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Exporting carnations to Europe

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European Union (EU-28) imports of carnations (Dianthus) were worth €211 million in 2015. The import value of carnations has been stable or growing slightly in the past 5 years. Although carnations are gradually losing market share to cut roses, they are still a major cut flower on the European market. The Netherlands is the most important market for carnations in the European Union, representing about 47% of all imports in 2105. The United Kingdom imports about 90% of its carnations directly from developing countries . Carnations are also popular in Spain and a number of Central and Eastern European countries like Poland, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Romania and the Baltic states. The leading supplier from developing countries on the EU market is Colombia, followed by Turkey, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia.

1. Product description

Carnations are commonly referred to by their scientific name "Dianthus”. Carnations are perennial herbaceous plants, which are native to Eurasia or the Mediterranean region. They have been extensively cultivated for the last 2,000 years. Carnations grow up to 80 cm tall. The flowers of 3–5 cm in diameter are produced singly or up to five together in a cyme (spray carnation). The original natural flower colour is bright pinkish-purple. Due to extensive breeding, other colours including red, white, yellow and green, are available. Carnations have a light perfume. The corresponding CN code is 06031200 fresh cut carnations and buds.

Source: Shutterstock.

Key product specifications

In Europe, carnations are a popular flower in supermarket bouquets in countries such as the United Kingdom and are a traditional gift and/or celebration flower in a number of countries. Most carnations go through the direct trade channel, bypassing the Dutch flower auction. The flower auction had a turnover of €17 million in imported carnations in 2015. We estimate that the Netherlands imported €46 million of carnations directly without auctioning. The direct trade channel is thus the dominant trade channel for carnations, but still carnations are among the top imported flowers at the Dutch flower auction.

Key product specifications may differ between the direct trade channel and the auction. The Dutch flower auction Royal FloraHolland is the main marketplace for buying and selling cut flowers in Europe, and its general product specifications for carnations and other cut flowers are widely recognised in the trade. As these product specifications are well documented, we will use them as references here. Please bear in mind that individual buyers may have other requirements. There are specific requirements regarding quality, size, packing and information on the product label set by the Dutch Flower Auctions Association (VBN) in agreement with growers and traders for all flowers traded at the flower auction. These requirements, which are widely adopted as minimum requirements across the entire cut flower industry including flowers in the direct trade channel, are listed below.

Quality and grading: Cut carnations may be traded at the auction if they meet VBN requirements. Grading and other requirements may differ for individual buyers in the direct trade channel. These requirements consist of two parts: general requirements for all supplied flowers and specific requirements for cut carnations. Products that do not meet the requirements regarding pre-treatment, minimum quality, bacteria content and ripeness are not traded and are destroyed if necessary (VBN). You are advised to study the requirements carefully through the links included above, as the details given below only represent a brief summary of the full requirements.

  • Carnations are traded in 3 quality groups: A1, A2 and B1, depending on the extent to which they meet the quality and grading criteria.
  • The following specific requirements apply to all carnations:
    • The batch must be free of shrunken flowers and/or ‘shrinkers’;
    • The batch must be free of woody stems;
    • The batch must be free of crooked necks.
  • The following additional requirements apply to spray carnations:
    • The stems must have a minimum of 3 ‘bloomable’ (mature) flower buds. 2 buds can show a slight deviation; 1 bud can show a serious deviation;
    • The batch must be free of visible remnants of the main flower;
    • The batch must be free of torn flowers;
    • The batch must be free of excess shoots.
  • The following additional requirements apply to standard carnations:
    • The batch must be free of buds;
    • The batch must be free of stuck flowers;
    • The batch must be free of torn flowers.
  • Carnations are graded per batch according to:
    • length;
    • ripeness;
    • number of bloomable buds.

Growers are responsible for grading their products through self-assessment and for the reliability of the information they provide with each lot at the Dutch flower auction. However, the auction monitors customers’ claims for refunds to check supplier reliability. Such claims may for example arise from the provision of incorrect product information on the consignment note or label. The Quality Index (QI) is based on the number of customer refund claims or other complaints over the past 8 weeks. Information on your QI, including the number and content of product refund claims, is shared with customers and reported back to you. A grower’s good reputation, based on constant quality, is often rewarded by a higher average price per stem.

