Fashionable flower trends take root

Local and international flower trends indicate that the South African flower industry has to diversify to meet ever-changing consumer demands.

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Image:Tough competition and imports from flower-producing countries in Africa are having a major impact on the local and international flower trade. South African growers can outsmart their ­competition by cultivating a keen ­awareness of changing trends in the flower ­industry. Wilma den Hartigh reports.

Photo credit: Photo: Hadeco

Local and international flower trends indicate that the South African flower industry has to diversify to meet ever-changing consumer demands. “Trends are changing faster than we can grow the flowers,” says flower exporter Rene Schoenmaker. Traditional flowers are still popular, but this market is becoming saturated. Research shows there is a growing demand for ornamental plants. Hentie Boshoff, advisor to South African Flower Export Council (Safec), says studies have revealed that indoor and outdoor ornamental plants have major market potential.

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Changing lifestyle trends
Boshoff says the so-called “cocooning lifestyle” in cities is increasing the demand for ornamental plants. Many people choose to live in smaller housing units such as clusters, townhouses and flats with smaller gardens and patios. This trend has grown the demand for plants suitable for smaller patio gardens. “Plants have become part of home decoration,” he says.
Companies are bringing more foliage into offices as it is believed that greenery improves productivity. In Germany, 98% of office blocks have greenery in offices. Plants are becoming more popular in shopping centres as consumers want plants to be part of their immediate environment. These trends are growing in South Africa and other outdoor-living countries including the US, and Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece. Boshoff says, “We are going to expand the flower industry into these areas and particularly develop indigenous plants such as proteas and strelitzias.”

Dirk de Bruyn, Safec chairperson, says indigenous and exotic pot plants are becoming very trendy as consumers see the pot plant as a living unit. “This is a unique characteristic of the pot plant that flowers don’t have,” De Bruyn says. If the plant is sold in an attractive container it makes for a good gift or decorative item for homes.Denmark is the largest producer of pot plants in the world. Europe, Japan and other wealthy northern hemisphere countries are the major markets for these plants. Holland’s intermediary office that caters for trade between growers and buyers, has noted a growth in pot plant sales. But cut flower sales still dominate at auctions. “If we can develop new plant varieties that are unique it will be a niche for us,” De Bruyn says.

Retailer and consumer demands
Stuart Barnhoorn, managing director of Hadeco, says supermarket trends show that flowers are becoming a weekly ­purchase. “This is fantastic. There is a new type of buyer who buys flowers on impulse,” ­Barnhoorn says. Market volume and ­turnover are increasing, and changes in the market indicate that the industry must start looking at how to add value to products.Ludwig Taschner from Ludwig’s Roses says the consumer will always dictate what performs well on the market. “Over the past two years Germany has added over 100ha of outdoor roses [to its production] because the consumer likes outdoor roses,” Taschner said.

According to Hanli Venter from the Pretoria Flower Auction, roses, gerberas and lisianthus are in high demand with ­retailers. Statistics show that roses are still the most popular seller at the Pretoria Market and Multiflora. “It is phenomenal the way roses are selling,” Venter says. Lisianthus, a new flower on the market, is becoming a strong competitor to the rose. “It is popular because it lasts longer than roses and has beautiful colours,” she says.
Mpumalanga rose grower Micky de la Porte says intermediate and big blooms perform the best on local ­markets. “The consumer is not keen on small roses because they don’t have a good vase life in summer.” South Africa will have to start competing with Ethiopia which is also growing bigger blooms.
Due to saturated world markets, growers will have to do more value-adding to their products, stresses De la Porte. Large production growers will have to cut out the middle man and do their own packaging and labelling. Some growers have started retailing their flowers on the farm and others now only sell 20% of their flowers on the market.

Giving consumers what they want
Growers can’t always be sure that new varieties will perform well. De la Porte says rose growers are cautious to replant. ”In the last three years the amount of new varieties entering the market was very limited. Replanting and replacing one hectare of roses with a new variety will cost a grower R1 million. The biggest killer is waiting nine to 10 months before the roses are back in full production,” he says.

Japanese consumers don’t want new varieties on their market. They prefer a range that consists of standard colours that are not too diverse. On the other hand, local consumers are not as conservative and are keen to buy newer varieties. “They are much more adventurous,” De la Porte says.The biggest challenge to the local flower industry is the emergence of less ­developed countries such as Kenya that are also ­producing flowers. “We can’t ­compete with these countries on a price basis as their minimum wages are up to five times less than ours. This is why traditional flower-producing countries are struggling,” Boshoff says. Traditional flower-producing countries can’t produce profitably any more and they are shifting their production to African production countries such as Kenya.

However, Boshoff says the local ­industry’s climate gives it an advantage over other countries. “This is a big plus for us. We export colour to Europe in December. So we will always have an advantage here,” he says. Although local growers can ­supply flowers to Europe in its off-season, ­growers should still take note of ­changing consumer demands. Across the world there is a search for traditional flowers in exotic colours. “If we could produce a white clivia or deep purple rose it would take the market by storm,” he says.The traditional flower market is very ­fashion conscious. According to flower exporter Schoenmaker, colour preferences in flowers are usually dictated by fashion trends. Although there are constant changes in consumers demands, growers must continue planting flowers that are well suited to their farming conditions. They should plant good quality, high-yielding varieties that can be cultivated at a reasonable cost. |fw