phytosanitary issues. The most recent achievement is the new collective agreement reached this month - September 22 this year."

Cees van der Meij: "Given all the international developments related to overpopulation, food security, environment & climate, et cetera, it would even be desirable to be part of a large agriculture and horticulture collective. Our joint contribution to the world cannot be underestimated. The Netherlands possesses the best agricultural university in the world, and our companies are considered the absolute best, be it chickens or chrysanthemums."

Matthijs Mesken: "If you look at the contributions of floriculture to our national product and employment, you can also think of a collective that falls under Economic Affairs."

Cees van de Meij: "Agreed. 61% of companies in the Netherlands are family businesses. All those family businesses together account for 30% of our gross domestic product. In some sectors, the contribution is even more than 60%. 90% are privately owned, enjoy no tax benefits, are highly innovative, and are also the largest employer in the Netherlands. That is an inestimable achievement. In floriculture, the family business is almost the standard. Apart from our products, we can be proud of that and continue to fight for our business. We do the latter by representing our interests to the best of our ability, up to the highest level, so that we maintain our leading position in the decades to come. That is the mission of the VGB. The payoff of our strategic plan is not for nothing: 'With ambition towards the future.'"

Text & photo: Walter Landesbergen

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