Kientzler is one of the world’s most prolific and innovative breeding powerhouses. It has built on its rich history by providing new and exciting genetics to the floriculture industry, with the creation of the market for New Guinea Impatiens with its Paradise and Pure Beauty series, as well as bringing Scaevola, Bracteantha, Sutera and other plant genetics to the marketplace, introduced in the U.S. through the Proven Winners network.
Through its Innovaplant facilities in Costa Rica, Kientzler has also become well-known for establishing high standards for quality and cleanliness, and providing a dependable supply of young plants to growers in the U.S. for more than 20 years. With the company’s new business direction starting this past winter, providing its own genetics directly to the U.S. market, 2015 is a great year to honor Kientzler’s past accomplishments and celebrate its new horizons.
Building On A Legacy Of Greatness
Kientzler was established by Ludwig Kientzler in Bad Kreuznach, Germany in 1904 as a specialty young plant nursery. Records show that Kientzler began exporting products to Scandinavia as early as 1922.
In 1943, the second generation owner of the business, Ludwig Jr., met Else Hick, who was assigned a job at the nursery during World War II. The two married in 1945, and a new era for the company began, in which she would play a significant role. (Read a tribute to Else Kientzler written by Cultivaris Partner Garry Grueber, a former 25-year Kientzler employee.)
Today, the Kientzler Group is still a family owned and operated business, run by Ludwig Jr. and Else’s sons, Ludwig and Helmut Kientzler. Daughter Iris Kientzler independently owns and operates Inflora, a tissue culture laboratory in Poland. Fourth generation family members, Andreas Kientzler and Alexander Kientzler, are instrumental in the Kientzler Group and the continued rollout of Kientzler genetics to the North American market.
The company employs more than 500 employees worldwide, with up to an additional 300 seasonal workers, and it operates four locations – two in Germany, one in Costa Rica and one in South Africa.
The Kientzler headquarters, in Gesingen, Germany, is the administrative and logistical center of the company. Opened in 1963, it has grown to include 370,000 square feet of greenhouse space for young plant propagation and mother stock maintenance. In 2013, a new state-of-the-art greenhouse with 260,000 square feet was added for young plant production. In total, the company now has 630,000 square feet of rooting area to serve the European market.
Innovaplant, a subsidiary opened in 1992 in Gesingen, Germany, is the center for plant breeding and product development. Two tissue culture laboratories are responsible for the production of elite stock, used for Kientzler’s own mother stock operations, as well as for its licensees all over the world. Highly qualified researchers here continually seek new ways to test for and eliminate pathogens. In both labs, Innovaplant maintains more than 3,000 species and varieties. Innovaplant enjoys close cooperation with a number of scientific institutions, and it operates 30,000 square feet of thrips-proof, state-of-the-art, elite greenhouse space. An additional 30,000 square feet of space, leased by Kientzler, is devoted to breeding and product development. Innovaplant also runs two offsite breeding facilities with 60,000 square feet, close to its headquarters.
Innovaplant de Costa Rica opened in 1994 in the highlands of Sarchi, Costa Rica. The company operates 1,100,000 square feet of state-of-the-art greenhouses. Most of the product grown here is delivered to the U.S. in support of the Proven Winners network partnership, but also supplies the European market. The laboratory, which produces perennials from tissue culture, was established in 1998 and conforms to the most modern standards.
Finally, its Afrinova breeding operation in South Africa has four employees and helps to support the selection process for new candidate breeding material.
Through these locations, Kientzler supplies genetics and young plants to Europe, North America, Japan and Australia. Its products can be found on every continent in the world, where it is involved in cooperative products with growers and network partners, or where it maintains ties with licensees and customers.
New Genetics For A New Marketplace
In the 1990s, the U.S. and the world saw a huge boom of availability of new specialty annuals, and much of the credit for this goes to the Kientzler Group, which has bred and worked on more than 50 genera.
In 1991, Ludwig Kientzler III, along with Garry Grueber, formerly of Kientzler who now co-owns Cultivaris, traveled to Weidner’s Greenhouses in Southern California with 12 new varieties. Kientzler was seeking distribution of the varieties in the U.S. market. He found willing partners in John Rader and Evelyn Weidner of Weidner’s Gardens in Encinitas, Calif. Weidner’s was willing to support these innovative new products, and brought all 12 varieties in to produce them, one of them being the legendary Scaevola ‘New Wonder.’
After a year of successful sales regionally, Rader, Weidner and Grueber realized there was potential for the varieties on a larger scale, but they would need partners to expand to national distribution.
