CalFlowers Attends Proflora for First Time in 2017

Of course, many CalFlowers members have attended Asocolflores' Proflora event in Colombia in years past, but this is the first formal attendance by association staff, as well as my first visit to Colombia.  I learned a great deal, but probably what those who've attended Proflora in the past already knew.  Colombia grows many varieties of commercial cut flowers, not just the big three (e.g., roses, mums and carnations); the commercial flower farms are generally indistinguishable from flower farms I've visited in California, and the people are wonderfully hospitable (everyone I met, whether they were part of the floral industry or not).

In discussions with the Board of Directors about attending this year's event, we felt that it would be important for me to attend to represent CalFlowers and to experience first-hand what the industry was like in our market's largest importer.  Upon reflection these were two valid and important reasons to attend, but there was much, much more to the trip.  So much so, that I believe I should attend one South American floral conference per year as CalFlowers' CEO.  Here's why, in no particular order ...

Respecting Worthy Competitors

Asocolflores president, Augusto Solano, paid his respect to the many U.S. floral industry trade associations in attendance (e.g., AFIF, PMA, WF&FSA, SAF and CalFlowers).  When introducing CalFlowers Solano remarked that Asocolflores and CalFlowers engage in "co-opetition" with one another, but emphasizing the collaborative nature of the relationship.  I teased Solano after the ceremony that the two organizations are not competitors, but our members may be; he laughingly agreed.

Beyond the formal acknowledgement of CalFlowers presence at the show, I could tell from just about every interaction I had with exhibitors, attendees and the three farm tours I took, that everyone was pleased and impressed that CalFlowers would send a representative. CalFlowers and Asocolflores share the view that expanding the U.S. market present opportunities for all participating in the market.

First-Hand Experience

One of my favorite expressions is:  "You can't read the label from inside the bottle."  Makes sense and seems obvious, but  how many times do we believe what we tell ourselves about our business or our associations, while we  lack the ability to see ourselves as others see us.  Perspective -- it's priceless!

I've been CEO of CalFlowers exactly four years this month.  I've heard many stories and versions, from all sides, about the South American flower industry.  It was simply time to experience it for myself and meet the many people who comprise this important source of American floral products.

I mean no disrespect to our Colombian friends, but being at Proflora itself felt like being at a flower show in California, except there was slightly more Spanish spoken.  The displays were eye-popping beautiful; the floral displays were eye-watering and everyone couldn't not have been more hospitable - especially Juan David (JD) and Manuel of Deliflor for allowing me to use their booth as my "home away from home" during the trade show hours.

Farm Visits

This first-hand experience includes visiting 3 flower farms:  Plazoleta (alstroemeria grower); Yasa (chrysanthemums) and Alexander Farms (garden roses).

Thanks to Williee Armelini for the photo (right).  If you look closely you'll see several other CalFlowers members (e.g., Jason Kendall, Danielle Kendall, Katalina Parga & Troy Conners of Kendall Farms, and Juan Carlos Aguilar of Dramm & Echter).

At all three farms I visited, the facilities were indistinguishable from California flower farms, both in the fields/greenhouses and post production facilities.  All very impressive!

Meeting the Right People

Like any industry trade show or convention, there should be opportunities to meet influencers in the industry and have the opportunity for conversation and discussion.  In this respect, Proflora did not disappoint!

Two CalFlowers board members were present for the conference:  Frank Biddle and Pat Dahlson.  Frank and I had an the opportunity to meet with Augusto Solano, Joaquin Del la Torre (Chair of Asocolflores Marketing Committee) and Ellie Alzate (Marketing & Communications Director for Asocolflores) and agreed to increase our efforts to work together to “move the needle” in per capita floral consumption in the U.S. market.

I had the pleasure of re-connecting with a number of the floral industry press I've come to know (i.e., Williee Armelini, Bruce Wright, and Lisa Stardom), as well as met Elita Vellekoop of Floral Daily,  Arie-Frans Middleburg of Floribusiness and Caroline Marshall Foster of The Florist Magazine out of the U.K.).

I not only got a great education about the floral industry, but I also got out of the "California Floral Bottle" and the label reads well... there are challenges to be sure, but our South American floral friends have their challenges as well.

Major take-away:  Consumer is still King and we all need to be creative -- and to collaborate -- to improve the popularity of flowers as a way of life for Americans!


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