The fresh cut flower industry moves online: Growers in Ecuador and Colombia are taking a high-tech approach to business
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By: Luke Chambers
Not just flowers are growing in the Andes. A few years ago, active volcanoes outnumbered Internet service providers in Ecuador and Colombia. Today, the Andean region is one of the fastest growing Internet markets in the world, and Flower exporters are taking advantage of the World Wide Web to gain direct access to foreign markets.
For many flower growers, e-commerce is an entirely new way of doing business. The Internet offers flower buyers and sellers the advantage of sharing price and availability information over the network in real time. It puts buyers in Miami in the same virtual office with sellers in Ecuador and Colombia. With the Internet wholesalers, retailers and even end consumers can find themselves buying products directly from growers around the world.
Limonflor Greenhouse, Cayambe, Ecuador.
Photo by Luke Chambers.
“The fast moving fresh flower industry is ideally suited for virtual marketplaces,” says Jason Halberstadt, CEO of MetaMorf S.A. and founder of Florastream.com. “The industry is highly fragmented with thousands of buyers and sellers in many different countries.”
According to Eduardo Hauser, vice president of corporate development for AOL Latin America, the Internet is poised to grow at exponential rates in the Andean region and b2b e-commerce sites will play an increasingly important role in the way that businesses interact with clients in the US.
“The Internet today in Latin America is large, but it’s gonna be much larger,” said Hawser. “40% of the people who will be on the Internet in 2003 aren’t there yet. Latin America is the fastest growing region for Internet market penetration.
Statice, a popular summer flower for export in the North American and European. Photo by Luke Chambers.
“What’s making people connect?” Asks Hauser, as if the answer were obvious. “Its simple economics…to remain competitive in today’s marketplace business are finding that they must move operations online.”
For Carmen Freire, a summer flowers exporter for Limonflor farms, selling their product in a distant foreign market has been challenging to say the least. “The Internet is far from perfect,” admits Freire, “but for global businesses like flowers, a global marketing mechanism like the Internet, is needed.”
Although many exporters, like Freire, have had success selling their products online, the Internet is by no means the industry standard. Online payment systems, transportation logistics, and limited Internet access still present major challenges for b2b e-commerce. In many flower export offices the fax machine and the computer share the same telephone line.
“Flowers don’t just sell themselves,” added Freire. “Whether you’re selling on the Internet or over the fax machine, it is important to stay in contact with clients, check email and frequently update flower availability.”