Learn how a biology graduate started a cannabis seed company in the 80s

An interview with Dutch Passion Seed Company - Amsterdam

Learn how a biology graduate started a cannabis seed company in the 80s

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Thanks for speaking to us! We are the Dutch Passion cannabis seed company, we started in Amsterdam in 1987 making us one of the earliest remaining seed banks. We formed Dutch Passion in order to supply stabilized, high-quality seeds to quality conscious growers. In those days getting high performance genetics was far from easy. There was a gap in the market and Dutch Passion wanted to build a business sourcing and supplying connoisseur quality genetics. 35 years later we are busier than ever!

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s the cannabis community had relatively few options for seed supply. At the same time, public demand for cannabis was really taking off. Dutch Passion’s founder, Henk van Dalen was a Biology graduate and cannabis lover. At the time he collected cannabis seeds in Amsterdam, these were arriving in every batch of imported cannabis making its way to supply the coffee shops. Henk was able to grow these and found he could make his own crosses, some of which were significantly more potent than the low-quality seeded imports.

In the 1980’s demand for better quality cannabis seeds increased dramatically. Henk used the best of his genetic collection to create his own bank of cannabis seeds for both indoor and outdoor cultivation. Business grew steadily and in 1987 Dutch Passion was formally established and have been selling cannabis seeds to growers all around the world ever since.

The business grew organically, from small beginnings to become a medium sized, and eventually a large-scale operation. One important feature that allowed growth to continue year-on-year was the loyalty of many original customers. Some of these have trusted Dutch Passion seeds for decades, the importance of these loyal original customers can’t be over-stated.

Describe the process of launching the business.

The Dutch Passion seed company had informal beginnings in the 70’s but was formally incorporated in the 1980’s as cannabis seeds started to become big business, especially for those that could deliver stable genetics. In the days before the internet, ‘word of mouth’ was the most important sales tool. The best Dutch Passion salespeople were the satisfied customers who shared their successful grow stories with fellow growers.

Having a collection of diverse, high quality cannabis seeds was the initial business strategy. This allowed growers to select the best seeds for their own preferences, be that indica or sativa seeds, indoor or outdoor. That philosophy of maintaining a wide choice of seeds has remained a backbone of Dutch Passion’s approach ever since and one used by all the subsequent seed companies.

Probably the most important aspect of Dutch Passion’s success was to quickly identify the longer-term importance of cannabis seeds and sticking resolutely to the original goal of continuous improvement to the genetic stock. That took quite some determination and courage, especially with some of the tough anti-cannabis rhetoric that was being spouted freely in the early days.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

As cannabis growers became more sophisticated, demands for quality and seed consistency grew rapidly. The very first cannabis cups started to attract serious attention and fierce competition as the best breeders worked hard to raise the bar. Selective breeding allowed some top-quality modern strains to be delivered. With these came some of Dutch Passion’s first cannabis cup wins. These really put Dutch Passion on the map, with several of our strains (Power Plant, White Widow, Blueberry etc) becoming hits with the coffeeshop tourists.

Then in the 1990’s our founder, Henk van Dalen, found that he could produce feminized cannabis seeds which would grow only into female cannabis plants. Despite initial scepticism and disbelief, Dutch Passion stunned the cannabis seed industry by being the first to offer feminized cannabis seeds. Orders went through the roof (almost overnight) once growers realized that feminized seeds offered revolutionary advantages and significant convenience over regular cannabis seeds. Dutch Passion expanded rapidly from that point as the industry quickly transitioned from regular to feminized seeds. Today, feminized seeds account for 97-98% of all seed sales.

Despite the modern dominance of feminized seeds, Dutch Passion remain one of the few remaining professional seed suppliers to offer a full collection of regular cannabis seeds which give rise to both male and female offspring. Although only bought by 2-3% of customers, regular seeds remain a useful foundation for smaller seed companies (and private breeders) from which to create new strains. As such, and despite the cost of doing so, Dutch Passion remain committed to supplying regular cannabis seeds as a service to the industry.

One other important comment is the need to be open minded to new trends and technologies. This isn’t always easy for established market leaders, it’s important to remain humble even for those that have succeeded. In the early 2000’s Dutch Passion began experimenting with autoflowering cannabis seeds. These grow from seed to harvest in around 75 days irrespective of the light cycle. They begin to bloom ‘automatically’ typically around 4-6 weeks after autoflower seed germination. Autoflower seeds have become synonymous with ease of growth, heavy yields and killer THC levels. Despite some early doubts from the growing community, autoflower seeds have become a huge market - just as popular as photoperiod feminized seeds. It demonstrates the value of being aware of all trends and not closing the door on any of them.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Perhaps surprisingly, Dutch Passion’s initial philosophy hasn’t changed although the way the business operates has. The focus remains on producing only the best cannabis cup winning strains with maximised total cannabinoid content, rich terpene profiles, heavy yields and straightforward growth patterns. Partnering with satisfied internet-savvy customers has remained one of the best ways to gain interest from new potential seed buyers. Grower forums contain literally thousands of satisfied Dutch Passion growers, making it easy for potential growers to see real-world results for themselves.

