Cathy Jett is the assistant business editor at The Free Lance-Star, and specializes in covering the area's retail scene.
New King George location allows grower to expand tulip production
An area grower’s new King George County location is allowing it to grow and ship an additional 2 million tulips in time to brighten loved ones’ Valentine’s Day.
Fresh Tulips USA, which opened in an 8-acre greenhouse in Stevensburg in 2004, recently leased the 45-acre greenhouse complex off State Route 3 near the Birchwood power plant in King George County.
The facility, which had lain vacant for five years, has been cleaned up and improved. Fresh Tulips USA started production there in mid-January, and will ship a total of 8 million red, pink and white hydroponically grown tulips from both its locations during the Valentine’s Day holiday period. It runs from the end of January through Feb. 14.
Tulips are the second-most- popular flower for Valentine’s Day, right behind roses.
General Manager Coen Haakman said that the company had outgrown the greenhouse it leases in Stevensburg. Leasing the King George greenhouse from Horti-Group USA will allow him to increase its tulip production by about 15 percent a year.
That’s partly because Fresh Tulips USA has room to expand in King George, where just 7 acres are currently being used. And partly because it will be able to raise tulips year-round in that air-conditioned facility. Tulips can only be grown in the Stevensburg greenhouse from the end of September to the end of May.
“We’re trying to fill in the gap with air conditioning,” Haakman said. “Tulips don’t like temperatures above 75 degrees.”
He’s also using some of the additional space in King George to experiment with growing oriental lilies. Green shoots ranging in height from a few inches to a couple of feet already are rising from pots in the greenhouse.
“I can hear them growing,” he joked during a tour by golf cart of the vast building.
Lilies take about 100 days to grow, compared to three weeks for tulips. Haakman hopes to have the first ones ready for sale a week before Easter. He’s also going to try growing daffodils and hyacinths and hopes to have their cheery blooms ready for sale by December.
Fresh Tulips USA LLC is a division of B&B Quality Bulbs, a Dutch company that specializes in breeding and selling tulip bulbs worldwide. It got into the cut-tulip business nearly a decade ago after realizing it had been missing that part of the market.
The company researched the demand for cut tulips and found that they were growing in several countries, including the United States. It decided to set up an operation in Stevensburg because it’s at the midpoint of its distribution area on the East Coast.
Haakman will continue operations there until the lease for the greenhouse is up in 2015. At that point, operations will be consolidated in King George, which is also well-positioned for the delivery trucks that haul its bouquets to distribution centers on the East Coast and in the South and Midwest.
“Stevensburg is closer to [Interstate] 81,” he said. “King George is closer to I–95.”
Fresh Tulips USA’s cellophane-wrapped bouquets of tulips are currently sold for $6.99 to $7.99 at such grocery chains as Giant and Whole Foods.
The company’s increased production means that it is able to continue providing tulips for the grocery chains as they open more locations, as well as to new clients such as Publix and Harris Teeter. It’s also trying to expand its distribution area into Texas.
Grocery chains account for about 90 percent of Fresh Tulip USA’s business. The remaining 10 percent comes from ProFlowers, an online company that delivers more elaborate and expensive bouquets to customers in the United States and seven other countries.
The expansion has been “an enormous challenge,” Haakman said, “but we can go forward here for the next five years or 10 years at least.”