Packaging: Export and import trade often involves cardboard boxes. Flowers are repacked into plastic flower containers (buckets) at the auction in the Netherlands or at the importing wholesaler. VBN gives detailed information about auction requirements for packing and loading.

  • Spray carnations (non-disbudded with several flowers and/or buds) at the auction:
  • Must be supplied in bunches of 10 stems;
  • Must be packed per bunch in a hot needle-perforated sleeve.
  • Standard carnations (disbudded with large single flower):
  • Must be supplied in bunches of 20 stems;
  • Must be bunched in two layers, whereby 12 flowers form the upper and 8 flowers the lower layer;
  • Must be packed per bunch in a hot needle-perforated sleeve.
  • Other carnations:
  • Must be supplied in bunches of 10 stems;
  • Must be supplied in bundles of 5 bunches.

Final sales consist mainly of mono bunches and mixed bouquets in either plastic containers or special containers, e.g. from bouquet producers, at specialist florist shops and supermarkets. Bouquets and flowers are sometimes pre-packed in plastic or paper sleeves, sometimes assembled and wrapped at the florist shop.

Loading must be optimised, whereby the volume of the bunches determines the number of supplied bouquets per container unit:

  • There must be at least 5 cm of free space between the product and the tray above it in the stacking cart.
  • Spray carnations must be packed in the specific quantities per container, depending on the weight of the bunch. Detailed information can be found in the Dianthus product specifications provided by VBN.
  • Carnations with a stem length shorter than 45cm must be supplied in a small container (container code 566).

Labelling: When exporting through the Dutch auction, the flowers are often loaded on a stacking cart. Every stacking cart must be accompanied by a fully and correctly completed consignment note containing information about the stacking cart. In addition, every packaging unit needs to be labelled with product and supplier information, namely:

  • Supplier number
  • Variety name
  • Amount (e.g. stems) per packaging unit (e.g. bucket, etc.)
  • The grading marks (Class A1, A2, B1)
  • Supplier name.

Additional product labelling will generally take place at the auction/wholesaler or bouquet producer. During trade, some important quality labelling is necessary, including: tracking/tracing codes and GLOBALG.A.P., MPS, FFP, or other identification.

An increasing number of carnation growers from developing countries export directly to the EU market without using the Dutch auction clock. They mainly target the United Kingdom. Dutch wholesale traders are also increasingly trading flowers from developing countries directly with retailers, for example, in the United Kingdom. In general the principal product requirements given above are also applicable to the direct market.


  • Visit the VBN website to find out about changes in product specifications.
  • Contact your import agent or your potential client about any additional requirements if you wish to supply directly.

2. What makes the European market an interesting market for cut carnations?

Cut carnations make up about 4.5% of total EU-28 imports of cut flowers and foliage (including intra-EU trade) and 10% of total EU-28 imports from third countries. The Netherlands is the biggest market for carnations with €62 million imports in 2015, of which €56 million imported directly from developing countries. Other large importers are United Kingdom (€59 million), Germany (€32 million), Spain (€13 million) and Poland (€6 million).

The Netherlands imports almost all carnations directly from developing countries and the United Kingdom at least the majority of its supply. Poland is supplied mostly from the Netherlands. About a third of German imports come directly from developing countries while the rest comes through the Netherlands. Spain and the United Kingdom, as well as a number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe like Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovenia and the Baltic states, have a higher share of carnations in cut flower imports than the EU-28 average, indicating a higher preference for carnation flowers.

The total European market for cut flowers is estimated at around €20 to €25 billion in 2014 (calculated by Wageningen Economic Research, based on data from Rabobank, 2015, and Eurostat population statistics). Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy are the biggest markets in terms of total consumption value.

European consumers spend between €20 and €50 per inhabitant per year on cut flowers. Switzerland is a positive exception with €74 per inhabitant. Countries in Central and eastern Europe as well as Spain generally spend a bit less, with average consumption of cut flowers and foliage between €10 and  €20 per inhabitant. It is expected that the market for cut flowers will grow moderately in the next five years, mainly due to recovering economic growth and further market development in Central and eastern Europe.

