’We’ve managed to increase our market share’
With a market share of 40%, Gediflora is the largest breeder and propagator of ball-shaped potted chrysanthemums in the world. Just like many other breeders, the Belgian company is constantly moving further down the chain. Director Elien Pieters: “We think of the end-user and the consumer when we make decisions with regards to breeding.”
The foundations of Gediflora’s strong position in the ball shaped potted chrysanthemum market were laid by Dirk Pieters, father of current director Elien Pieters. “He quickly moved from grower to entrepreneur”, says Elien. Her grandfather Georges had been growing lettuce, tomatoes and ball shaped potted chrysanthemums since 1952. When Dirk took over in 1982, he no longer bothered with the vegetables and started focusing entirely on the chrysanthemums.
“He took the first steps towards breeding our own varieties and selling cuttings. At that time, it was mostly French varieties that were available before the 1st of November. That’s what we grew, too. My father wanted varieties that could be cultivated in other periods than the days before All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day”, recalls Elien.
Dirk Pieters started breeding with a focus on an early assortment and varieties that could be cultivated in greenhouses. It led to Gediflora’s international breakthrough. Elien says that the first foreign customers that purchased Gediflora’s own varieties were from the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Germany and the United States.
In 2013, Elien took over the company. Dirk still plays an advisory role and often accompanies his daughter when she travels abroad.
Elien explains that in 2016, the focus of their breeding is very much the same. Our base is a chrysanthemum that branches off in such a way that it doesn’t need any further work. “In the past, ball-shaped potted chrysanthemums had to be pruned. And you needed three cuttings for each pot to make a nice, bushy plant. We’ve managed to produce a chrysanthemum that doesn’t require any pruning and one cutting is enough to get a nice, big plant. That remains the focus of our breeding. Creating the perfect sphere with the least amount of work. The pillars of the old days have continued to be the pillars of our current breeding.”
Strict selection criteria
Elien mentions that the breeding process is based on a few more pillars. Shelf life is one of them. Disease resistance is another one, with rust being the biggest threat. The Belgian Mum should be an easy and reliable plant for growers. And resilience is an important pillar as well. When the plant is removed from its cover, it should easily spring back into shape.
The breeding process is characterised by very strict selection criteria. Gediflora starts with 50,000 seedlings outside each year. After six years and many tests in the greenhouse and abroad, you’ll only find around five of these back on the market.
Gediflora has been expanding for many years. Recently the company has been looking a bit further down the chain and this has had an impact on the breeding. “We’ve become more involved. We used to focus mainly on the aspects that growers considered important. We didn’t really worry about what went on with the chrysanthemum further down the chain. These days, we’re more aware of the market’s demands and we try to meet them”, says Elien.
Further down the chain
Just like many other breeders, Gediflora is now moving further down the chain. Elien: “We’re trying to understand how end-users and consumers make their choices. The Albert Heijn supermarket makes different choices from the Intratuin garden centre. We bear in mind what we know about end-users and consumers when we make decisions regarding the breeding. We’re currently developing different families of four to six colours for each of the different distribution channels. By deepening the segmentation we respond to the demands of our customers and their customers. This way, we can deliver tailor-made products.”
Gediflora’s core activities are not limited to breeding, they include propagation as well. The Belgian company has partnerships in Kenya and Brazil, where they produce cuttings using parent plants. These cuttings are subsequently sent to the parent company in Oostnieuwkerke, where they are checked and sent on to growers or developed into a rooted cutting. Gediflora has parent plants in the United States as well, because the quarantine laws prevent them from exporting to the US.
And they also have their own production, at a 14-ha nursery in the south of Belgium. “The main idea behind our own production is that we want to keep our green fingers. We want to understand what it’s like being a grower, so that we can interact better with our customers”, explains Elien.
Largest in the world
Gediflora is nowadays the largest ball shaped potted chrysanthemum breeder and propagator in the world. With their cuttings, they have a global market share of 40%. Gediflora sells 75 million cuttings per year.
Half of all the cuttings are distributed in the United States. This makes the US the biggest customer. They’re followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Other European countries which Gediflora sells to include Spain, Switzerland, Austria, the Scandinavian countries, Slovenia and Italy.
Elien indicates however, that the global market of ball-shaped potted chrysanthemum is shrinking. Older growers are giving up and other growers are expanding. The image of the potted chrysanthemum is that it’s a funeral plant. “Something needs to be done to improve the prices. The current business model is under pressure. But by introducing different plant families for the different distribution channels we’ve managed to increase our market share.”
Gediflora has branched out in an unusual direction. They recently launched their own beer with chrysanthemum extract: Belgian Mum N°1. The name refers to the name of Gediflora’s plants (Belgian Mums), chrysanthemum (mum) and the parent company (mum).
They started in 2015 with 33 crates. Next year, they’ll supply 100,000 bottles. Sales manager Glenn Vanoplynus has been responsible for marketing the beer for four and a half months now. What’s his ambition? “We want to get as many fans of our beer as we can, worldwide”, said Vanoplynus.
The idea is to market the beer separately from Gediflora’s other activities. When they’re promoting the beer, they don’t really mention chrysanthemums. However, in promotions for their chrysanthemums, the beer does come up.
Elien: “We’re trying to improve the image of the chrysanthemum. By showing what you can do with chrysanthemums, on trade fairs and in magazines. And also by presenting our beer. It brings a smile to people’s faces and hopefully that will help to create a more positive association with the potted chrysanthemum.” At the moment, the chrysanthemum is very much considered a funeral plant. Maybe the beer will help to turn it into more of an ornamental plant.
Director: Elien Pieters en David Daenens
Activities: breeding, propagation and production of ball-shaped potted chrysanthemum. In addition, they sell their own beer with chrysanthemum extract.
Place: Oostnieuwkerke (Belgium), Kenya, Brazil and Florida
Turnover: €8 million