Van de Steene - De Buck

Azalea Van de Steene - De Buck
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Large, uniform batches of top-quality azaleas. That is what azalea company Van de Steene - De Buck specialises in. Managers Hans and Kathleen can achieve this thanks to a high level of automation which enables them to react quickly to their customers’ wishes. And with their quality and environmental certificates, they can meet the ever-stricter requirements of the market.

‘Automation is our way of organising our company as efficiently as possible. For our customers, it also means that we can prepare their orders quickly.’ Hans Van de Steene – Manager

Hans Van de Steene was born with a green thumb. After all, his parents owned a horticultural company – although azaleas played second fiddle to their focus on chrysanthemums. Hans himself above all saw a great future in azaleas, so that in 1993 he started his own azalea company. He now runs it together with his wife, Kathleen De Buck.

From cutting to sale
‘We take our own cuttings and then grow them into the end product. We focus purely on azaleas so that we can run our company very efficiently with regard to logistics. In the past few years we made significant investments in the automation of our production, for example a robot takes care of picking up and placing the plants. That means that with a minimum number of employees we can still achieve a high turnover and offer our customers smooth service. In the summer of 2018 we will install another new machine that will automatically prepare the plants for selling’, Hans reveals. ‘A forklift truck will take the plants to a table, where they will be completely air blown so that they can be delivered all nice and clean. This will drastically lighten the physical workload.’

‘We offer our customers a wide range of azaleas, ranging from early to late varieties. We also produce a very broad variety of Helmut Vogels with different variations in the varieties with small flowers. Our early azaleas represent 60 to 70% of our turnover and we offer them in 9 different colours. Around 30% are later varieties, that we have in 10 to 15 different colours. And finally, we have 6 types of the Azanova range in production, that together represent about 5% of our turnover. In time, our Azanova range might expand a little’, Hans says, looking to the future.
‘As far as pot size is concerned, we offer azaleas in pots of 10, 12 and 13 cm; the 12 cm size is our absolute top seller. Thanks to this standardisation, we are able to properly automate our production and guarantee our customers a continuous supply of the same pot size’, emphasises Hans.

‘We export 30 to 40 % directly. Denmark is our largest direct market, representing 90%. Germany takes care of the remaining 10%. Our azaleas that are sold via traders also largely end up on export markets, from Poland and Norway to Spain and Italy. What’s interesting in this, is the specific preferences of each market’, Hans explains. ‘After all, the preference for certain colours is less susceptible to trends over time, but we do see that each market chooses its own colour pallet. In general, the northern countries opt for more light colours and our southern customers prefer a darker range. Thus, the Swedish market asks for up to 40% white azaleas, whilst in Spain they only make up 10% of the volume. Our Norwegian customers are big fans of white and red until the New Year, whilst starting in January they prefer to buy pink varieties.

Environment & quality
‘Our customers increasingly demand certificates that prove that we work in an environmentally aware way and can guarantee excellent quality. That’s why we have been members of the Vlaams Milieuplan Sierteelt (VMS-MPS) since the very beginning and we can offer our customers the VMS-MPS A+ label. In concrete terms, for our company this means that we use as few heavy-duty spray products as possible and that we limit our water and energy consumption. We do this amongst other things by recovering water and using energy screens in the greenhouses’, illustrates Hans. ‘And our membership of the Belgian Project Azalea Quality (PAK) imposes a number of quality standards for which we undergo independent inspections. One of our quality aspects, for example, is the uniform flowering of our products. Azaleas need a cold spell to flower. That is why we have our own cold stores for the early azaleas so that we can force the plants to flower simultaneously and uniformly’, Hans concludes.

Company in figures

  • Employees:

    • 2 managers

    • 1 permanent employee

    • 2 temporary employees (who together work for 100 working days/year)

  • Company surface area:

    • 15,000 m² container field

    • 23,000 m² frost-free greenhouse

    • 500 m² cold stores

  • Export: 30 to 40% direct (rest via brokering)

    • 90% Denmark

    • 10% Germany

  • Products: 100% azaleas

    • 60 to 70% early azaleas

    • 30% late azaleas

    • 5% Azanova