The words “a van, a van, a van filled with Poles” blast from the speakers in my rental car as I drive to the auction very early in the morning. Always a good time to listen to some bad music on the radio. This controversial carnival hit by Johan Vlemmix came out a few years ago but I guess it’s still played on the radio. I always look forward to an auction visit. After all, what’s better than seeing your own beautiful product nicely packaged on the auction trolley, ready to be sold!
After several cups of coffee and a lot of chatting, the conversation often circles back to the same topic: the vans are no longer very full at all. For the UK, this might be in line with expectations due to Brexit, but in the Netherlands, there’s no obvious reason for it. Fruit growers in the UK were struggling to find enough workers this summer; entire fields of fruit went to waste as a result.
But the Netherlands has been facing similar problems. At Schiphol, the lack of baggage handlers had people worried about suitcases reaching their holiday destination for a while. And FloraHolland has been calling on their office workers to come and help out with logistics, because they’re 160 people short! There aren’t enough workers to unpack flowers from abroad either. It will be interesting to see how they’re going to manage when production is going up again.
On my long drive home to the province of Drenthe I had plenty of time to mull over this problem. There’s always been this concern about automation, that it would leave people unemployed. But the reality is that we need more automation because there aren’t enough hands to do the work. And the availability of labour will continue to decrease as the wealth in Eastern European countries increases. There’s only one solution: processes need to be simplified, with less handling and more automation.
Are plastic sleeves still of this day of age?
When it comes to roses from Kenya, it’s quite easy to reduce the amount of handling by selling them in boxes. That way, you’ll no longer need any workers to unpack and put flowers in water. We could finally stop driving buckets filled with litres of water from A to B. The flowers wouldn’t have to be put in water until they reach their final sales point.
In that regard, we can learn a lot from the direct market, where this is common practice. A lorry filled with boxed flowers can transport 6-7 times more stems than a lorry that’s filled with auction trolleys – an easy way to increase your profits! Floriway could sell several of its lorries.
Finally, are plastic sleeves still of this day and age? They’re often immediately removed once the flowers have been auctioned. Viewing will be harder with flowers in boxes, but is that really such a problem in practice? Aren’t most products sold by name these days? Exit Klazienaveen is coming up, and my mind is still on whether the auction could sell flowers in boxes.
General manager, Timaflor, Kenya
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