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2021 reports shows sustainability takes precedence

Rabobank has just published its 2021 World Floriculture Map in cooperation with Royal FloraHolland. The report shows a fairly stable pattern for the main suppliers of the international cut flower and houseplants markets. Online sales continue to gain momentum, as does a focus on sustainable sourcing.

Global ornamental plant exports have grown steadily over the past five years, at a compound annual growth rate of 3.9%. All subcategories (cut flowers, potted plants, bedding/balcony plants, bulbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees) experienced growth.

Five years ago, suppliers from Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Ethiopia caused a major shift in the international trade of cut flowers, cut foliage and living plants.

“Since then, international trade has not changed much. The composition of global floriculture export flows consists of the same countries as in 2015,” explains Lambert van Horen, Senior Specialist – Fresh Produce at Rabobank. Companies in Colombia and Ecuador supply the North American market, while Kenyan and Ethiopian producers continue to focus on European markets.

The Netherlands is still the largest global floricultural trade hub, delivering ornamental plants predominantly to the European market. Dutch flower bulbs, on the other hand, are still exported all over the world.

Shift to online retail continues

The Covid-19 pandemic caused major disruptions in logistics and has been affecting consumer behaviour since early 2020. “Regular market research in four European countries (the UK, the Netherlands, France, and Germany) shows the continued growth of online retail channels,” explains van Horen.

The UK is a front runner in this area. Online sales of potted plants and cut flowers show steady growth at the expense of street markets and florists.

This growth is positively affected by the pandemic and the increase in online suppliers. “Prior to 2020, online sales were already experiencing steady growth, but, since then, e-commerce has gained momentum.”

Ocean freight shipping is increasing

Over the last decade the use of ocean freight shipping has increased due to the rising cost of air transport and big-box retailers’ growing concern about Scope 3 carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic caused massive disruptions to international passenger flights, air cargo prices, and the availability of sea containers. Logistics service providers had to improvise to transport cut flowers in good condition within a limited time frame. According to van Horen, all these factors contributed to global sea container transport of cut flowers showing an overall growth of 40% between 2015 and 2020.

Sustainable sourcing

Market outlets are increasingly focusing on sustainable sourcing. The industry has established the Floriculture Sustainability Initiative (FSI), with members including almost 70 globally active big-box retailers, online sale companies, flower wholesalers, and producer organizations. Their ambition was to produce and trade at least 90% of flowers and plants responsibly by 2020. By the end of 2020, this amounted to 73% for cut flower stems and 81% for indoor potted plants.


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