“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is one of the famous lines by William Shakespeare in his Romeo and Juliet.
But if there is one person who knows the meaning of this phrase better is Edward Manning, an investor in the flower business.
He breeds varieties of roses that are grown by over 50 farms on the shores of Lake Naivasha and other parts of the country.
Mr Manning, 31, is a charming young man whose passion and love for roses is amazing. He can differentiate the fragrance of over two dozens breeds of roses developed at De Ruiter East Africa Limited.
And as he engages Money in a lively banter on why to him everyday is Valentine’s Day, it slowly emerges that most of the cut flowers grown in many farms in Kenya have passed through his hands at De Ruiter’s three-acre greenhouse farm in Kongoni, Naivasha.
“We have between 15–20 varieties of roses and in a year we produce nearly two million of fresh breeds that we sell to over 50 flower farms in the country,” says Mr Manning who is the sales and general manager of the company that opened shop in Kenya 18 years ago.
De Ruiter which is one of the top flower breeding companies in the world has offices in Kenya, Colombia, Ecuador, China and the Netherlands where it started nearly a century ago.
And his love and passion for roses has seen the company grow its annual turnover and emerge as one of the most preferred breeders in the country.
“As a company, our annual turnover is steadily rising with every production and new varieties we release in the market and in the last two years our annual turnover has oscillated between Sh180 million and Sh200 million,” says Mr Manning, who is an alumni of Rift Valley Academy in Gilgil, in Nakuru County.
Some of its top varieties that are created over a period of 10 years include furiosa, tropical amazon, royal jewel, navarra, whitewash, firecatcher, wham and zadique among many others.
He says it is estimated that during the Valentine’s Day every year, one in three roses sold across the world earning Kenya in excess of Sh75 billion annually usually passes through his close supervision during breeding.
But what has contributed to this tremendous growth in an increasing competitive market?
He attributes steady growth to efficiency and delivery of good varieties in a transparent manner and availing critical market information such as price changes and demands to the growers on time.
“Our selling point revolves around several key points but top on the list is our unique and agronomical approach where we update our growers with the latest advice to boost their production and earn more money from their sweat,” he told Money.
He adds that aggressive marketing strategies in the world’s biggest flower auction in Holland, long shelf life of various varieties which are less prone to diseases and pests has also contributed to their prominence in the local and international markets.
Mr Manning travels to Tanzania at least thrice in a year, Ethiopia five times in a year, Uganda twice, Russia and Netherlands twice in a year in a bid to scout for new markets.
“Our team has cultivated a unique passion in this industry and that is what separates us from our nearest competitor.”
The firm, which has branches in Nakuru and Timau started with 15 workers, which have since increased to 42.
De Ruiter featured in the Top 100 companies competition in 2014.
“The Nation Media Group Top 100 initiative is a prestigious platform which we were very proud to have made to the final list. The competition has kept us on our toes and helped us maintain our efficiency, financial management and kept our company in good competitive edge and wide market exposure,” he asserts.
However, even as the business blossoms the road to the top has not been a bed of roses.
“Despite bringing billions of shillings to the country, the industry has its own share of challenges including a not so friendly tax approach, high labour charges and high cess charged by the county governments,” says Mr Manning who is a graduate of Royal Agricultural College in United Kingdom.
He says the tough negotiations on European Partnership Agreements at the beginning of 2015 and the weak shilling last year hurt the sector.
He says the industry has also shrugged the tough climatic changes in Europe where falling ice and ash cloud delayed the export of the produce as flights were cancelled.
He says during his six years in the flower business he has learnt to handle the clients just like fresh roses.
“At De Ruiter we value our customers and as they are like our blood in our veins and we strive to handle them with a lot of care just like the way we handle our roses as they are the reason why we have made it that far in the competitive market,” he says.
Mr Manning adds that the company’s future plan is to breed roses that are market specific.