Over a period of 2-3 years, China has become a very important market for Danish rose breeding company Roses Forever. “We simply can’t ignore the demand from China, the Chinese market is huge” says Anders Eskelund. He recently took over the management of the pot rose production of Rosa ApS, which is located near the town of Aarhus.
By Arie-Frans Middelburg
What about the royalties? Are the Chinese actually paying them? A question that sprang to mind when Eskelund was explaining that China has rapidly become the second largest buyer, after the Netherlands, of the pot roses that are bred by his mother, Rosa Eskelund of Roses Forever. The Chinese think that ‘copyright’ means ‘the right to copy’, is a common joke.
But Anders says that the royalties don’t cause any problems. “We’ve got some good connections and we trade directly with them”, he assures. “We’re good negotiators. We’re making good deals. And we simply can’t ignore the demand from China. The Chinese market is huge.” Anders presents some figures to illustrate his point. Last July, Roses Forever shipped 300,000 pot rose cuttings per week to China. The Chinese subsequently take care of propagation themselves.
Anders: “The Chinese tend to start things on a large scale. One of the companies we’re doing business with is as big as 5 hectares. But, he hastens to add, all customers are equally important to Roses Forever. The small ones matter just as much. What we’re looking for is long-term relationships with customers. Not for five years, but for fifty. In order to strengthen those relationships, the Eskelund family – father Harley is the director, mother Rosa breeds pot roses as well as garden roses and cut roses – invite customers to their nursery each year, to view their test roses and share their opinions regarding the selection process.
Less than ten
We’re in the Rosa ApS greenhouse, near Aarhus. This company produces potted roses and is managed by Anders. Roses Forever is the breeding company on Fyn.
The Aarhus region is known as Denmark’s second largest horticultural area. At some stage, more than 100 growers were based here. Less than ten of those are still around. Most of the Danish pot plant growers can be found in and around Odense.
Rosa ApS two oldest greenhouses date back to 1989 and they were built in Denmark. More greenhouses were added in the period up till 1996. A ‘Dutch block’ followed between 2004 and 2006, and that’s the most recent extension. Anders says that the greenhouses are still in good shape, he reckons they will last for a good while longer.
The only reason to consider any new buildings is if it reduced the production costs. A major expense for the Danes during the last couple of years was the electricity tax: the Public Service Obligations (PSO). The tax applied to both businesses and individuals in Denmark. The government used the proceeds to invest in green energy.
Growers using greenhouse lighting in particular, like Rosa ApS, paid enormous amounts of money towards this PSO tax. Rosa ApS paid €300,000 per year at some stage.
Installing CHP was out of the question, explains Anders. They would have had to pay tax on every single kWh they used. And the CHP wouldn’t even be used the entire year, as production goes down during the autumn. Another aspect that the company had to take into account with regards to CHP is that they would be dealing with fluctuating gas prices. So, they decided to buy heat from a waste incinerator in the city for a fixed, low price.
In the meantime, a solution was found for the biggest PSO payers. Rosa ApS got into a partnership with the government. If they manage to reduce their energy usage, they’ll receive compensation on the PSO tax. But the latest development is that the PSO tax is going to be phased out. The plan is that it will be completely gone by 2022.
The use of chemicals is another issue for the sector, says Anders. He doesn’t regard that the largest problem, though. “We always complain when a pesticide is banned, but usually a good replacement is found soon enough.” Anders expects that Rosa ApS will have switched to organic cultivation in six years time. Apart from growth regulators perhaps, because it’s very difficult to find replacements for those.
The Rosa ApS greenhouses are used for the production of pot roses in pot sizes from 6 to 23 cm, and for the testing of new varieties from Roses Forevers breeding programme. “Our aim is to have 80% of the pot roses sold before they’ve been planted”, explains Anders. Production is strongly reduced in autumn, because demand goes down dramatically. During those months, Rosa ApS switches to larger pot sizes. “We always ask ourselves whether the plants are profitable. If they aren’t, we prefer to leave the greenhouse standing empty.”
Anders recently became product manager, he’s responsible for the pot rose production. He studied at a horticultural institute before he joined Rosa ApS. He learned about both the cultivation and the trading side of the floricultural industry. After his graduation, he spent two years abroad. “I wanted to see a bit more of the world before settling down here”, he smiles.
Anders worked in Japan for a year, with Floritec, a company that grows Roses Forever roses as well as other products like succulents. After that, he worked with Double H in Hampshire. A company that cultivates a wide range of products and imports products as well. They supply to large supermarkets such as Sainsbury and Tesco. Double H used to import pot roses too, but at some stage they decided to start growing those themselves. “I taught them how to grow pot roses”, says Anders.
In his turn, Anders learned a lot about the Japanese pot plant market, which is very different from the European. And in England, he noticed how an importer would always inspect the quality of the plants upon arrival. The importer looks at different things than a grower. “When a plant leaves the nursery, we feel it looks good. But what’s the opinion of the person who receives that plant?”
That’s why they always check the bud presentation of new cultivars by the time they reach the shops. Large buds that show some colour are preferred. When Roses Forever launches a new cultivar, they always try to produce an entire series, in a range of colours, Anders explains. An important requirement for pot roses is that they are mildew resistant. Another preference for pot roses is that they are naturally short, reducing the need for growth regulators. It means less chemicals and less labour. Their breeding activities lead to approximately 500 new pot roses to be tested each year.
Growers in Denmark have a few tough years behind them because of disappointing revenues and the high PSO payments. But since a year and a half, the trade seems to have picked up. This is also true for Rosa ApS. Especially Infinity, a variety they’ve had on the market for six years now. Anders calls it their bestseller. Some of its excellent features include the large flowers, long shelf life, thick leaves and the fact that it’s also suitable for outdoor use.
We’d already spoken with Rosa Eskelund at Handelspladsen in Odense a day earlier. She was also praising Infinity. According to her it’s popular all over the world.
Rosa said that the breeding company Roses Forever has always been thriving, even during the crisis years. And the production of pot roses of Rosa ApS has been doing well again for two years now. “To get through a crisis period, you’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to remain creative, despite the pressure. As a result, you become stronger and more innovative. Infinity is a perfect example of this.”
Anders explains that Infinity also helped Rosa ApS to find a way in with the Danish supermarkets. “A few years ago, we didn’t do an awful lot of business with Danish supermarkets. But nowadays, we do. The Infinity line is more expensive than some other types, but the Danish supermarkets want the best roses. It’s nice to see our own roses on the market in Denmark.” Dansk Supermarked is the biggest quality supermarked and sell to high quality costumers.
Roses Forever breeds garden roses and cut roses, too. But Rosa ApS doesn’t produce those. Its production is limited to pot roses. “It does kind of put us in a competitive position towards the customers of Roses Forever”, admits Anders. “But the European pot rose market is very big. We produce 4 million plants per year, while a total of 200 million plants is brought to the market every year.” Rosa ApS supplies to customers in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia and Poland.
Grass isn’t greener
Anders is pleased to work at Rosa ApS. He looks back on his stint abroad with very positive feelings, too. “If I hadn’t taken this step, I would have regretted it later on in life”, says Anders. “But I also learned that the grass isn’t greener outside Denmark.”
In Japan, for example, the way people worked was very different from here in Denmark. “My father taught me to do things in a specific way. That’s in my blood. I like it here, this is where I grew up. It isn’t nice when people tell you what to do. But too much ambition isn’t good either. Everyone should work abroad for a while. You learn so much. It’s easy to think that things are perfect elsewhere, but no…”