Flower Auction in Aalsmer, Holland
By Liz Morrow
I truly never gave much thought to how flowers are traded, sold and sent to markets for us consumers. I did wonder when certain plants would be in the nurseries or in bloom. I even considered the price of such plants, from my end−the consumer. Even after becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer and being a seasonal worker in a local nursery last summer, my education was still lacking. This past April, I was able to amend that gap with a visit to Aalsmer, Holland to attend the largest international trading platform for plants and flowers. And what an exciting experience it was. I was part of a boat/bike tour of 30 people. One early morning, we all got on a bus to drive 30 minutes to Aalsmer to Royal FloraHolland. Visitors arrive early and can only observe the action from walkways above the flowers in a busy warehouse the size of 220 football fields!!
From the walkways, one will see little transport trains of carts filled with flowers and plants, criss-crossing each other at rather astonishing speeds. You will NOT get up close and personal to the flowers.
The most interesting part of this flower market visit is seeing it all in action. It was an amazing display of logistics!!
Over 30 million flowers and plants are traded here every day! That’s 3.4 billion roses, 2 billion tulips (I’ll tell you about tulip bulbs later), and 90 million kalanchoe (always a lover a succulents), just to name a few. As one can see, it is a hive of activity. I’d love to share a video of it, but it doesn’t do well in the article. But there are several to enjoy on YouTube. I encourage you to check it out. A plethora of transport trains, full of carts loaded with containers of flowers and plants are moved by electric-powered trucks or automated rails. It looks chaotic with a highway system allowing the various wagons to be moved to where the schedules demand.
Flowers arrive from around 10 p.m. the night before, are cooled and then sorted throughout the night. The auctions take place in the early morning hours. Then the flowers are immediately distributed to their buyers. By late afternoon, all the flowers will have been moved out and shipped to destinations worldwide. Only to start all over the next day.
This is how the flower auction functions: Buyers sit in an almost college classroom setting, with computers at the ready. In front of them, the flowers and plants are pulled through the room on the automated transport trains.
The huge screens display the auction information and the clock determines the price. The auctioneer sits behind a glass screen. The buyers bid electronically as the flowers move by.
Once the flowers are sold, the most impressive part of the logistics spring into action. All the carts and containers of plants and flowers are sorted and sent to the correct loading bay so each buyer receives their order, further sending it on to their distribution centers or Schiphol Airport for export. Payments are received the same day and all sold flowers clear the building by late afternoon. It truly is an impressive operation.
Now, remember my comment about the tulip bulbs? At the end of the auction, towards the exit, just like any other tourist attraction, there’s a gift shop. Well, someone has 500 tulip bulbs of all varieties being shipped to her in the fall. Now, 200 of them are for my traveling companions. I got just a little caught up in the beauty of all the tulips I saw in bloom. I had been to Keukenhof the day before, so I was still on a sensory high and needed to extend my fix. If anyone is interested in an article on Keukenhof, just ask. I’m happy to share a few of my 500 pictures from there.
Other facts and figures of interest
- 30,000 different varieties of flowers and plants
- 38 AUCTION BLOCKS
- More than 120,000 transactions per day 6,000 SUPPLIERS
- 2,500 CUSTOMERS
- 3,000 EMPLOYEES
- TOP 5 EXPORT COUNTRIES: Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Belgium
- TOP 5 IMPORT COUNTRIES: Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Belgium and Germany