Tom and Sharon Smith, owners of Four Star Greenhouses in Michigan, and Henry and Jeff Huntington of Pleasant View Gardens in New Hampshire agreed to help. Both were producers who had grown Kientzler’s New Guinea Impatiens through licensing agreements with Paul Ecke Ranch, and were familiar with the breeder’s quality genetics. Rader soon partnered with Jerry Church to buy the propagation business from Weidner’s Gardens and formed EuroAmerican Propagators as the third partner. Thus, Proven Winners was born, and grew into a worldwide network based on the tenets of distributing only the best quality, unique varieties that would have high value for consumers.
Kientzler’s innovation in breeding has brought several species to the marketplace, including Bracteantha (1982), Scaevola (1986), Asteriscus (1986), Sutera (1994) and Euphorbia (chamaesyce) ‘Diamond Frost’ (2005). Perhaps best known for its New Guinea Impatiens Paradise and Pure Beauty series, as well as Scaevola ‘New Wonder,’ Kientzler also introduced the Nemesia Sunsatia and Cleome Senorita Rosalita series via Proven Winners.
Kientzler is also responsible for the introduction of plant concepts like Spring Magic and Fall Magic collections for early spring and autumn color.
In the Kientzler North America Collection, its Erysimum varieties, Salvia Saucy series and Nemesia Babycake series are well-known and -received. Lesser known crops in the U.S. are Kientzler’s Begonia boliviensis hybrids and some of its spring perennials, like Myositis and Leucanthemum.
Kientzler’s primary plant breeders are Ludwig Kientzler (New Guinea Impatiens); Silvia Hofmann (Erysimum, Cleome, Nemesia, Osteospermum, Begonia, Leucanthemum, Silene and others); and Birgit Hofmann (Bidens, Verbena, Calibrachoa, Diascia, Sutera, Bracteantha, Lobelia, Euphorbia hypercifolia, Mandevilla and others).
Kientzler acquires new genetics for breeding by establishing a plant collection from plant lovers, as well as using natural species collected from contacts and travels around the globe. The company has long prided itself on breeding plants that work for the grower and perform for consumers.
“Next to the technical quality, the performance of our plants is important,” says Andreas Kientzler. “Both criteria are part of our breeding goals. Even if some products are more challenging for the grower, but a great plant for the consumer, we will introduce them. This gives profile and product portfolio to our company, and helps us to differentiate.”
Kientzler Has Supplied U.S. Growers For More Than 20 Years
Kientzler opened Innovaplant de Costa Rica in 1994 to serve the European market with New Guinea Impatiens and other genetics, and to support the activities of Proven Winners in North America. In that time, Kientzler has developed its own standards for producing high-quality mother stock and cuttings, and has set a high standard for cleanliness in its products and facilities that has been a model for other breeding companies.
In 2000, Innovaplant de Costa Rica developed a quality and environmental management system that is unique to the Costa Rica facilities, and underlines the company’s role as one of the most innovative and modern enterprises in the country. Sanitation is critically important at Innovaplant and Kientzler.
“Growers from the U.S. who have visited our place in Costa Rica are impressed by the clean and well-organized company,” Kientzler says. “Also, the way we produce the unrooted cuttings in a screened area, on benches with drip irrigation, confirms the quality of our product.
Kientzler relies heavily on five managers for the North American market: Steve Rinehart, program manager for Kientzler North America; and for Innovaplant de Costa Rica, Thomas Schuster, general manager; Dr. Axel Feldhoff, lab manager; Winfried Hohmann, product manager; and Martin Bock, program and stock manager.
In the winter of 2014-2015, Kientzler began providing its own genetics directly to growers in the North American market, in addition to the genetics it offers via Proven Winners. While its main partner in North America remains Proven Winners, Kientzler wants to be more directly involved in providing genetics from the rest of its product portfolio, and free to decide which channels to use.
“Mainly, we want to increase the percentage of doing direct distribution of our genetics in North America,” Kientzler says. “With the changes in the market, we see an opportunity to increase our presence in the U.S., supported by our intensified breeding efforts over the past five years.”
Kientzler will work with a small group of brokers, and add a few root-and-sell companies, as well.
“We feel we can achieve more with a selected group of brokers to give full support, and to stay focused on their activities,” Kientzler says.
This year was the first time Kientzler displayed genetics independently at California Spring Trials, and the company is currently evaluating what it should put its focus on in marketing. One series that will be refreshed, both in genetics and image, is the Paradise series of New Guinea Impatiens.
“For 2015-2016, we will present Paradise Select as a core series that includes the most evenly matched, and the best of the best of the Paradise collection,” Kientzler says.
And for the first time, Kientzler will provide growers with an independent catalog of its plant genetics for North America. The catalog will be available this month, in time for Cultivate’15.
About the process of developing this new chapter for the company, Kientzler says, “You have to be patient and stay focused on what you want to achieve. There are opportunities, but it needs time and dedication to make it work.”