Of all cut flowers, roses are the most important cut flower in terms of sales value and volume, with about 30-50% market share. Carnations are also an important cut flowers imported from developing countries. Carnations are mostly sold as mono bunches or in bouquets. They are also sold as single flowers, e.g. to wear in a buttonhole or as a corsage. Carnations are available in many colours. The most popular colours are red, pink and white, as well as bi-colour and flecked flowers. Other colours include yellow, purple, salmon, fuchsia and light green.

Peak days play an important role on the European market for cut carnations. There are a number of days that generally apply to the entire European market such as Mother’s Day, on which many people buy flowers, including carnations, for their mothers. Many countries have additional special days on which flowers play an important role. Carnations have a symbolic value in many countries. The carnation is considered to be the national flower of Spain, especially in the South where it is associated with passion and desire. Red carnations (along with red roses) are also associated with international Labour Day (May 1) and with the labour movement in general. Purple carnations are often used as funeral flowers in France and are seen as a symbol of capriciousness. White carnations are considered a symbol of love in some countries and carnations are also seen as a symbol of devotion.

Consumers in some European countries regard carnations as a rather old-fashioned flower. Carnations are also sometimes associated with cheap supermarket or gas station bouquets. The image of carnations is, however, improving thanks to the combined efforts of breeders, growers and promotional campaigns. Breeders have also introduced many new varieties in more fashionable colours. Carnations are used as bouquet fillers but are also appreciated in their own right and valued for their long vase life and wide variety of colours and appearances.

In the majority of European countries cut flowers are sold via flower shops. Only in the United Kingdom are the majority of flowers sold via supermarket retail. In e.g. Poland, about 70-75% of cut flowers are sold at flower shops, although the supermarket channel is gaining ground fast. There are no separate figures for carnations, but supermarkets have a higher than average share in the sales of carnations in almost all EU countries.

Imports of cut carnations in the EU increased slightly between 2011 and 2015. The total import value was €211 million in 2015. Carnations make up about 5–6% of total cut flower imports in the EU, but have lost market share – mainly to cut roses – over the past 25 years. Nevertheless, carnation are still an important cut flower on the European market. In 2015, some 880 million stems were imported from developing countries, somewhat less than a year earlier. The main European importer is the Netherlands (30% of all imports of individual EU countries, including intra-EU trade).

By far the largest exporter from developing countries is Colombia, which exported €67 million worth of cut carnations to the EU-28 in 2015. The largest part is directly exported to the Netherlands (€39 million) and about €13 million is exported to the United Kingdom. Turkey and Kenya exported €21 million and €16 million. Of this 36% is exported to the United Kingdom and about 12% is exported to the Netherlands. Exports from Ethiopia and Morocco have also shown a significant rise in recent years. Within Europe, Spain and the Netherlands as well as some other countries do produce some carnations. The production area and the number of growers are however falling rapidly as competition from developing countries grows.

The Netherlands is an important distributor of imported fresh carnations and exported a total value of €87 million in 2015. The majority of the exported carnations are shipped to the Netherlands from other producing countries like Colombia, Spain, Kenya, and Turkey and are distributed further in the European market by Dutch wholesale traders.


  • The Netherlands remains an important trade partner for developing countries. Dutch traders and import agents have a great deal of experience in facilitating flower trade from developing countries. Try and build a sustainable relationship with these actors and communicate proactively.
  • The Dutch wholesalers and importers association is called VGB. Visit their website for more information on Dutch wholesale traders.
  • Eurostat presents extensive international trade data.
  • All the main importers are usually present at the main Flower Exhibitions like ProFlora in Colombia, IFTEX or Nairobi Flower Show in Kenya. Although many carnations are shipped directly to end-markets such as the United Kingdom, Dutch flower traders often play an important role. Therefore, consider trading via the Dutch wholesale industry. They have experience in supplying all European markets.
  • Try and build sustainable relationships with these actors and communicate proactively.

