British Ornamental Plant Producers members to choose from three suitors

British Ornamental Plant Producers (BOPP) members are to vote on proposals from three organisations vying to take the organisation over.

The Assured Produce Scheme (APS), the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and Dutch certifying body MPS each presented proposals to BOPP members at the organisation's AGM in Nottingham last week.

Chairman Steve Homer said BOPP was in good health but faced declining incomes and a changing marketplace that might call for new partnerships to be formed.

Homer told HW: "The chairman's report and the financial report show that the scheme is still in good health and in terms of industry relevance we are still in a good place - the challenge is to make sure we stay in that good place because the rest of the market is moving on.

"Sustainability questions are starting to come into horticulture and we have to answer them and as a small scheme with limited finance that's our biggest challenge. We are looking to partner with other organisations to take on the challenges of sustainability and better practice - those are the issues that are foremost in the minds of the general public."

In a presentation to members Homer outlined potential drivers for change at BOPP as the following: a declining grower membership; increasing dependence on funds from packers; no more HDC support; supermarkets setting their own standards; GlobalGAP being relevant to few members; a lack of funds to increase marketing; no development of retail links; management tool and continual improvement benefits are insufficient to sustain the scheme; and a need to maintain retailer demand.

Detailed discussions between the BOPP board and each potential partner will be held over the summer, following which the board will make a recommendation to members in October. Representatives of the three associations summarise their views of BOPP below.

After the recommendations are made by BOPP board members will be sent postal ballots offering them the chance to vote on proposals for some form of partnership or merger with each of the three bodies, or the option to keep BOPP the same.

Each member will receive one vote and un-cast votes will be counted as a vote for the board's recommendation.

As the largest European organisation working in the same field as BOPP, Homer said MPS would provide a strong option in terms of back-office functions and sustainability, offering "pretty much everything the grower would need".

He indicated some form of partnership with MPS was more likely, whereas a deal with the HTA could see a fuller form of merger.

HTA's strengths lay in relationships with retailers while APS could offer a bigger voice on a national scale he said.

Homer added: "Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and all those attributes will be valued differently by different members. From a board perspective we decided to distil it down to four options and leave it to members to decide."

MPS

MPS is the largest certification scheme in Europe and operates in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Its mission statement is aimed at a "positive positioning of the floriculture sector towards society, authorities and market in terms of sustainability".

It works with more than 4,000 companies offering more than 10 types of certificates, employing 74 people with 40 external auditors. MPS marketing and sales manager Ronald van den Breevaart told HW the organisation was interested in working with BOPP because of its good reputation with growers and retailers in the UK.

He explained: "We want to be the world standard not because we want to be big but to prevent growers from having to have 20 certificates in each part of the supply chain. We always like to work with local organisations because they understand what is happening and the issues. I want BOPP to maintain BOPP - conquering England is not my goal."

APS

The Assured Produce Scheme is the body behind the Red Tractor logo and has a strong national profile. It has traditionally worked with agricultural producers and oversees £10bn of food and drink bearing the Red Tractor mark, working on food safety and hygiene, environmental protection and animal welfare.

Chairman Mark Tatchell told HW: "We are an organisation that specialises in setting standards, independent auditing and managing and policing markets. We work quite a lot with end users trying to make sure that assured produce is specified by their buyers so we increase the amount of assured produce that goes into the market.

"The fact that we have focused on food in the past might be seen as a weakness but we have been focusing on the UK grower business.

"The Red Tractor mark isn't a compulsory part of the process - BOPP has its own mark and I can't see any reason that couldn't be used."

HTA

The HTA deal would aim to maintain the technical core and quality of the scheme and increase the retail buy-in and marketing to retailers and potential members. It would see BOPP become an HTA specialist group in which the board and technical advisory committee would be replaced by a BOPP Committee.

HTA members would not be asked to pay subscription fees and the HTA would manage the group's back office functions. HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe said contracts for technical and additional marketing support could be offered as necessary. It would also see the HTA develop a new group for packhouses.

Briercliffe told HW: "Joining us frees up some of the cash that is being spent on administration. To work effectively it just needs money available to do some of the marketing functions - that is the core bit in my view. BOPP needs to be able to have a great relationship with the retailers."


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