Flower industry leaders talk Brexit

Brexit meeting hero"Whatever happens there will be change." So said industry leaders when they met at a meeting hosted by the Agricultural Counsellor of the Dutch Embassy, Tim Heddema in conjunction with the British Florist Association and the Fresh Produce Consortium and joined by the head of Dutch trade association VGB.

Entitled an ‘Anglo-Dutch meeting on challenges and opportunities of Brexit for the flowers and ornamentals industries’ the purpose of the meeting was to bring together interested parties to try and see what impact Brexit would have and how to deal with them.

First up was Matthijs Mesken MD of the VGB, the trade association that collectively represents the interests of the Dutch wholesale trade in floriculture products.  Having joined the organisation 18 months ago, Matthijs said that Brexit had predominated his time and made him even greyer. 

Because Brexit is a great concern to Holland, not least because the UK accounts for over 10% of its global business making it the second most important market for Dutch suppliers. In hard cash terms, out of the Dutch global flower business worth €6billion, UK buyers account for €836 million.  Of that €836 Supermarkets take 54%, Wholesalers 18%, flower shops via Flying Dutchmen take 8% and Garden Centres 5% - predominantly plants.

And while Matthijs said there were new markets emerging like Poland and his members were spreading risk by opening up in new markets like the USA and Australia, the fact remains that replacing that level of sale would be hard.  As such they want and need to find ways through the possible changes.

Because, whether a deal is or isn’t found and be it a hard or soft exit, Matthijs feels any Brexit will be difficult because it will cause disruption and everyone may have to find new business models.

In the short term, and in preparation for the event of greater inspection, not only are they talking to everyone they can – be it their members or government representatives, but are also trialling a new digital system of checks over the next few weeks.   However the aim, if possible, is to get the longest transition period, minimum impact on logistics and day-to-day deliveries, no border controls and minimum impact on costs.

Next up was Brian Wills-Pope for the British Florist Association (BFA), the trade body that represents retail florists. 

Having spearheaded a Brexit group which has included both retail and wholesale participants, the main thrust of BFA’s work has been to try and influence the government to appreciate Brexit from the florists perspective as it was clear, from a survey they ran some months ago, that the majority of florists are dependent on Holland as their main source of supply.

As such they had encourage their members to write to their local MP’s to explain the possible problems and created an official Brexit statement on how a bad deal might affect florists from all angles; be it getting supplies or employing EU nationals in the future.

Reporting that some 100 – 120 MP’s had responded to letters sent by BFA members and the consumer press releases Brian then handed over to Nigel Jenney of the Fresh Produce Consortium to explain the nitty gritty details.

The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) is the UK trade association for the fresh produce industry which, whilst not currently heavily involved in the flower sector, already has both flower wholesalers and many of the major supermarkets as members. 

As such, and given there are many synergies between fresh produce and flowers, their work in negotiating deals and procedures with the Government departments over the last two years has always included what happens with flowers. 

Asked if flowers were at the back of the queue in any plans, Nigel acknowledged that whilst food and medicine would always be at the top of the list, perishability of any commodity was considered and as such flowers had an advantage.

Speaking objectively he said that whilst a frictionless deal would be ideal, the reality was that any deal would result in change so it was more a case of how much change would take place rather than if there would be change.

However having spent the last few weeks in meetings with all government departments he advised that the Government view on a no deal is now much more positive* and that a deal – as long as it was good - would be even better. However, like Matthijs, he believes no one will be able to work the same way whatever the outcome and that everyone in the chain will need to adapt.

The meeting, which ended with a chance to mingle over a beer or two, was welcomed by many who particularly admired the clarity of the FPC presentation.  However, given it was held before the Commons defeat of the deal and that things are still very much in the air, it was felt that there was still much to debate, learn and consider before any definitive plan could be confirmed.

As Matthijs said, “from a Dutch perspective we have the same problems so we have to co-operate” whilst Nigel commented “even if we get a deal there is still a lot to happen – this is only the start.”

** Editors Notes:

The Government advice on how imports from the EU and beyond will be handled in the event of a no deal was first published in December 18 and has been regularly updated. You can access the Government updates using this link

Throughout all the notifications it has clearly stated that whilst checks will take place the process will be made as simple as possible and there will NOT be checks at the point of entry – instead there will be designated Places of First Arrival - so huge hold ups at docks, tunnels or airports should not happen. 

Not all flowers will need to be physically inspected and be checked as there is a digital system being created and there should be no change for consignments arriving directly into the UK from countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Kenya.  

The main pressure will be on importers, wholesalers and florists who buy directly from Holland and are therefore effectively importers.  As such florists need to talk with their suppliers to check how they may have to change their buying practices.

We have prepared an At a Glance feature to try and explain what might happen and how it will affect you in the event of a no deal/crash out. You can access it here.

In the event of a deal being reached then we will have 21 months to sort out the final detail and in the meantime things will carry on as normal.