You can find more information on general trends and developments on the European market for cut flowers in CBI Trends

Increasing demand for socially responsible and sustainably produced cut flowers in the EU

There is an increasing demand for socially responsible and sustainably produced flowers in the EU. It is mainly the traditional markets like the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia that require social standards like Fairtrade, ETI or MPS-SQ for supplying the mainstream supermarket retailers. Demand for cut flowers that are produced under certified sustainable conditions that also address environmental sustainability is increasing. Main elements of environmental responsibility are energy consumption during transport, pesticide use, and water use. These elements are translated into the various certification schemes.

In order to reduce costs and to limit CO2 emissions, shipments by sea container are developed as an alternative transport modality. Carnations are already being shipped by container from Colombia and Kenya to the Netherlands and the number of sea shipments is increasing.


  • Many EU retailers are starting to demand social standards, like Fairtrade or ETI. Retailers often ask for a variety of certificates. Find out which retailers are asking for which combination of certification schemes and how you can comply.
  • Many EU retailers demand standards that include good agricultural practices, social conditions and environmental sustainability, like MPS-ABC or Florverde ® Sustainable Flowers. Retailers often ask for a variety of certificates. Find out which retailers are asking for which combination of certification schemes and how you can comply.
  • Compliance with these schemes should not be taken lightly. Audits take place on a frequent basis.
  • Follow the developments in sea transport of cut flowers. E.g. through the GreenChainge project website.

 Longer vase life

Quality is often a minimum requirement for supplying the EU market. Good quality is important in every market channel, and especially for the low priced flowers offered in supermarkets. Carnations are cut flowers that are particularly valued for their long vase life, which can last up to 14 days. A vase life of 7 days is often regarded as a minimum.


  • A long vase life is essential in order to supply the EU market successfully. So make sure that the product is cut while the buds are not fully open and are treated well during transport.

Growing market share of supermarkets and direct trade

Direct trade between producer and (exporting) wholesale trader in Europe, bypassing the Dutch flower auction, is increasing. Wholesale traders set a wide variety of buyer requirements (based on the requirement set by their client) that may deviate from the general auction requirements.


  • There might be additional buyer requirements for trading on the direct market, especially in the supermarket segment. Contact the wholesaler to verify the requirements that you need to fulfil in order to supply them. Requirements often differ per supermarket.
  • Payment terms are creating problems throughout the entire cut flowers value chain. Supplying via the Dutch flower auction means you will definitely receive your money. Payments are wired to your account soon after so you don’t have to wait longer (between 30 and 60 days). Try and make clear agreements with your wholesale trader on payment terms.

Increasing competition in a slowly growing market

Despite limited consumption growth on the European market, various Latin American (mostly Colombian) flower exporters are looking for an alternative market as demand in Russia is declining due to the economic downturn in that country. Imports from Africa are also increasing. There is increasing rivalry on the European market. As consumption is not expected to grow very fast in the next five to ten years, this is expected to put downward pressure on prices of carnations. On the other hand, there is less competition from European carnation growers; carnation production in Europe has declined fast as production has shifted mainly to Colombia.

Increasing internet sales and ICT in the supply chain

There is an increasing need for information sharing between grower and trader for tracking and tracing purposes. ICT is becoming more important in the sales process. Wholesale traders connect their clients to an online shop to create real-time insights into available stock.


  • Explore technological opportunities related to information sharing and tracking and tracing. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology e.g. is used to monitor product quality along the supply chain and provides valuable information that you can use to further optimise your distribution.
  • Online shop: Stocks are increasingly held at suppliers (upstream) with integrated stock management systems. This requires growers and exporters to respond quickly and efficiently to orders.

4. What requirements should cut carnations comply with to be allowed on the European market?

What legal and non-legal requirements must my product comply with?

Plant health

Cut carnations exported to the EU, must comply with the EU legislation on plant health. The EU has laid down phytosanitary requirements to prevent the introduction and spread of organisms harmful to plants and plant products in the EU.

Carnations imported in the EU must be accompanied by an official ‘phytosanitary certificate’ guaranteeing the phytosanitary conditions of plants and plant products, and also that the shipment has been officially inspected, complies with statutory requirements for entry into the EU and is free of quarantine pests and other harmful pathogens. Phytosanitary certificates are issued by your National Plant Protection Office (NPPO).


