AALSMEER IS SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS “THE FLOWER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD”:
On a recent trip to Amsterdam we visited the FloraHolland Auction Centre in Aalsmeer (Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer). FloraHolland is the largest flower auction centre in the world and they handle about 60% of the international trade in plants and flowers. Their Aalsmeer site is gigantic – the size of about 220 soccer fields! It’s little wonder that Aalsmeer is sometimes called “The Flower Capital of the World”. Some 12.5 billion flowers and plants are sold here annually and the auctions and logistical challenge of getting the flowers to their final destinations within 24 hours are amazing to observe.
FloraHolland is a cooperative organization which brings growers and buyers together. They represents some 5,000 members and 3,000 customers. Through their auction centres they provide the infrastructure for plants and flowers to be bought, sold and transported. The plants and flowers traded are not just from the Netherlands. Five of the top flower supplying countries include Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Belgium and Germany and the five big buying countries include Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia. FloraHolland inspectors check the flowers for freshness, grade them and then send this information to the auction rooms so that buyers can be certain of the reliability of the supplier and the quality of flowers that they are bidding for.
Buyers can buy remotely on the internet or at the FloraHolland auction centres through the Dutch auction process. In Dutch auctions, bidding starts at the highest price which then works its way downwards. As the auction clock ticks away, the price of the auction lot reduces. The first bidder to buzz in stops the clock and secures the lot at that price.
Once we understood the auction codes, the auction process became more meaningful. In the chart above for instance, the monetary unit is 1c, price per stem is 22c and buyer no. 702 bought 1 batch. There were 2 trolleys per batch and each trolley had 27 containers, making a total of 54 containers for this batch. Each container had 80 stems of flowers so this purchase was for 2,160 flowers.
Dutch auctions are an effective method of getting the sale through quickly. An interested buyer cannot afford to let the price drop to such a low level that someone else might jump in and secure the purchase. He’s already pre-booked airfreight space for the flowers and plants to be shipped that day and the customer at the other end is expecting to receive their flowers for their shops. So the buyer cannot afford to come away empty-handed.
Aalsmeer is a 30-minutes drive from Amsterdam city centre and although we left our hotel at 7:15 am, it still wasn’t early enough as the flower auctions start from 6:00 am. We visited the largest auction room which reminded me very much of a stock exchange room.
By the time we arrived most of the big auctions had already taken place and the room was quite empty. Imagine the buzz in the room when the auctions are in full flight at 6 am.
About 60% of the worldwide export of flowers and plants are handled through FloraHolland. So, it’s likely that those lovely flowers you may have bought for that special occasion have been through one of the six FloraHolland Auction centres in the Netherlands. Although the centres are set up for processing and distributing large quantities of products quickly and efficiently, the Aalsmeer centre also has a Cash & Carry for smaller buyers.
A Logistical Puzzle
We didn’t see the auctions in action, but from the raised viewing gallery we got to see the enormous supplies of plants and flowers that are handled through this site.
If you love flowers, the crates and crates of fresh and beautiful flowers here will blow you away. We were also able to watch the logistics of moving the shipments from the sellers to the successful bidders’ loading bay. To us, it seemed like a huge nightmare but their systems function like clockwork.
Once a sale is made, the flowers are moved swiftly to the buyer’s area where they are prepared for shipment to their end destination, usually within 24 hours. There are rail-like tracks in the floor and the 270,000 auction trolleys loaded with crates of plants and flowers are sorted through a computerized system. The unmanned trolleys travelled in single file on the tracks and then at a certain junction they split paths and some went in different directions – it was like watching something out of a Zombie movie.
There were also men on orange motorized vehicles shifting the auction trolleys and delivering crates to the buyers’ areas. They zapped around at such a speed and it was very much like a scene from a Star Wars movie – very futuristic looking. It was amazing to us that no lone collided at the speed that they were working to, although I did see a near collision. The two guys just glared at each other, but they never stopped in their tracks. At the end of the viewing gallery you step back down to the ground level where there is a shop. It was a disappointing one as the shop didn’t have anything that visitors like us would want to buy.
The Aalsmeer visit is one of the most fascinating excursions that we’ve been on. Although it deals with flowers, men will not want to miss visiting this amazing auction centre and to see how the international flower trade works.
How to Get to Aalsmeer by Public Transport
Aalsmeer is just 10 km south of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and the close proximity to the airport allows for the flowers to get to the planes quickly. Aalsmeer can be easily reached by bus from various cities. The bus interchange in Aalsmeer is called Hortensiaplein.
From Amsterdam Zuid Station, the 171 to Kudelstaart goes through Aalsmeer; from Amsterdam Centraal catch the 172 to Kudelstaart; from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport catch the 188, 198 or N72.
For journey details, see the journey planning website www.9292.nl and www.connexxion.nl.
The auction centre is open to the public on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 7:00 to 11:00 and on Thursday from 7:00 to 9:00. Arrive as early as possible, so that you can catch everything is full operational.
On Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, the auction centre is closed to the public.
There is a € 6.00 fee for visiting the auction centre or for € 13.50 you’ll also get to visit the Aalsmeer Historic Gardens as well as enjoy a Westeinder Rondvaart boat tour of Westeinderplassen..
1430 BA Aalsmeer
Tel: +31 (0)297 – 39 39 39
Website: www. floraholland.com
Map of Aalsmeer: