Current Issue 52
Flamingo Horticulture’s unrivalled devotion to fresh flower and produce supply has led it to the shelves of supermarkets around the world
By Growers for Growers
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Joshua Mann
Starting in 1982 in Nairobi, Kenya as Homegrown - a horticultural business that was set up to exploit the benefits of the country’s equatorial position - Flamingo Horticulture Ltd has flourished over the past 25 years to become a world-class vertically integrated entity.
Also leveraging Kenya’s strong heritage in the sector as well as its populous make-up, the business began back then in the vegetable and fruit production domain across Homegrown’s own farms, as well as with small-scale Kenyan farmers. In 1989, Homegrown also ventured into the production of flowers, setting the tone for the multi-faceted portfolio that today’s Flamingo Horticulture is reputed for.
Flamingo Horticulture is a world-class vertically integrated horticultural business active in the growing, processing, marketing and distribution of sustainably produced roses, cut flowers, premium/prepared vegetables and fresh herbs and is one of the largest added-value producers and exporters of flowers (c300 million stems per annum) and produce (c7.5 million kilograms per annum) from Africa to the EU; as well as one of the world’s largest producers and packers of Fairtrade roses and lilies.
Headquartered in Stevenage, around 30 miles outside London, the quality of the Group’s processing operations, logistics network and well-invested African farms make it one of the leading and best regarded companies within its categories globally, with infrastructure and technical capabilities which are able to consistently handle and deliver the key flower peaks; for example, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
As such, the Group’s model is balanced between its own large-scale professional farms operating in Kenya and South Africa, and long-term sourcing partnerships with a global network of vertically integrated third party suppliers and outgrowers. This supply chain strategy ensures that customers are offered the highest quality product range on a consistent year-round basis.
Jonathan Ralling, Managing Director of Flamingo Horticulture Kenya quotes: “The Group’s success is dependent on - and hence focused on - delivering six key drivers to our retail customers: quality, availability, value, sustainability, innovation and insight. We believe the first three should be givens and it is the last three that will ensure Flamingo’s long-term viability and prosperity.
“Our business is defined by ambition, Kenyan pride, and an outstanding work ethic. We use these core principles along with innovation techniques to differentiate our products and operations from our competitors’.”
Flamingo Horticulture’s history
“From the beginning, In order to differentiate the Flamingo offer, our operations were underpinned by best practice in four key areas: good agricultural practice (GAP); good manufacturing practice (GMP); social and ethical ways of working; and environmental protection,” Ralling explains when recalling the journey that Flamingo Horticulture has enjoyed over the past quarter of a century. “It is these pillars that are the foundations of Flamingo’s strong sustainability credentials today.”
1994: The other key was the vertical integration between Kenya and the UK when Flamingo was set up in the UK as the Group holding company and as Homegrown’s marketing and distribution arm. This gave Flamingo control and ownership from a growing, vegetable processing, distribution and freight forwarding operation perspective in Nairobi; and an airfreight, to marketing and distribution point of view in the UK. That meant Flamingo was in total control of its entire supply chain from Kenya to the UK.
2000: In 2000, Flamingo increased its interest in flower production and acquired Flowerplus in Spalding. This was followed in 2002 by the acquisition of Zwetsloots in Sandy, Bedfordshire and these two businesses are the basis of Flamingo Flowers’ operations in the UK.
2001: Dudutech, the Group’s Kenya-based IPM Company was formed in response to growing consumer concerns about the use of pesticides in horticulture. Dudu is Swahili for insect, and the Company is focused on developing indigenous Kenyan insects and other naturally-occurring products that can be used as an alternative to agrichemicals. 2001 also saw Flamingo become the marketing partner for those growing operations that used to supply the Albert Fisher group. These companies are still the backbone of the Company’s supply partners today.
2002: Homegrown increased its flower growing operations with the purchase of Sulmac Kenya, now Kingfisher farm; and also with the acquisition of Sunbird Flowers in South Africa, now Flamingo Flowers South Africa, a chrysanthemum farm near Johannesburg.
2005: Flamingo Flowers BV was set up in Holland to give the Group stronger links with Dutch growers and the auctions. Also in 2005 the fresh produce business moved to new premises in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
2007: Flamingo Holdings was acquired by James Finlay Ltd. Following a successful period which saw a significant period of capital investment under the ownership of JFL, the business was sold to Sun Capital in November, 2015 and reverted to using the name Flamingo Horticulture in January, 2016.
