Multiflora is Africa’s largest flower auction and sells 300 million flower stems per year from its premises in Johannesburg. This flower market currently sources flowers from across the continent. How we made it in Africa’s Loraine Stander talked to Tjaart Kilian, quality control manager of Multiflora.
Although Multiflora is based in South Africa, you have suppliers in other African countries. What makes these countries suitable for flower production?
We have suppliers from Zimbabwe, Zambia and as far north as Kenya and Ethiopia. The climate, especially further north, is very suitable for growing certain varieties. The more moderate climate makes it unnecessary for greenhouses and thus production costs are lower. In South Africa, however, expensive electricity tariffs push up production costs. Height above sea level has an enormous impact on the quality of flowers, especially roses, and that is where Ethiopia has an added advantage.
Why are flower growers going the Multiflora route?
It is convenient for the grower to deliver to one central point where the flowers are also sold, rather than to experience the logistical nightmare and costly exercise of distributing to clients that are scattered all over the country. The grower delivers only to Multiflora and do not have to cater to the whims of the individual client.
Multiflora provides the client with daily auction reports. The client can compare his product with other producers thus creating a healthy competition to produce top quality products.
Multiflora also constantly provides feedback to the grower about his product. Since Multiflora inspects the flowers rigorously, problems can be brought to the attention of the growers often before they are aware of it. Multiflora protects the grower by dealing directly with dissatisfied clients. The grower would be informed of all complaints and is provided with an opportunity to rectify the situation and win back the trust of the buyer. At the same time the flower industry is not negatively impacted upon since buyers that are disappointed with one product would still return to the market to buy from another producer.
Do you only sell to local wholesalers?
We sell to wholesalers, but also to any florist with a registered business. We, however, expect them to buy on a regular basis from us. Most of our buyers are from South Africa, but we also have buyers who dispatch to African countries, like Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Do you source flowers from outside the African continent?
At the moment we have only one overseas supplier, namely Taiwan, that produces limited varieties of orchids. Orchids are a species that appear all over the world but each variety demands different growing conditions. Local orchid growers still provide the bulk of orchids sold at Multiflora. Growers from Ecuador have approached us to deliver roses, but the deal has not yet been finalised.
Are there certain flower varieties that you would still like to obtain?
We are not in a position to prescribe to growers what to plant and what not to plant. It all depends on each grower’s circumstances, ability and climate. Since we do not work directly with the public, we also cannot make recommendations. Creative florists can make the most common flower attractive to buyers. However, growers need to carry out extensive market research as between the trusted and all time favourites on the market, there is certainly always scope for fresh ideas and products.
What would be your advice to potential flower suppliers?
My advice is that their aim must be to produce flowers of consistent high quality. Although it costs more time and effort, you must deliver a product that you are proud off and that you will buy in the shop. Flowers of inferior quality do not sell and also harms the flower industry.
Are there specific challenges for the industry in Africa in comparison to the European market for example?
We cannot be compared with the enormous flower infrastructure in Europe. Their culture is to spend more on flowers than South Africans do. During winter they spend long hours indoors and use flowers to beautify their homes. We realise that each country and industry has its own challenges, we can only concentrate on ours.