General New approach to azalea breeding is promising for innovation


Starting in October 2022, two experienced Flemish floriculture companies will join the existing innovation network AZANOVA. This network began in 2008 as a cooperative of some 20 progressive azalea producers, who together with ILVO Plant Living Lab as partner for breeding, made smart investments in market- and consumer-oriented, qualitative innovations.

The specialized companies FlorAmor and Hortibreed, active in international marketing and breeding, are now joining this network. The collaboration is logical, say the partners, given that the sector itself has changed and the cost of innovation remains feasible this way. Six growers, fewer than before, are members of this new club. Over the last 10 years, many azalea growers have stopped production or switched to other crops. The remaining companies are larger, serve an international market and want to secure their access to sustainable and aesthetically pleasing innovations. FlorAmor and Hortibreed, both headquartered in Lochristi, see a clear added value to a more integrated innovation network.

Through our entry and investment, we are entering a broader knowledge environment that comprises both the historical azalea collection and the latest genetic breeding tools of ILVO Plant Living Lab..

Alain De Mol - CEO FlorAmor and Hortibreed

This offers more opportunities for interesting potential innovations, and above all for well-organized valorization. Hortibreed specializes in breeding and marketing azaleas and rhododendron. They recently hired and ornamentals researcher, Steven Engelen, to ensure continuity on the breeding side.

Steven brings over 15 years of experience at Bayer and, together with the ILVO experts, he will supervise the breeding program for AZANOVA and draw up its breeding objectives.

Stefan Laridon - Business Unit Development Hortibreed

Additional marketing know-how will become available in the AZANOVA group through Hortibreed. This expansion means that for the first time AZANOVA spans the entire chain from research to consumer-oriented marketing. That is a strength of the consortium. The breeders' rights of the new introductions are jointly managed by ILVO and Hortibreed.

For the first time in azalea breeding there is also real balanced private-public cooperation. As a result, the fundamental knowledge development at ILVO receives accelerated valorization.

Johan Van Huylenbroeck - Scientific Director ILVO

Geert Verbruggen, one of the participating azalea growers is enthusiastic about the new approach. He explains that through marketing knowledge, the grower group will now know better how much of which (new) cultivar can be set up to collectively obtain a better price for the producer. That means an evolution from price taking to price setting, which is a favorable perspective for the AZANOVA growers.

A first feat from the new AZANOVA network is already being announced.

For the 25 year anniversary of Flandresse, the group presents the new line Flandresse Premium Aiko. That line includes high-quality cultivars from the ILVO breeding program.

Christophe Stevens - Sales and Marketing Manager FlorAmor
Aiko Flandresse
The Aiko cultivars are known for their special flowers and extra-long shelf life in the living room.

As a result of this consortium, the future of the azalea industry looks bright. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the partners of the renewed innovation network already saw a resurgence of general interest in plants and also houseplants among consumers. With the current energy crisis, it seems that the less heat-hungry ornamental plant species, as azalea, are becoming more important within the entire ornamental plant sector.

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