Simon van der Burg: ‘Access to air freight is pretty crucial’

People sometimes ask: “What are the biggest risks of flower growing in Kenya?” Well, there are lots of challenges, but access to air freight is pretty crucial. You can grow the most beautiful flowers, but if you can’t get them to their destination, they’re useless.

Air freight is expensive. Sometimes up to 50% of the total costs, but we’re happy to pay for it. For the past seven years, we’ve been spoiled. Many European economies were hit by the recession. As a result, there were plenty of cargo aircrafts available to transport our flowers from Nairobi to Amsterdam. We have seen a shift though, from European carriers to carriers from Middle Eastern countries. Their costs are lower, while their aircrafts are more modern.

In the meantime, all economies have recovered and the pressure on the existing fleet has gone up. We all know that a shipment of mobile phones will always take priority over us. On the other hand, our strength is that we can commit to a fixed schedule of charter flights for a whole year. Because we’ve got a daily supply of flowers. Could this have been the reason why I was invited for a dinner with the international top of Kuehne+Nagel recently?

It must have played a role at least. They were surprised to hear I wasn’t totally against an increase of the rates. Reliability and regular flights are much more important in my opinion. Furthermore, if the rates go up, the quality bar will be raised automatically. Less rubbish, better prices – it all makes sense to me.

The day before the dinner, some of FloraHolland’s top managers dropped by for a visit. I’ve been pleased to see continuity in their management. What worried me though, is when I read that out of the 50 people in FloraHolland’s management top, 36 are new and from outside the industry. Does this mean that the blind are leading the blind?

The picture is completely different at K&N. Three out of five of their managers started out on the work floor, where they were building or breaking down pallets. They know all the ins and outs. They’ve been with the company for 20 – 30 years and made it all the way up to vice president, managing director or general manager.

It was a real pleasure having dinner with this enthusiastic group of people. And it made me wonder if that’s why the first 6,500 kilometres of transport of our flowers, which they take care of, generally goes more smoothly than the last 500 metres, which FloraHolland takes care of.

Simon van der Burg,

Rose grower in Kenya

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