“By the time a Yucca reaches the store, it’s often three to four years old. Many consumers don’t give that a second thought.” William Fransen should know, as he has been monitoring the sale of tropical houseplants at VDA Plant for years. Together with Managing Director John van den Akker, he gives us an insight into the chain.
Importing, finishing and marketing
VDA Plant started out 50 years ago as an import and export company for young plant material from Central America and, to a lesser extent, China.
From the outset, the focus was on tropical houseplants such as Areca, Cycas, Dracaena and Yucca. All of which are indispensable in a trendy interior these days.
“It was my uncle who saw the potential: tropical houseplants that you can’t grow in our climate but can finish here,” explains John van den Akker. “Later, my father came on board too. They got the company off the ground with a great deal of trial and error. In the beginning, we only imported young plant material from countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica and left the finishing to other growers. But about fifteen years ago, we started doing the finishing ourselves.”
Managing all the links
These days, VDA Plant manages the entire chain itself: from growing, importing, finishing and export to clients. And this offers numerous advantages. “You can control all the links in the chain and are no longer dependent on others,” says William. “We are quite different from other companies in this respect. This allows us to reduce costs and work more efficiently, as well as control the quantities and quality. Because we also wanted the beginning of the chain under our own management, we set up our own nursery in Costa Rica ten years ago: El Futuro.”
Costa Rica isn’t exactly next door, so how do they keep track of the production?
“Someone from VDA Plant is on site about 70% of the year. To guide the growers, to give them advice and to introduce new techniques. And also to exchange expertise. After all, they know their product inside out. When we are in Costa Rica, we also take the opportunity to visit other partner nurseries. This allows us to keep the lines short, despite the distance.”
Floréac as a Unique Business Partner
Keeping the lines short is an expression often heard during our conversation. William explains: “It’s our way of constructively and jointly looking for a solution that satisfies all parties. A win-win situation for everyone. I always say that we need to translate our Unique Selling Point into a Unique Business Partner. If you partner with us, we will look for ways to relieve you of tasks and leave you free to focus on your clients. The same applies to our collaboration with Floréac.
About 18 months ago, we started working together intensively. That pretty much coincided with the beginning of the pandemic. I think we can safely say that we have enhanced each other. You know, at some point the market prices for houseplants went sky-high really quickly, the orders were huge. We could just as well have taken our range to the auction to achieve higher profits there. But we deliberately chose not to do so. We always try to achieve long-term relationships, in both good and bad times. To continue to grow together in every respect. I’m not just talking about sales but also about sustainability, about striving to achieve a higher return for retailers. And ultimately, at the end of the chain, to strive for happy consumers.
Our collaboration with Floréac is bearing fruit. Recently, our plants have been distributed in France through the prestigious brand SILENCE, ça pousse. And we’re very proud of that.”
“I always say that we should translate our Unique Selling Point into a Unique Business Partner.” William Fransen
The plants that VDA Plant imports here originally come from a climate where the sun provides extremely high levels of energy. The start of a sustainable cultivation process that they continue to pursue in their company in the Netherlands.
“We make a great deal of effort,” explains John. “For example, we are currently conducting a study into low-peat or even peat-free potting soil. We’re also heating one of our locations using geothermal energy. 80% of the heat requirements will be covered within a year, and we are now also connecting other locations. Together with our neighbours, a pepper and tomato grower, we form an energy cluster. We use their residual heat to heat and light our greenhouses. Our pots are made of consumer waste and are 100% recyclable.”
The future is green
Today, VDA Plant is surfing along with the prevailing green trend. Green houseplants are here to stay. Both men are entirely convinced of that. “Our plants are among the top ten most air-purifying plants. A big asset for us, given that the focus on a healthy indoor climate is only increasing. Another thing that plays to our advantage: our plants are easy to maintain. This is an important factor for a young audience and is reflected in the sales figures. Especially since coronavirus. Working from home has also boosted sales. But it’s hard to really look a long way ahead. We do have high expectations for online sales, however. Floréac is an important and reliable link here.”
From South America to the Netherlands
It all starts with partner nurseries in Central America and at El Futuro, the company’s own nursery in Costa Rica. When the young plants are strong enough, they are transported to the Netherlands by container. There, they briefly go into quarantine. Once approved, they are potted on and finished in VDA Plant’s own greenhouses. This takes 8 to 35 weeks, depending on the plants. Only when they are big and strong enough, and after a strict quality check, will they be dispatched to the client.