Matthias Haudenschild, agrotropic

«Corona is a break for all of us»

Mister Haudenschild, how did agrotropic experience the lockdown?
Well, there were of course various dimensions, such as procurement and sales. But the focus was - and still is - also on the jobs of our own employees and the existential fears of our many flower farms abroad. We live here differently from people in the south, with a relatively high level of social security. This is different in the south, and Corona can hit the farms and their employees much harder.

How did you experience the first days?
It was problematic because not only the flower shops closed, but also supermarkets were not allowed to re-order flowers. This caused a big drop in sales and was challenging because flowers that had already been ordered could not simply be cancelled. They were already picked and were on their way, which meant that we suddenly had a huge quantity of flowers in our coolers.

Did you have to throw these flowers?
No. We contacted the surrounding communities and gave the flowers away in cooperation with the authorities: we distributed them in the neighborhoods, retirement homes, etc. It was a good thing for us too, because we managed to cheer people up a bit. In any case, we received countless emails of thanks and other feedback. We even found colored stones on our mailbox with little messages of thanks. This gratitude touched all of us and showed that we did the right thing.

Where can you currently still get flowers from?
At the moment the problem is not the availability on the farms, but the freight situation. Many airlines have grounded because they no longer have any passengers and a lot of volume has also been lost on the freight side. And as far as the transport of freight is concerned, essential goods naturally have top priority, that is understandable. In other words, since the situation changes practically every day, we live from hand to mouth, try to react flexibly and dynamically and solve problems.

Do you know how the flower farms and their employees are doing?
Since we have built up these partnerships over years and even decades and are also personally very present on site, we know each other. This is doubly harsh. Many farms have had to close and lay off staff, others are trying to save what they can and continue to sell us flowers, albeit in much smaller quantities. But still. This is a turning point. Because there is a lot missing in these countries that we take for granted. For example, fresh water, medicines and hospitals. There are no bridging loans for farms, no dole for the population. They usually have no savings or stocks. It is often a question of pure survival. We are also very concerned about that.

Did agrotropic have to lay off employees?
No, that is not in question. Of course, we had to reduce our activities, which is why we also registered for short-time work, which has already been approved. Some of those who are still working are now doing so in their home office - or then in such a way that they can keep to the recommended distances. We reacted very quickly and, for example, we distributed hand protection kits and hand sanitizers to everyone, including the family. Now we all have to stick together.

What is important in the world today?
Flexibility, foresight, creativity, courage and empathy.

What does your light look like at the end of the tunnel?
That this crisis will soon end and flower purchases will generally be allowed again. There are too many companies involved. Not only flower shops, but also large retailers, flower markets, cut flower producers in Switzerland and abroad, transport agents, air and road logistics companies. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of employees who make their living from flowers. Of course, protecting the population has the highest priority. But then we - and, of course, other sectors - must find a way to get everything back on track.

Thank you for the interesting interview, Mr Haudenschild.

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