Once upon a time, it all began with one small boy and an even smaller shoot. More than forty years later, one of Container Centralen’s most loyal customers is thriving. OVATA in Bleiswijk, in the west of Holland, benefits from the renewed popularity of succulents. And the company operates in an innovative and sustainable way.
Succulents are trendy again. The plants, which are masters of retaining water, require little maintenance and barely need watering. And even in the darkest corner, they feel very content. A sustainable ‘housemate’, in other words.
“We definitely notice that succulents are very popular again”, says Rob Welles, who works for grower OVATA. “We are all busy, we all have little time, but we also want to live with a conscience and contribute to the future of our planet. A plant, which you don’t have to throw away after a month, is a perfect match. Succulents are survivors: a long life with minimal care. And there are everywhere at the moment, in magazines, on TV, on social media. People notice that and think: hey, that’s nice, I want that too.”
The first seed of what became OVATA was literally planted by owner Hans Ammerlaan, in 1974, at the age of 7. He was given a few crassula ovata shoots and was immediately enthusiastic. Long story short: in 1987, Hans established a nursery which, referring to that very first little plant, he renamed ‘OVATA’ some ten years later.
Rob, tell us a bit about what OVATA does nowadays.
“In essence, we still grow and sell succulents. We continually keep our assortment up to date. We supply a large range of exporters and customers, around the world. In addition, OVATA also supplies plants in ceramic pots, adhesive labels and other kinds of added value, all in accordance with the latest trends.”
What do you do yourself?
“Together with two colleagues I work in OVATA’s Customer Care Team. Here, we put our customers centre stage, by dealing with issues, providing data, solving complaints and responding to requests. I am 31 years old and I have worked here since 2013.”
What is your relationship with Container Centralen? “
We have been a customer of CC’s since 1989. It all began with four Danish trolleys, and by now it’s 1,014. We are very satisfied. We share the same values and ambitions. CC supports us in delivering quality, with good trolleys and shelves, and quick swaps if and when necessary.”
High on OVATA’s agenda is sustainability, isn’t it?
“Correct. It is becoming more and more important for us, as an aspect of growing our plants. One of my colleagues works full time on gathering knowledge about sustainability and its application. Our aim is to produce a constantly updated range of succulents, organically grown. On a daily basis, this means amongst other things fewer CO2-emissions,
using residual heat instead of gas, and a maximum use of organic insecticides. Another interesting example is the insect mesh, which we installed in new green houses in 2018. Its main purpose is to keep out thrips, small insects which insert themselves into our succulents, feed themselves that way, and damage the plants. The mesh is a sustainable replacement for insecticides.”
Your company does a couple of nice things in terms of corporate social responsibility. Please explain.
“That’s right. It fits into our mission to operate responsibly, not just in term of sustainability, but also by showing respect towards humans and nature, and being socially involved. For example, the adhesive labels on the little sticks which we use as promo labels for the plants, are being applied by people with a mental disability, via the Dutch Ipse de Bruggen organisation. These people do this work passionately, and it makes them part of society.
And what makes us very proud, is our aloe vera project in Uganda. Lots of local women are severely disfigured, as a result of wartime violence. When we heard about this, we decided to provide shoots for 1,500 aloe vera plants. These shoots have grown into a beautiful field, the maintenance of which is also financed by OVATA. It provides women with shoots to create their own fields. The aloe vera plant has a gel in its leaves, which reduces pain and makes skin soft. The women can turn this gel into a medicine. This enables them to make a living, with as little pain as possible. Following this project, we developed the aloe vera ‘Because We Care’ packaging, in which we now wrap most of our plants. The packaging and the project gained extra attention when it won Royal FloraHolland’s GreenOvation Award for ‘Best Concept’.”
What does OVATA do in terms of innovation?
“Our ambition is to renew our assortment every year. In addition, we keep an eye on the market and what chances it provides
us with, in terms of innovation. For example, a few years ago we introduced a 5.5 centimeter XXL plant. Up until then, only a regular 5.5 centimeter variety was available. And we also launched a cardboard tray, which makes our products recognisable in the supply chain and is sustainable, thanks to using FSC cardboard.”
And do Container Centralen’s products and services help you to achieve your innovation and sustainability ambitions?
“Absolutely! Good quality trolleys and shelves keep our company going. They enable us to grow and keep doing the things we are passionate about. The CC TAG5 label is also important to keep on guaranteeing quality. And we hope that one day the metal CC Solid shelf will be introduced, resulting in fewer shelves breaking down and less work in terms of checking good and bad shelves. This would be a wonderful step towards greater sustainability.