‘We need to increase our distribution through supermarkets’

The largest group of immigrants in Brazil is from Japan. And there are a lot of Japanese who work in the Brazillian horticultural industry. Veiling Holambra for example, has 73 Japanese members. One of them is Roberto Okubo. He’s one of the auction’s board members, and grows snapdragon, gypsophila and cut foliage 60 kilometres away from Sao Paulo. He’s slowly making a start with pot plants too. Okubo: “It’s very important for us to increase the distribution of flowers through supermarkets.”

Why are there so many Japanese in Brazil?

“Most of them emigrated to Brazil after World War II, because of the bad economic situation in their home country. A lot of Japanese people started working on coffee farms in Brazil. My father arrived in 1959. He settled in a place about 60 kilometers away from Sao Paulo, a high-altitude area, where Japanese people had started growing vegetables. Many switched to flowers over the years. So did my father. I was born in 1969. I joined my father in the business in 1994, after completing my agricultural studies, and a year later, I took over the company. I’ve got 6 ha of greenhouses, where I grow gypsophila and snapdragon. And I grow cut foliage outdoors.”

Are you happy about your sales?

“Yes, I’m happy. Cut flowers are mainly sold for special holidays and events. The last couple of years, we were affected by the crisis. There were fewer events. But things are improving now. Our dependence on events and special holidays means that our sales are always characterised by peak days. It can be tricky to deal with sometimes. That’s why we need to increase our distribution through supermarkets. It would bring more stability to our sales.”

What’s the challenge of supplying to supermarkets?

“Selling to supermarkets is relatively new for us. We did a few trials in the past. We just started a new programme at Veiling Holambra, which aims to stimulate flower sales to supermarkets. It does require us to adapt our products and strategy. Supermarkets want shorter stems for example, and a longer shelf life. For a wedding, you can supply flowers that only last two days. But now, we’re looking for cultivars that will last longer. That can be difficult in a tropical climate. We’re also trying to improve the cool chain and provide supermarkets with training. Another aspect we’re working on, is postharvest handling.”

What are your plans for the future?

“My plan is to expand, both with flowers and with plants. I’d like to expand my gypsophila production, because it’s a good product, which grows well. And there aren’t too many other growers who have it. I want to start with potted plants as well; I’ve already got a few trials. The next challenge will be selling flowers via a digital platform. That’s not easy with flowers, because the production is very weather dependent. As a grower, you need to come up with a good strategy.”

Roberto Okubo

Company: Okubo Flores

Location: Sao Paulo area, Brazil

Crops: Snapdragon, gypsophila, cut foliage

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