  • Check with the relevant national plant protection organisation for the exact procedures to obtain the phytosanitary certificate.
  • A model phytosanitary certificate can be found in Annex VII of the Plant Health Directive.
  • Check if your country and the country you want to export to have implemented digital services to facilitate the import and export process. For example, in Holland there is the CLIENT export system, which is also used by the Kenyan and Ugandan inspection authorities.
  • Read more about plant health in the EU Export Helpdesk.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Developing new carnation varieties is very expensive. The developers of new varieties want their return on their investments. To prevent just anybody from using these new varieties, they are protected by intellectual property rights called royalties. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on breeders’ rights and illegal products are rejected from the market.


  • Make sure you only buy plant material from approved agents that have an official agreement with the dealer so that royalties are paid.
  • An interesting trend is that breeders’ only allow their new variety to be grown by a by a select group of growers. Staying in contact with breeders and offering perfect conditions for growing their new variety may therefore be an advantage.

Full overview of requirements for cut carnations:

For a list of requirements for cut carnations consult the EU Export Helpdesk where you can select your specific product under chapter 06031200.


5.  What additional requirements do buyers often have?

CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility and GAP

EU consumers are paying more and more attention to social and environmental circumstances during the flowers’ production. As a result EU buyers require you to meet certain environmental and social standards in the form of certification of B2B schemes and consumer labels. Compliance with environmental standards (focusing on pesticide and water use) is a very common requirement, while social conditions are gaining importance.

The most important B2B scheme for carnations is MPS. MPS ABC certification covers environmental performances and is considered a must for growers. Furthermore they have several other schemes such as MPS-SQ (focusing on social issues), MPS-GAP (on Good Agricultural Practices) and MPS-Quality. The most comprehensive scheme is MPS-Florimark, which is a combination of the aforementioned four schemes.

GLOBALG.A.P. is a B2B scheme originally focusing on Good Agricultural Practices. Although not yet extensively used in the cut flower trade, it is gaining in importance, especially when selling to supermarkets, which is a dominant trade channel for cut carnations. MPS GAP, KFC Silver Standard (Kenya Flower Council), EHPEA Code of Practice for Sustainable Flower Production - Silver Level (Ethiopian Horticulture Producer Exporters Association), are officially recognised as equivalent to GLOBALG.A.P, whereas Florverde ® Sustainable Flowers (Asocolflores Colombia) is recognised as a similar certification scheme.

The Rainforest Alliance focuses on wildlife and ecosystem conservation and workers’ welfare. The standards are based on an internationally recognized integrated pest management (IPM) model. Some certification schemes like Florverde ® Sustainable Flowers are cooperating with Rainforest Alliance to facilitate single inspection certification for both schemes.


  • Both buyers and consumers (especially in Western and Northern Europe) consider environmentally friendly production very important and this importance is expected to increase in the future.
  • Use your good practices and certification as a marketing tool when communicating with (potential) buyers.
  • There is an abundance of standards to choose from (although the actual criteria show a lot of similarities). To determine which scheme you should follow, the market you are targeting will probably be decisive (which country do you want to export to and which trade channels do you use?)
  • See Market channels and segments to see how market channels are changing.
  • MPS gives an overview of all MPS schemes including links to the criteria per scheme.
  • GLOBALG.A.P. gives an overview of all the standards for flowers and ornamentals.
  • Check for existing initiatives in your country. Examples are the Colombian Florverde® Sustainable Flowers standards or the code of the Kenyan Flower Council. Sometimes these local initiatives are benchmarked against GLOBALG.A.P., MPS, ETI or Rainforest Alliance.

Private labels

The increasing share of the ‘unspecialised’ market (supermarkets etc.) in comparison with the ’specialised’ market has also had its effects on buyers’ requirements. Several supermarket chains offer carnations under their own private labels often referring to social and environmental conditions at the production level.

Furthermore importers may also participate in initiatives such as the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) in the United Kingdom, or the Business Social Compliance Initiative (in several Western European countries). These initiatives focus on improving social conditions in their members’ supply chains. This implies that you, as a supplier, are also required to act in compliance with their principles.


