MORE FLOWERS FOR GROCERY OUTLETS
Have you noticed how large the flower section of your favorite
grocery store has grown during the past few years? Today there are
hundreds of different plants available at reasonable prices. With
the coming explosion in biotechnology during the next decade, a
Niagara of new never-before-seen varieties will be available. Along
with new foods, this blossoming of exotic flora will equal the
explosion of consumer electronic goods we have witnessed during the
What sets the price, quality and volume of flowers available
today? It's all done in the world's largest commercial building.
Do you have any idea where that is located? New York, Tokyo, London?
How about Aalsmeer? AALSMEER? It's in Holland.
Most are aware that The Netherlands are big on flowers but this
building tells you a bit more about just how big.
First the facts: the country is the world's largest exporter of
flowers with 63 percent of the world flower trade. The Dutch per
capita buy more flowers than anyone else on earth. More than twice
as many as their next largest consumer -- Italy. An American buys
but one-sixth as much as an Italian! The Dutch also have 10,000
acres of their country under glass!
A very large percentage of all flowers exported go -- and have
for 75 years -- year-round, through the Cooperatieve Vereniging
Verenigde Bloemenveilingen Aalsmeer (VBA). This is where the term
"Dutch auction" really rules. The bank of 12 clocks in the huge
building, in effect, dictate world prices. So in many ways what
happens here determines the price of flowers at your local corner
The auction room in Aalsmeer has really gone "high tech". It had
to. Every day about 12.6 million cut-flowers and 1.3 million plants
go through the auction process in this building. The 1988 totals
were: 3.2 billion cut-flowers and 350 million plants. The dollar
turnover last year was up six times over the 1972 figures. In the six
auction rooms, 50,000 separate transactions take place. Daily. All
tied in by a direct teleVBA link to the auction. The very process
causes those involved to think differently than in the past: A. J.
Mulder, Managing Director of the VBA, says flatly "I (also)
anticipate a future in which we will spend significantly less on
architects and building contractors and more on computers and
software." Computerized only since 1987 the VBA have already seen
the future and it's moving. Fast. It will affect every grocery
outlet selling flowers.
In the enourmous warehouse rooms, which total 630,000 sq. metres,
(the whole complex is equivalent to the size of 90 football fields)
are the 64,000 wheeled metal trolleys - in one lineup they would
extend for 69 kilometres - packed with flowers and plants, which
operate much like boxcars in a railway shunting yard. They are
operated by electric winches pulled along by a series of underground
chains, roughly half packed with flowers and plants for the next
auction. Other trolleys are rented out temporarily to growers and
movers. By noon the auction building is ready to receive the products
for the following day's sales. By 4:30 pm the 40 person cleaning
gang is readying the warehouse and floor for the next day's trading.
The VBA building houses some 310 wholesalers and exporters of
plants and flowers who deal here, along with government inspection
stations, KLM Cargo, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and trucking firms,
forwarding agents, etc. Together, and with the aid of the 7,000 to
9,000 workers, buyers and others speed up the paper and physical work
of the operation so that flowers are prepared for export with minimal
movement. They also cater to the 200,000 tourists who tour the
complex each year.
The association has 4,800 members (and 1,480 staff), who run the
complex. They vote annually to elect board members, all who are
nurserymen. Top quality throughout is assured by continuous training
courses for staff and inspectors. The latter know from looking at a
rose or tulip which nursery it came from! Sales action starts at 6:30
am, five days a week, when the auction clock begins its sweep. Under
his clock the auctioneer in his "gondola" reads off the particulars
of the consignments rushing past. Buyers, when the product, price
and time is, in their opinion right, press their purchase button,
signalling their offer for that particular consignment. The buyer
better be right because, no matter what, that cargo of roses is his.
Delivery to the purchaser's loading platform occurs in 15 minutes.
The whole performance featuring those 12 million flowers, one
million plants, 9,000 workers and tonnes of equipment flows, from
apparent chaos, into a daily orchestrated ballet directed by the
VBA's logistic choreographers. Up to 50,000 transactions, involving
2,000 truckloads of product are handled each day.
This highly efficient process makes it possible, on the same
evening, for a romantic British Columbian to buy a bunch of roses
that, that very same morning, was still growing in an Aalsmeer greenhouse in The Netherlands.
World Flower Centre,
Verenigden Bloemenveilingen Aalsmeer, (VBA), B.A.,
P.O. Box 1000,
1430 A Aalsmeer, Holland.
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