Eastern Cape technology keeps flowers fresh longer

A SOUTH African company has mastered the art of preserving fresh flowers for months – even up to a year–byusinga technology discovered and patented in the Eastern Cape.

Iluba, now based in Gauteng, supplies long-lasting fresh cut flowers and foliage for the local and international market, with exports to Europe and soon to Australia as well.

Iluba chief executive JJ Vil- joen said the method – which includes using locally grown flowers and foliage and pre- serving them through a patent- ed, eco-friendly process, using inert chemicals and recycling all waste products – was dis- covered in the Eastern Cape.

“A farmer’s wife, Tinie Mas- ke, and her husband were in the citrus business in Kirk- wood but she had several greenhouses where she was growing roses. She started them to give employment to the farm workers’ wives.

“Soon she came up with the idea of trying to increase the shelf life of roses and she tried several different methods over five to eight years before com- ing up with this process,” he said.

Viljoen said he became involved when he received a call from the Innovation Fund to ask whether he could manage the project, as he had been in- volved in several scientific pro- jects in the past.

“I came up with a business plan and eventually I became more and more involved in the project. Tinie was elderly and heading for retirement. They wanted to buy a lodge and live out their retirement years, so I bought the business from her,” he said.

Viljoen said he moved oper- ation to Muldersdrift on the West Rand because altitude was more suited to the growing of fresh flowers.

“We work with freshly cut flowers and they need to be cut soon after the bulbs open. Any new product has its challenges, but we have found that in just over two years of oper- new product has its chal- ations we are already export- lenges, but we have found that ing to Europe and Australia. We have also employed 50 people and towards the end of the year we expect to increase this to 100 people.”

“We would not be where we are today without the assist- ance of Jacqui Barnett at NM- MU and all their help with get- ting the technology patented. Then the IDC and Seda have al- so been instrumental in getting us funding.

“There is another company specialising in longer-life flowers in South America, but I have heard that they are getting quite worried about us.”

Viljoen said flowers could last up to a year, depending on the way they were handled and kept. He said Iluba used chemistry and a dipping process to pre- serve the flowers for months.

“About 70% of flowers are sold as a gift for Mothers’ Day or for Valentine’s Day, while 15% are for funerals and weddings and 15% are for the lifestyle and decor market where restaurants, hotels and housewives use them to decorate.

“It has become quite expen- sive for them to replace flowers weekly. We give them a natural alternative to artificial flowers.”

Viljoen said al though the cost of Iluba flowers was four times that of normal flowers, the cost saving was huge for the consumer, depending on how long the flowers lasted.

He said he was hoping to expand the business soon by securing agents and distributors in other regions of the country.

Courtesy EP Herald

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