  • Familiarise yourself with the ETI base code to check what ETI members require from their suppliers.
  • If you want to target supermarkets directly, check which sustainability criteria they impose.
  • Assess your company’s current performance by performing a self-assessment, which you can find on the BSCI website.

Cold chain management

Proper cold chain management has a positive effect on the quality and vase life of carnations. Therefore EU buyers’ demands for cold chain protocols are growing. Note that, although improving your cold chain management may be a challenge, the higher product quality should also improve your profits.


  • Developing and implementing cold chain protocols will be vital to survival in the coming years.
  • Do not wait until buyers ask for improved cold chain management, but anticipate the developments.

 What are the requirements for niche markets?


Although CSR requirements are common buyer requirements, standards that are communicated through a consumer label still represent a relatively small part of the market, mostly in north-western Europe. The sales of Fairtrade cut flowers is increasing, particularly in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Examples of relevant consumer labels are: Fair Flowers Fair Plants (FFP), Fairtrade International and Rainforest Alliance.


  • Always check with your buyer if he/she requires certification and which certification he/she prefers.
  • Consult the ITC Standards Map for the different labels and standards relevant for cut carnations.


The market for organic carnations is very small. Organic carnations must by produced and processed by natural methods defined in EU legislation. Some flower traders perceive organic carnations as a lesser quality product due to a lower aesthetic quality and durability. As such, organic carnations are not yet particularly favoured in Europe.


  • Growing organic carnations could represent an opportunity in the future.

6. What competition will you be facing on the European cut carnations market?

Colombia is the main supplier of carnations from developing countries. It reported 1106 hectares of carnations in 2015–2016 (Source: Royal FloraHolland). Colombia is known for its high-quality standard and spray carnations. It produces year-round with a peak in October, and a large variety of colours and diversity in appearance. Other important suppliers in the European market are Kenya, Turkey and Spain. Turkey and Kenya are the most important suppliers after Colombia in terms of volume.

Kenya had 200 hectares of carnations in 2015–2016. It focuses mainly on large flower standard carnations, grown at higher altitudes and competes with Colombia in terms of quality. Its production is year-round although volumes are higher in winter than in summer.

Total European production of carnations (including Turkey and Russia) was valued at €187 million in 2015 (Source: Royal FloraHolland). Spain is the biggest producer of carnations in the EU with reports of 340 hectares of carnations in 2015–2016. However, Spanish carnations growers, like the Dutch, are suffering a major decline in numbers and area of production. The Spanish production season peaks between April and July. Turkey is also an important producer of carnations. It is improving its quality and focuses on supplying retailers in Germany and the United Kingdom directly, as well as the Dutch auction. Turkey offers a variety of popular standard and spray carnations. Carnations are a major horticultural product in Turkey. Turkey supplies the European market mainly in September and from December to May. Competition from Ethiopia and Morocco is also increasing. The European market for carnations (both standard and spray carnations) is very competitive.

Supply from the Netherlands has decreased, as the number of growers and the production area have declined greatly. Just 12 specialised carnation growers remain. They produce mainly high-quality standard carnations and focus on large assortments of special varieties. Dutch carnations are produced year-round with a peak in April and May.

More information about competition on the EU cut flower market can be found in general information on Competition for cut flowers and foliage.

7. Which channels can you use to put cut carnations on the European market?

Carnations are mainly traded directly, though the Dutch flower auction remains an important channel for market access. The characteristics of the relevant market channels and segments are described in the general information on Trade channels and market segments for Cut flowers and foliage.

8. What are the end-market prices for cut carnations?

Carnations are mostly sold as mono bunches and in bouquets. Consumer prices vary according to the market segment and country. In the Netherlands, a bouquet of 15 medium single bud carnations with some foliage sells for about €20 to €30 at the florist shop, but the bouquet will usually contain other flowers as well. A bunch of 10 small budded carnations in the supermarket sells for much less, between €2 and €5. A bunch of 11 stems of spray carnations sells for £2 (about €2.40) at Aldi in the United Kingdom. The figure below gives an estimation of the price breakdown. This breakdown indicates value-added and gross margins in the different parts of the supply chain.

9. Useful sources

Export and market entry support:

Certification schemes:

Marketing and trade standards:

Statistics and sector information: