Flowering the World

Friday 13 July – Southern tour

To get acquainted with Dutch floriculture, we paid a visit to its epicenter: flower auction Royal FloraHolland in Aalsmeer. The international marketplace where more than 50 million flowers and plants are traded every day is unique in the world. Just like the tulip, the Dutch icon. What should growers and exporters of this product do to meet the growing demand for a sustainable product? The same applies to a link earlier in the chain, breeding, what are the spearheads for a future-proof sector?

Royal FloraHolland

Royal FloraHolland, legally Koninklijke Coöperatieve Bloemenveiling Royal FloraHolland U.A., is a Dutch conglomerate of florists. It is one of the largest auction companies in the world. Royal FloraHolland is headquartered in Aalsmeer, with locations in Naaldwijk, Rijnsburg and Eelde. Today, we visited the biggest location in Aalsmeer.

FloraHolland is a non-profit organization that is the result of a merger between FloraHolland and Aalsmeer Flower Auction in 2007.  The organization was founded in 1911. Growers came together to the same place to sell their products. Together, they were stronger in the face of traders and could get a better price for their plants and flowers.

Aalsmeer is the oldest of the FloraHolland locations. In response to the increased power of brokering, flower growers in Aalsmeer joined forces. In the very beginning the auction took place in a café. One of the other locations, Rijnsburg, started in 1914. Seventeen growers started this business, auctioned in the local pub. It became a real auction building in 1917. Bulb flowers, and especially tulips and lilies, were the main products. Other flowers were auctioned from about 1927, but these days, bulb flowers are still very important in Rijnsburg, which is based nearby the oldest flower bulb production area called the Duin- en Bloembollenstreek.

Logistic centre
Today, Royal FloraHolland is a showcase for Dutch expertise in logistics. More than 12 billion plants and flowers change hands each year at the four marketplaces throughout the country.

The largest of the markets is Aalsmeer nearby Schipol Airport and Amsterdam. Here hundreds of mini-trucks hauling wagons full of plants and flowers in an area the size of 200 soccer fields. Fresh flowers arrive daily, usually overnight, for the flower auction five days a week, which starts at 6 am and ends around 10 am. Elsewhere in the building, customers are bidding against the clock on the millions of plants and flowers being sold each day.

International trade in plants and flowers is growing. This trend will continue for the coming years, thanks in part to the digitisation and virtualisation of the horticultural world. Digitisation makes it possible for Royal FloraHolland’s customers to buy flowers and plants at a distance. Good photos of the products are becoming more and more important.

One of the latest platforms Royal FloraHolland has launched is Floriday. This independent, digital platform brings together the growers’ flower and plant supply. It helps growers to arrange their commercial processes more efficiently. Buyers work in their familiar sales systems, which are linked to Floriday. Through these channels, buyers have access to the broadest and deepest assortment of flowers and plants in the world. That makes Floriday the ideal hub for connecting existing and new channels.

Facts and Figures Royal FloraHolland (2017)

  • Annual turnover: €4.7 billion
  • Direct sales: €2.6 billion (+5.1%)
  • Clock sales: €2.1 billion (-3.5%)
  • Employees: 2.628 (2.102 fte)
  • Plant and flower sales: 12 billion items
  • Members: 3,539 of which 602 are based abroad
  • No member companies: 1,556
  • Customers: 2,468
  • Auction clocks: 35

Top-10 Flowers

  1. Rose
  2. Chrysanthemum (bunch)
  3. Tulip
  4. Lily
  5. Gerbera
  6. Eustoma
  7. Chrysanthemum (single)
  8. Peonie
  9. Freesia
  10. Hydrangea

W.A.M. Pennings

W.A.M. Pennings is one of the biggest bulb growers of the Bollenstreek and grows crops on 160 hectares of land. The company is known for its big assortment – including Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Alliums, Lillies, Dahlias, Cannas and some other flower bulbs – and its efforts to work sustainably and protect the environment.

In 1951, Sir W.A.M. Pennings started the company on his own when he was aged 17. He focused on growing a large number of varieties, specializing in the tulip. He also focused on delivering small numbers very fast. In 1990, W.A.M. Pennings was one of the first bulb growers that peeled his bulbs with machines. Many bulb growers followed.

The company was taken over by son Simon Pennings in 1995. In the summer of that same year a fire destroyed 2/3 part of the company. The damage ran into the millions and the havoc was immense. The company has since rebuilt and operates according to the most modern cultivation and processing capabilities.

In 2005, a work area just for exportation of bulbs was established. In this part of the company, bulbs are packed and made ready for export. Also, an enclosure on the square was built. The company is now one piece without squares between it.

W.A.M. Pennings is a company that uses as few pesticides as possible to protect its crops. From the beginning, the company has been a member of Milieu Project Sierteelt, which is a Dutch program that looks after Dutch companies when it comes to using pesticides.

The company is also MPS-A+ certificated, an international mark. MPS is about working sustainably, so using as little energy and crop protection products as possible. W.A.M. Pennings is also PrimaBol certificated, a mark of the KAVB, a Dutch corporation of flower bulbs.

Planet Proof
Recently W.A.M. Pennings started as one of the first bulb growers with Milieukeur, also known as (on the way to) Planet Proof. It is a green quality label for sustainably grown vegetables, fruit, flowers, plants, trees and bulbs. W.A.M. Pennings works on things like sustainable working conditions, biodiversity and landscape, green procurement, sustainable crop protection, reducing energy consumption, and irrigation plans, which help minimize water use.

Hobaho (by Dümmen Orange)

For lunch, we visited Hobaho in Lisse. For over 90 years, Hobaho has specialized in the brokerage and auction of flower bulbs, tubers and perennials. The company strives for optimal service whereby transparency and reliability are determining factors.

An overview of the services

  • Brokerage: Intermediaries bring daily supply and demand of flower bulbs together; they also give advice and provide professional coaching relationships.
  • Growers associations: coordination of partnerships such as growers associations including sales, administration and promotion.
  • Manage licenses: for rights-protected varieties including managing plant variety, measuring and arrange collection.
  • Breeding and testing: developing new varieties that meet the market demands of the future.
  • Auctioning: daily flower bulb auctions during the summer season or in the fields.
  • The supply and demand bank of Hobaho is an extended online commerce portal for the sale and purchase of all agricultural machinery and materials.

By Dümmen Orange
Since September 2016, Hobaho is part of Dümmen Orange. Both companies follow the strategy to grow and innovate within the bulb and tuber market. Dümmen Orange and Hobaho aim for meaningful market shares in strategic crops by applying innovations in breeding, production and sales.

Important crops in the Hobaho assortment are Tulip, Lily, Hyacinth, Calla, Daffodil and a wide selection of miscellaneous flower bulbs. Several research initiatives have been set up to speed up the developments of new varieties and also to apply predictive breeding around resistance and traits by combining new and traditional technologies. By combining knowledge, experience and investment capabilities, these initiatives will be accelerated.

Dümmen Orange

Dümmen Orange is world’s largest propagator and breeder of flowers and plants. The key to their success is a broad and deep product range supported by a global supply chain. Dümmen Orange offers the world’s largest selection of exceptional flowers and plants across five categories – cut flowers, bulbs, tropical plants, pot plants, bedding plants and perennials – adding new varieties every year.

Facts and Figures
Founded: From one collection of beautiful companies to one company with beautiful collections in 2015
President/CEO: Biense Visser
Headquarter: De Lier, The Netherlands
Products: 3,000+ flower and plant varieties
Annual turnover: € 350 million
Employees: 7,700+ worldwide
177 R&D professionals
366+ patents
35+ locations worldwide, incl. 20 production locations
260+ hectares of production
190+ billion cuttings per year
11,000+ customers

The strategy of Dümmen Orange is being active at the forefront of the industry. By uniting the world’s top breeders under one distinctive brand, Dümmen Orange blends traditional techniques and emerging technologies. In addition to a large marketing and sales network, Dümmen Orange has a diversified network of specialized production sites. Globally accessible and locally embedded products are the output.

Dümmen Orange does have a strong focus on R&D and CSR. “We find it important to decrease our footprint and reduce our impact on the environment and ecosystem. Therefore we use state-of-the-art technologies to accelerate the process of developing new species, so that new varieties can be brought to the market more quickly.”

Some results

  • BaseClear, Generade and Dümmen Orange collaborated with the aim of making tulip breeding and production faster and more sustainable. Using the latest technologies, it is now possible to identify the DNA sequence of the tulip genome. This is one of the biggest genomes ever sequenced.
  • They recently opened a new high tech greenhouse in Germany to secure a disease free production start for all Dümmen Orange Bedding Plants, Perennials and Pot Plants. It will be the backbone of the global production locations.


  • Dümmen Orange provides free health benefits at its farms in Latin America and Africa, including daycare, vaccinations, HIV tests and support.
  • Recently finalized their first Global Leadership program.


  • GreenGuard is the new pest management protocol in the industry to meet growers and consumer demand. The result is sustainably grown products by customers, resulting from the Dümmen Orange GreenGuard production at mother stock locations. By minimizing chemical residues, Dümmen Orange enables their customers to introduce benefits immediately to their crop.
  • Dümmen Orange invests in Horti-eduction in various countries by supporting students and schools.
  • Dümmen Orange received certifications from global institutions, including MPS and Fairtrade.

New techniques:

  • The innovative Basewell™ technology utilizes an offshore propagation process to deliver high quality bare-root cuttings directly to the grower. Basewell™ bare-root cuttings feature advanced root development and no growing medium. This allows the company to ship Basewell™ products to growers from off-shore production locations, ready to transplant directly into the finish container.

Facts and figures about Dutch floriculture

In 2016, the Netherlands exported agricultural goods at a total value of €85 billion. This is 4.4 percent more than in the previous year and the highest value ever achieved.

The Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural goods after the United States. By far the most important sector for agricultural exports remains horticulture, which includes fresh flowers, plants, nursery products and flower bulbs. Horticulture is followed closely by meat, dairy, egg, vegetable and fruit production.

97 percent of Dutch flowers stay in Europe
The Netherlands counts about 600 trading companies in flowers and plants. They export products with a value of €5.6 billion (2015): €3.5 billion cut flowers and €2.1 billion in potted plant; 97 percent of these products stay in Europe.

Flower bulbs
Sixty percent of all flower bulbs worldwide are produced in The Netherlands. The sector counts more than 1,500 companies that together produce about 25,000 hectares of bulbs. By far the biggest product is the tulip, followed by the lily. On top of that, there are about 600 companies that produce cut flowers from the bulbs, mostly in greenhouses. In total, the production of flower bulbs and bulb flowers has an export value of €1.6 billion.