With a present day reputation as a leader across process innovation, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and farm practice parameters, Flamingo’s success is owed to a culture of continuous improvement, drive and ambition according to Ralling, who further elaborates on the latter as being not just a key customer requirement, but also crucial to the development of the Company in-house.
Spanning areas of staff retention, skills development, education and progressive experience, ambition isn’t just a buzzword driven by management but a cultural staple within the confines of Flamingo’s farms.
“This philosophy has seen the development of increased rose production, innovative vegetable production - both in terms of product and harvesting processes - and the constant development of IPM solutions with our sister Company, Dudutech,” the Managing Director says.
On the continuous improvement front, the Company has developed value-added vegetable products which have enabled entry into new European markets while further strengthening its influence across Flamingo’s UK retail base.
On the flower production side, the Company has developed seasonal and bulb crops to support its extensive rose offering, and is now developing value-added solutions to extend its product portfolio in Kenya; all with specific industry and consumer trends having been monitored and taken into account.
“Our sister companies and partner customers in overseas markets continually provide key market and trend data to this end,” elaborates Ralling. “With a diverse product portfolio we need to not only be aware of market trends, but also pivotal product relationships in terms of opportunity and performance.
“We use hard data as well as focus groups and customer polling to understand not only how our products are received but also the key question of ‘what next?’”
A responsibility to grow
Naturally, behind every innovation, diversification and expansion is a series of behind the scenes internal enhancements that keep Flamingo ahead of the industry curve, compounded by the business strength to carry out sizable capital investments when required.
Consequently, its vegetable business has in recent times benefitted from extensive investment into harvest and product handling, focused primarily around automation and quality improvements.
Ralling adds: “Meanwhile, within our flower business, we continue to improve product handling and supply chain technologies around speed, safety, cold storage, and ultimately, product vase-life. We are also undertaking a rose expansion project to increase production by more than 50 percent in the coming two years.
“Our herb business is also a key value-adding opportunity and we are constantly trialling shelf-ready solutions for export markets.”
And driving these opportunities is an equally refined and thought-through workforce that represents the culmination of decades of hard work and status improvements to make Flamingo the employer of choice that it is today.
Such loyalty from its employees is subsequently repaid through the development of Kenyan nationals on a local level, and the Company is very proud of this developmental philosophy which is now being seen across regional operations and senior management roles.
“As a business we are committed to education and training across our business and that commitment continues to yield talented and ambitious team members which we have a responsibility to grow and develop,” Ralling continues.
On the theme of localisation and external enrichment, Flamingo is also “blessed with a supply base that shares many of our principles, and is working just as hard to develop Kenyan supply channels and capability that supports a proud Kenyan exporter”, he adds. “Continual dialog with our stakeholders ensures that where we can support them we will, and where we think opportunities exist we have a responsibility to engage.”
Building a future
Flamingo Horticulture’s overall farming footprint at present naturally lends itself to geographical footprint growth and sustainable progression into the future which, in turn, lends itself to an ever-broadening customer base as well.
Its key UK retail market remains an important string in the Flamingo bow, but is now complemented in force by export markets stretching from the US to Australia.
And between the two, a clear focus of late has been on developing its crucial European markets even more concertedly via a combination of product innovation, cost effectiveness, and enhanced collaboration with customers to better understand the respective markets.
Improvement isn’t just tailored towards capital gains though, with the business every bit as invested in wider societal evolution as well, as epitomised by its CSR agenda supported by both shareholders and aforementioned customers.
“We are delighted to engage in a number of community projects including educational development, environmental work to support natural habitats and fragile eco systems, and healthcare projects,” Ralling affirms. “Flamingo has a long history of being both a responsible employer and neighbour within the communities we operate. Working with our retail customers we are also able to provide further impetus around Fairtrade projects and international aid and development efforts.”
Expectations for the future heavily feature enhanced CSR involvement, compounding its core efforts which revolve around business growth and farming excellence.
Ralling concludes: “We are building a future that continues to deliver to all stakeholders, and that is sustainable through all aspects of our business; be those financial, social, environmental, and technological.
“Overall we would like to be seen as a large farming and export operation, with great people, great customers, and a future that we are able to shape in the context of increasingly tough trading conditions, but ultimately rewarding markets.”