Sofia Peñaherrera (Ecuador): ‘We have learned from the crisis in Russia’

Why did Sachaflor exhibit at IPM?

Because Germany is a good market for Ecuadorian flowers. We can supply the high-quality roses that Germans are looking for. So we’re trying to increase our customer base here. We’ve got a customer in Frankfurt and we’d like a few more. We’ve got customers in other European countries too. 20-25% of our roses go to European countries including Germany, Holland, France, Austria, Spain and Switzerland. 60% of our roses go to Russia. 20% go to the United States.

So your main market is Russia then?

That’s right. But we’ve learned from the crisis in Russia how important it is to have a broader distribution market. That’s why we’re here – to strengthen those markets. We exhibited at IFTF in Holland in 2015. We go to a different trade show every other year. This is our first time at IPM. We weren’t too sure at first, because there’s a heavy focus on plants at this fair. There aren’t too many flowers. But it’s a good opportunity to exhibit our flowers and introduce ourselves to new customers.

Have you had a hard time with Russia?

Yes, it has been quite difficult. When prices in Russia went down, everyone started looking for other markets. Customers were trying to take advantage of the situation, they were speculating about the lower prices. It was tough. But things are slowly improving. There’s a bit more stability now. I have the feeling that this will be a good year. Demand is increasing and people are interested in new varieties. The Russian market is recovering too. Although demand has slightly changed. The Russians used to ask for 1-metre long roses, but nowadays they want 60-cm ones. So we cut them shorter, which means more volume. It makes our company more profitable. We’ve been able to work more efficiently the last couple of years.

What are your plans?

We’d like to plant some more varieties. At the moment we don’t have certain colours such as a really nice pink, orange or lavender. In those terms, Russia is very bland. Novelties aren’t of great importance to them. But they are in the United States and Europe.

How has the Ecuadorian floricultural industry in general been affected?

Companies have shrunk or stopped altogether. Some businesses got rid of their non-profitable varieties and downsized, from 15 to 10 hectares for example. And some of the smaller farms disappeared. Companies that were selling exclusively to Russia, went belly-up. We have learned an important lesson: if you focus on one country alone, it might all explode one day. It’s very important to have several distribution channels.

Your own farm isn’t very large, is it?

Our farm is quite small, but we deliver high quality. Customers got used to our roses. I’ve had to lower the prices by 20%, though. But the quality is still excellent. We’ve always made sure to maintain that. We’re situated at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres above sea level. This fact, as well as the great light and the way our farm is managed, all contribute to our high standard.

It’s a true family business, isn’t it?

Yes, my brother is an agronomist and I’m responsible for marketing. My parents are also involved in the business. After we’d been working in the flower trade for five years, we decided to start our own cultivation in 2007. My mother owned some land. So we’ve been growing roses for ten years now, but we’ve got fifteen years of experience.

Has Cotopaxi been causing any problems for you?

It did for a few months, when the warehouses were covered by ashes all the time. And the volcano is still active. It seems to be stable at the moment, but still uncertain how it will develop.

Is Ecuador still a good country to grow flowers?

Compared with Kenya and Colombia, I think that Ecuador has a few advantages. The high altitude and the sunlight make for roses with a long vase life and intense colours. Ecuador continues to be a strong brand. When people see that roses are from Ecuador, they know they’re getting a good product.