10 questions to segment takes us through an intriguing journey of a floral enthusiast, turned founder of a business within the floral supply chain.
When you meet Jeroen van der Hulst, for the first time you will learn quickly his love and passion for sustainability, given that he was among the pioneers of sea freight more than a decade ago.
Here are an insightful 10 questions about the journey of Jeroen van der Hulst.
For those who don’t know you, who are you and what do you do?
"I am the owner and founder of FlowerWatch, I do hope our industry colleagues know us as the independent experts in flower quality and logistics. We have a fully automated test center in the Netherlands, just south of Amsterdam airport, where we monitor and analyze the vase and shelf life of thousands of flowers and plants at a time.
I am also a proud father of three kids who spent a part of their childhood in Kenya when we set up our business there. My wife Suzan and I have been together for 25+ years and moving with our family to Kenya at the time, was one of the biggest adventures we have been through.
I feel I have been privileged enough to pursue some of my childhood dreams. Having grown up in a flower-farming village in the Netherlands, I have been part of the globalization of the flower industry that started in the 90s. As a 9-year-old, I dreamed of setting up a dairy farm in New Zealand. Instead, I ended up owning a flower business in Kenya, which I do like to refer to as my second home country."
What is so special about your job?
"We love the work of improving flower quality, optimizing flower supply chains, and making them more sustainable.
The fact that we engage with our customers in a lot of research, practical training, audits, quality checks, and vase life tests is thrilling. I am a researcher by education, but I also love to be in a greenhouse, a packed house, a cold room, and other places, where flowers are handled. What we aim to deliver is a quality program that has proven its worth in day-to-day practice, and is backed up by science.
The opportunity we have to operate in an international business environment while pursuing our passion for quality flowers is exciting."
Are there any specific challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your job, and how did you overcome them?
"We have seen opportunities for sustainable sea freight for years. As far back as 2005 I was involved in some of the first sea freight shipments out of Kenya. Fast forward to 2023, and we are now finally witnessing sea freight take its rightful place in our industry. As a service provider, we realize that innovation is not just about dreaming up new ideas, it is about making them work.
To make sea freight work, we had to do a lot of work on the ground in pack houses, in cold rooms, and at flower importers. It took time and effort. I like to believe that our two teams in Kenya and the Netherlands are the can-do crew for making sustainable flower logistics the standard in our industry. We have invested heavily in filling that role."
What are the threats in the industry, and if so, do you have any solutions for them?
"Constant changes and new developments in flower supply chains mean that florists and supermarkets in this industry must learn to distinguish top performers with highly professional attitudes from less dependable players who tap into opportunities with more bravado than wisdom, taking shortcuts that will backfire sooner or later.
All I want is for florists and supermarkets to be able to find the right suppliers and to offer consistently high-quality flowers in their shops year-round.
With our Data-Driven Insights program, based on the FlowerWatch Quality Standards we developed, we want to provide decision-makers in these supply chains with the right data concerning their supply chains. This enables them to source the best flowers and plants from the most sustainable growers and shippers in the industry."
How has technology like e-commerce platforms or digital marketing affected your industry, which strategies have you employed to stay competitive?
"It is a thrilling ride to work with new technology these days. We have been able to combine all data from our vase life room, our farm audits, and cold chain data into our Watch-itT platform. It means we can offer customers subscribing to our Data-Driven Insights program an accessible, customized dashboard with a full view of how the flowers and players in their chain are performing – and how and where the quality can be further improved. Again, it is all about enabling florists and retailers to make the right decisions for sustainable, high-quality flower supplies.
Meanwhile, we are beginning to harness the potential of AI as well, for example in the area of training and data presentation. It’s very exciting and we see huge opportunities for using AI to make our services even more broadly accessible than they already are. Please visit us at the IFTF for a sneak preview."
Who (in or outside the floral industry) is an inspiring example to you? And Why?
"There are so many entrepreneurs in this business who have been able to do what others thought impossible. As soon as I start mentioning names, there is no doubt that I do so many other people short. However, if you want me to mention someone, then let me acknowledge Niek Oudendijk, who set up a sea freight consolidation center in Tabacundo Ecuador, almost 15 years ago just imagine the foresight! Besides the sense of business, it has been very worthwhile to listen to Niek sharing his experiences and best practices of someone who was there when our business went global."
How do you handle stress or difficult moments in your life?
"I think like any entrepreneur and any person. Life does present us with challenging moments. I’m fortunate to have a very strong home base with my wife Suzan and three kids. They allow me to find rest and joy, but also a sounding board for challenges that come onto our path.
Part of maintaining this, in my view, is making sufficient time for a social life besides all the business travel. It means taking part with our family in important social events, like the Rhino Charge in Kenya, or the annual flower parade in our hometown, Roelofarendsveen."
What has been the best (floral or non-floral) news for you lately, or of the last year?
"It is two pieces of news that made a big impact on our business. It was about a year ago when Lidl one of the discount retailers in Europe advertised nationwide that they would stop flying in fruit and vegetables, this news is now followed by several other retailers. At the same time, we hear news about Amsterdam (Netherlands) airport reducing its capacity, In the short term Liege (Belgium) airport is taking over a lot of the cargo flights, but just imagine the state of our business if this airport also decides to reduce the number of flights. Whatever perspective we take on flower logistics, the task of becoming more efficient, and more sustainable than ever before is urgent."
Which is your favorite flower and why?
"While a lot of our work circles around the main types of flowers in our business, like roses, chrysanthemums, and tulips, on the quiet, I am a big fan of peonies. I have spent numerous hours with close friends collecting, growing and even selling them at specialist markets. My favorite variety? Etched Salmon my good friend Ruud Warmerdam grows it.
When it comes to roses, now and then new introductions stand out, with an extremely long vase life, and some of them even come with a scent. And then we have our classics too; do you want me to name only one variety? That’s impossible for a flower lover like me, haha."
What are you doing this weekend?
"Just recently, we worked with a group of thirty friends on a float for the flower parade in my hometown, Roelofarendsveen. We have participated for 20+ years and – without wanting to sound boastful – we’ve taken home a whole lot of prizes. The best thing about this year’s flower parade was that in addition to our float winning the “audience prize”, we saw our youngest son, aged 9, rise to the occasion. He was involved, spending all his evenings and weekends with our team, helping with everything from construction to painting, to the final touches on the flower arrangements. There’s nothing better than the opportunity to share your passion for the flower business with the next generation."
When it comes to someone with an immense passion for matters of sustainability and optimization of floral supply/cool chain, Jeroen is the man! Through his company FlowerWatch, he has continuously worked to streamline the process for growers and customers to keep track of their shipments, monitor temperature fluctuations, and identify loopholes for further improvement.
10 questions, is the perfect lens to see through the eyes of experts in the field, to learn, and to advance daily conversation and issues within the floral community. Stay tuned for more interviews to come!