The internet side of business has become critically important in the cannabis industry, especially for those evaluating possible future strains to grow. Covid may have been a disaster for many industries, but cannabis seed sales boomed like never before. The public were determined not to run out of weed! During the lock downs we saw record numbers of people visit our website too. Business has stayed brisk ever since thanks to first-time customers that have become repeat customers.

Dutch Passion have branched out into new areas, with cannabis seed supply to licensed legal growers being one of the biggest growth areas. Thanks to a good working-relationship with the Dutch Government, Dutch Passion are one of the few companies able to export cannabis seeds internationally with full export certification and phytosanitary certificates, guaranteeing that seeds are shipped free from pest and disease. This is a vital pre-requisite when supplying seeds to Government labs, legal growers, Pharmaceutical corporations and professional research institutes.

One of Dutch Passion’s main research areas is in the field of new cannabinoids. This is expected to have major implications for medical usage and pharmaceutical applications. Dutch Passion were the first to release commercial strains rich in THCV, CBG, CBDV and others. We are particularly interested in producing a strain rich in THCP, a new cannabinoid thought to be 20-30 times more potent than THC. THCP has the potential to be an absolute game-changer for the cannabis industry, it happens Dutch Passion want to lead the way. The geneticists are busy, what they bring could be revolutionary - but it’s still something for the future.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Being first to market (or at the minimum, being close to the first wave) is vital for any business. But just as vital is the ability to maintain that position often in the face of innovative copy-cats or lower-cost/lower-quality vendors.

35 years after our launch, it’s gratifying to see so many of our original ‘core market’ home growers remain so loyal. But without doubt, the expansion into seed sales for corporate/government buyers has allowed Dutch Passion to expand and solidify further.

We have also seen the vital role of online grow reviews. Social media is a great way to allow your customers to show their results, the impact is highly influential. Of course, this works both ways - cowboy seed suppliers tend not to last long if their seeds get an online slamming. But, get the selective breeding and subsequent genetic stabilization right and the online community will do wonders for your brand.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

One of the most important tools used in the cannabis seed business is the use of professional analytical lab support. This can be in-house or outsourced. Either way, it’s very expensive but an unavoidable cost of genetic excellence.

Full cannabinoid and terpene analysis is undertaken on numerous cultivars during each stage of the breeding process, selectively using only the finest genetic lines for onward breeding. The rest can be instantly discarded. Without this high-tech scientifically-backed approach it is really impossible to be serious about breeding better quality strains.

For the sake of analytical accuracy, Dutch Passion use a variety of outsourced labs to support this work. We feel that independent labs are free on any unintentional bias. Our approach to seed sales remains the same as before, seeds are sold directly from our own website as well as through a network of trusted resellers.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The cannabis seed industry is now a mature industry, meaning that any new entrants face challenges but also some great opportunities if they can nail some killer genetics and deliver them with consistent growth performance. It isn’t easy getting a foothold but selling directly from your own website is a great way to start. Combine this with an effective online presence where your customers can support your quality assertions and you’ll have a great start!

The biggest mistake we see is from relatively unknown companies making unrealistic claims about their strains such as ‘guaranteed 30%-35% THC levels’. Cannabis seed buyers have never been more knowledgeable or street-wise.

Keep your claims honest and don’t be afraid to build your reputation slowly, steadily and organically. A few cannabis cup wins (or industry awards) will shine a light on your progress. But the best advice we can give to any emerging company is to maintain an unwavering focus on quality/consistency and the customers will always keep coming back.

Where can we go to learn more?

The official Dutch Passion seed shop is the best place to keep up to date with everything that Dutch Passion are doing. Our weekly blogs are particularly popular, without doubt one of the busiest parts of our website.

We also have a secondary website, the Dutch Passion knowledge base. This platform is exclusively dedicated to expert-level grow guides on everything from indoor to outdoor growing, specialist growth/training techniques, guides to plant disease/pests, pro grow tips and everything else related to cannabis cultivation. Please check it out!

You can also find us on Instagram and Facebook. Customers can contact us easily. We should probably add that one of the reasons for so many repeat customers is the accessible and helpful advice that we offer from our customer service team. Looking after existing customers well is the best way to give them the confidence/trust to make future purchases.

Do you own a cannabis business and would like to share you story? Shoot me a email at shawns@theartofsellingcannabis.com

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