American Color Inc.

Growing good for 16 years and counting
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

December wouldn’t be the same without the deep red poinsettias dotting centerpieces, and American Color Inc. has been supplying the popular plant, as well as a range of other flowering annuals, perennials and holiday plants, for 16 years.

American Color has proudly sold millions of plants to companies across the East Coast, from local garden centers and organizations to major retail chains, box stores and larger greenhouses.

Based in Orange, Virginia, the company is committed to growing a beautiful product, selling it at a competitive price and backing it with untouched customer service. As one of the top 100 growers in the country, American Color is deeply rooted in the industry.

Roots that run deep

For many decades, the Van Hoven family has been in the greenhouse business. “My grandfather, Aart Van Wingerden, had 16 children and they spread out all over the East Coast, starting their own greenhouse businesses,” tells Ed Van Hoven, president of American Color. “My mother was one of the 16 and my father, Jerry, also got involved in the business. There are some cousins who started their own businesses, too, and most are third generation now.”

The Van Hoven family owns several other companies across various segments of the horticulture industry, but American Color is one of the largest. “We started in 1998 and the company now has 40 growing acres; 20 acres in greenhouses and another 20 in outdoor operations,” shares Van Hoven.

American Color now supplies major retailers, including Costco stores. “We still serve independent garden centers and do contract growing for larger growers, but Costco is our largest account,” notes Van Hoven.

Warming up as others cool off

Depending on the time of year, American Color offers many different plants and flowers. In the spring, the company supplies annuals and throughout late summer and early fall, full and vibrant mums dominate the outdoor growing space. In the winter months, over a million poinsettias populate the greenhouse in numerous colors and sizes.

To keep up with so many cycles, American Color employs 100 full-time individuals and an additional 50 or so seasonal workers. “We peak at about 150 employees,” shares Van Hoven. “In our region, the fall and winter is just as large as the spring for us – another niche that sets us apart from other growers.”

When the fall foliage begins to peak, American Color rolls out mums and asters, as well as pansies and Montauk daises. The winter months yield gorgeous bright red or peppermint, marble, pink and white poinsettias.

“Nothing in the world brightens a cold winter day better than a beautiful poinsettia,” suggests American Color’s website. “We grow over a million of poinsettias every year, in a variety of colors and sizes.”

American Color has perfected its growing methods over the last 16 years, but maintaining operational efficiency and keeping up with rising costs presents challenges for the company.

“The margins 30 years ago were much greater than today,” measures Van Hoven. “Those that are still thriving in this business today are doing so through more advanced automation technology and efficiencies in the greenhouse. From the top 100 growing companies to little mom and pop shops, we all have to be more efficient and still deliver the same quality plants.”

Competitive landscape

Beyond the greenhouse, the cost of fuel is putting a pinch on the firm. “The trucking industry is tighter now with rules and regulations and there’s not enough supply to meet the demand,” tells Van Hoven. “Even plastic container and packaging has skyrocketed because of the cost of fuel. We have 30 trailers; six that we run ourselves to cut costs and another 24 that we contract out to trucking firms, so this is a serious issue for us.”

The horticulture industry is changing, according to the results of the 2013 Greenhouse Grower Top 100 Grower survey, on which American Color placed No. 91. The largest greenhouse operations in the country are getting larger. The larger operations are absorbing the production space of growers who are leaving the competitive market.

Even though American Color made the list, Van Hoven assures the company is not just another big-name grower. “We were founded on the principle that all the blessings we have are given to us by God,” he shares. “We are to use those blessings to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”

Out of this desire to give back, Van Hoven established Bountiful Plant Ministries after a survey trip to Guatemala in February 2007. Van Hoven and his cousin, Ron Van Der Hengst, wanted to start an agricultural business similar to their late grandfathers, which he founded in several other countries.

Bountiful Plant Ministries began growing tomatoes in a greenhouse that was constructed outside of Guatemala City. “The goal was not only to provide quality jobs for local people, but to use the proceeds to build churches, clinics and schools through the mountain villages,” shares Van Hoven.

Bountiful Plant Ministries has been a great success ever since, starting another location and a larger farm. Reaching out to help others, whether it’s growing food or brightening a day with flowers, is the core of a blooming business for American Color Inc.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Sun Trust Banks, Inc.