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We are excited to kick off our 2024 series 'In conversation with. In this series, we share inspiring conversations we have had with people from horticulture industry, who help determine the course of this fascinating sector. For the first edition, we had the honor of interviewing Steven van Schilfgaarde, CEO of Royal FloraHolland. 


How do you view the role of Royal FloraHolland in the maintenance and further development of the greenhouse horticulture sector in the Netherlands in the coming years?

Steven : “Our focus is on connecting floriculture growers with traders and buyers, where we organize the entire sales and supply chain via our digital platform Floriday and at our logistics hubs. We see two major challenges in the coming years: the economic difficulties in Europe and the need to digitally facilitate the supply chain as efficiently as possible. With this we not only want to strengthen the position of our sector, but also want to maintain the Netherlands as a hub for floriculture.”

“Of course, it is also important that our products continue to be purchased, which also contributes to the existence of the Dutch floriculture sector. Sustainability plays an important role in this. The consumer and market demand a sustainable product. It is important that we offer that and that we talk about it; in other words, improve the image of floriculture. With regard to these sustainability ambitions, we at Royal FloraHolland apply three important pillars: transparency, livability of the planet by reducing energy use, and guaranteeing a healthy population for our employees. We translate these goals into concrete actions, such as measuring the ecological footprint, reducing energy consumption and promoting health within the sector. Certification will be an important step to anchor sustainability throughout the sector.”

“In addition to the focus on logistics and sustainability, we also play an important role in lobbying activities. Together with partners such as Glastuinbouw Nederland and other industry organizations, we work to create awareness and understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the sector. We are active in lobbying activities, both in the Netherlands and in Europe, to tell the real story of the sector. We also work with municipalities such as Westland, Aalsmeer and Katwijk to ensure that the preconditions and infrastructure are optimal to carry out our work.”


What do you consider to be Royal FloraHolland's most notable milestones or achievements in the past year?

Steven : “2023 was a turbulent year for us. The most notable milestone was the dramatic change we made to our cooperative structure. We have revised our articles of association and have transformed from an auction company to a platform cooperative. This transition has a significant impact on our organization and has translated into four packages for our members. A fundamental shift is that our members are no longer simply 'members', but can now choose from different service packages. Each package comes with specific services. And there are now also new obligations, such as making data available on our platform.”

“This change was not made hastily; the process started in December 2022, when the cooperative strategy was established. Over the course of 2023, we worked intensively with our members to shape this new structure. This transformation was achieved in close collaboration with the Members' Council. It is a special achievement that makes us proud and shows that we not only face the future with confidence, but also that we continue to adapt to the needs of our members and the sector as a whole.”


How has the growth of the Floriday platform contributed to achieving Royal FloraHolland's objectives? Are there any specific figures or successes you can share with us?

Steven : “Absolutely, the growth of the Floriday platform in 2023 has contributed significantly to achieving Royal FloraHolland's objectives. Floriday focuses on the direct flow between growers and buyers. We handled more than 2 billion in sales via the platform last year. That is a double compared to 2022. 90% of the transactions were invoiced by the grower via this platform in 2023. This not only shows the size of the platform, but also the degree of digitalization we have achieved. In total we now have more than 3 billion in direct turnover, of which more than 2 billion goes through Floriday. These figures clearly illustrate the rapid adoption and success of the digital platform in the sector.”

“The new standard we have set in the sector is also important. Floriday not only functions as a trading platform, but also provides space for sustainability information. This has led to significant efficiency gains in the purchasing process for both growers and buyers. In addition, buyers have access to a much larger selection on the platform, allowing them to purchase their products more effectively.”

“What makes Floriday unique is that the platform is developed together with the sector. We organize special development weeks where users can submit their wishes. If the wish is feasible, it will be programmed and implemented on site. This flexibility and user involvement make Floriday not only a powerful trading platform but also a collective effort to improve the sector. It is even considered a requirement for certain positions in our sector, which shows how integral Floriday has become.”


To what extent has the focus on sustainability within the floriculture sector led to concrete results and changes in 2023? And how will this continue in 2024?

Steven : “In 2023, we made significant progress in the field of sustainability within the floriculture sector. It is striking that much more is being done than is often recognized. Growers throughout Europe, especially in the Netherlands, are investing significantly in various sustainability solutions. Consider the use of LED lighting, solar panels, all geothermal projects, but also the reduction and sustainability of crop protection products. A positive trend is that exporters attach increasing importance to sustainability information. In other words, growers will have to demonstrate how sustainable their product is. This is not only driven by the responsibility of the exporter themselves, but also because their customers, such as supermarkets, are increasingly requesting this information.”

“An intriguing development is the emergence of a new generation of breeders, often the sons or daughters of existing breeders. This new generation is explicitly concerned with modernizing and making their companies more sustainable. A breath of fresh air within the sector contributes to the pursuit of a sustainable future. There is a clear ambition to still be able to produce and sell beautiful flowers and plants in 10, 15 or 20 years.”


What are your personal reflections on 2023 as CEO of Royal FloraHolland? Are there specific moments that stick with you, and what lessons will you take with you into 2024?

Steven : “What stays with me from 2023 are the lessons I learned about the importance of profitability and the trust of our members. Although I have experienced hectic moments before as CEO, such as the impact of COVID and resistance to our digital platform, this year was different. An important lesson was that our members do not appreciate it when we suffer losses. This has to do with the fact that FloraHolland is a crucial extension of their company for them. They are highly dependent on our services and see us as an essential part of their business operations. The loss we suffered, no matter how strategically planned, led to dissatisfaction and debate. This has made me realize that we must maintain their trust and show that FloraHolland is a stable and reliable partner.”

“The world is currently very unstable, with crises such as the situation in Ukraine and the unpredictable effects on Europe. As CEO of an organization that values ​​sustainability, I think it is a shame that this instability complicates the pursuit of a livable planet for future generations. The unpredictability of world events is a challenge for us as an industry. The impact of COVID and the energy crisis has also increased our costs, as well as the growers. This puts extra pressure on the sector, where we have to think about new, smart solutions and investments in digital infrastructure. Inflation has not kept pace with flower yields, which poses additional challenges.”

“Nevertheless, I am full of confidence in the future. The technological possibilities and collaborations in the sector are strong. With a stable cabinet and a clear agenda, entrepreneurs can respond to the challenges and we continue to strive for a sustainable and profitable future. Together we are building a sustainable, strong and future-proof floriculture sector in the Netherlands.”


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