Alfalfa's full-service floral department thrives while providing eco-friendly flowers.
by Cynthia L. McGowan
Alfalfa’s, a new organic and natural foods market in Boulder, Colo., takes its commitment to environmentally friendly products seriously. That commitment extends to the full-service floral department, where the flowers are sustainably grown and even giftware is made of recycled materials when possible.
“There’s nothing artificial” in the store, confirms Sonja Tuitele, director of communications. “Our first priority is organic, second is local. If it’s local and organic, we will carry it before anything else.”
a revival of a familiar name
The concept is a perfect fit for Boulder, a city of 103,600 that is considered a mecca of the natural and organic foods industry. “It’s what we call a mature market for sustainability and environmental awareness,” Ms. Tuitele remarks.
Boulder is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, 25 miles northwest of Denver, and its residents were ranked the happiest in the nation in a recent survey. Home to the University of Colorado, it boasts a young, affluent population, with a strong affinity for healthy lifestyles.
Alfalfa’s, which opened on Earth Day (April 22) 2011, is a revival of a cherished market that many in Boulder still recall from the 1980s and 1990s. Founded as Pearl Street Market in 1979, the company grew to 11 stores as Alfalfa’s Market and became known as a community gathering place and an icon in the natural foods industry. The chain was bought in 1996 by Wild Oats Markets, which, in turn, was purchased by Whole Foods Market, Inc. in 2007.
The new store, located in the same spot as the first Alfalfa’s, pledges to offer the previous version’s focus on community and on sustainable products, with a modern-day sensibility. In a press release announcing the opening, the founders proclaimed, “We are thrilled to be back, and we vow to do our best to be Boulder’s best locally owned and operated natural marketplace.”
Toward that goal, the store offers unique amenities to appeal to both foodies and environmentally conscious consumers. Alfalfa’s has a 100 percent organic juice bar, fill-your-own-bottle olive oil station, made-from-scratch bakery, wood-fired oven for fresh pizza and more, meat department with grass-fed beef, and much more.
Because of Colorado’s liquor laws, Alfalfa’s was the first supermarket in Boulder with a liquor license, and its wine, beer and spirits department features organic and local selections. The elegant full-service café offers seating indoors or outdoors. A community room provides space for educational events and activities. In addition, Alfalfa’s staff and local chefs give cooking demonstrations using seasonal ingredients.
The design of the store itself further illustrates the commitment to the environment. Builders used recycled brick and original flooring from the old Alfalfa’s store, local stone and 8,000 linear feet of reclaimed Colorado Beetle Kill Pine (trees that were killed by pine beetles).
Alfalfa’s also strives to be a zero-waste store, so materials are composted or recycled as much as possible. In addition, the store has two electric-vehicle charging stations for its own electric delivery van and bicycle, as well as for customers to use.
floral sets the tone
The 500-square-foot floral department is located at the front of the store and helps set the tone for Alfalfa’s commitment to freshness and quality. “When you first walk in, you see beautiful floral arrangements and fresh plants and fresh flowers,” Ms. Tuitele shares. “That was important to the founders in creating this whole customer experience, and they want to use floral to communicate the freshness throughout the store.”
Merchandised to look like a European-style flower market, the department showcases buckets brimming with bouquets and consumer bunches, a cooler filled with flowers by the stem, carts of blooming and foliage plants, and shelves of unique giftware. The products comply with Alfalfa’s standards for all natural, which means they’re locally grown when possible, are sustainably raised and harvested, and require minimal use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Signage informs customers of the flowers’ and plants’ origins, whether they come from nearby farms or from certified-sustainable growers around the world. It’s important “to be as direct and transparent with customers as possible,” shares Kit Gegenheimer, who served as the department’s first floral supervisor, until last December. “People really appreciate that.”
procuring locally and globally
The department partners with local and regional growers for in-season flowers and plants, and Alfalfa’s spotlights the farms on its website, www.alfalfas.com. A local wholesaler procures products not available in Colorado or ones out of season from growers in California, Holland and South America. The growers’ third-party certifications include Florverde®, GLOBALGAP and Veriflora. The store has fresh products delivered every day, with bulk orders arriving three days a week and fill-ins the rest of the week.
Custom-made bouquets are the top-selling item in the department. Customers enjoy choosing from the large selection of bunches and single stems, and the florists style them into European hand-tied bouquets and wrap them in recyclable butcher kraft paper and natural raffia.
“Customers just love that service,” Ms. Gegenheimer confides. “It’s like bringing home a present to their friends and family.” Prices for the custom bouquets average $19.99 to $29.99. The store also offers ready-made bouquets from the wholesaler for those who don’t want to wait for the custom service.
Consumer bunches also are popular. Averaging $7.99 to $9.99 a bunch, best-selling flowers include Alstroemerias, hybrid lilies, roses, tulips, hyacinths, Irises and sunflowers, depending on the season. The store carries organic roses when available, with good response from customers. Reveals Ms. Gegenheimer, “They are willing to pay a good $5 more a bunch for them.”
Roses, at $2.50 each for non-organically grown varieties, are the top-selling single-stem item. Gerberas, at $1.99 each, also sell well, as do tropical varieties, including Anthuriums, Proteas and orchids.
Arrangements typically range from $30 to $50 and can be ordered ahead of time or created while customers shop. A small selection also is kept in the cooler for shoppers to grab and go. Customers’ tastes span from high style to European to traditional designs.
Locally grown potted orchids that have adapted to the dry Colorado climate are top sellers among plants. Ranging from $17.99 to $34.99, types include Phalaenopses, Dendrobiums and Oncidiums. Other popular plants include Hydrangeas, crotons in the fall and hanging baskets in the spring, with prices from $4.99 to $19.99, on average. The staff also offers specialty houseplants, such as ponytail palms, for $34.99.
The department seeks out giftware that encompasses the store’s eco-friendly values, such as vases made from recycled glass and stationery from recycled paper. Other items include antique birdcages and photo holders that look like vintage bicycle wheels. “It’s a very eclectic mix,” Ms. Gegenheimer comments.
Customers can choose from ready-made gift baskets or ask the floral staff to create them from items they choose throughout the store. Prices usually range from $25 to $100.
growing weddings and events
In addition to offering custom designs, the floral staff of up to eight designers provide wedding and event services as well as free delivery. They “definitely do it all,” Ms. Gegenheimer confirms.
The department is building its wedding business and expects 20 to 35 bookings this summer. Alfalfa’s has publicized its wedding services by attending bridal shows and advertising on wedding websites. The store offers delivery and setup for wedding clients, Ms. Gegenheimer shares. They receive a “full, complete, from-start-to-finish experience with Alfalfa’s,” she elaborates.
Alfalfa’s also is growing its event and corporate business. The department provides florals for graduations, corporate holiday parties and restaurants.
attention to quality
A key to the department’s success and growth is its attention to quality. In addition to providing topnotch service, the department takes care to ensure the flowers and plants are always fresh by changing water daily, cleaning buckets and pulling anything past its prime. “It makes your job so much easier when you sell quality product,” Ms. Gegenheimer assures.
Customers are responding to that focus on quality and share their experiences with others, Ms. Tuitele reveals. “Word-of-mouth is really big for us.” The department also gets the word out about its services in newspaper advertisements and on the company website.
Most of all, customers are rewarding a store and department whose products and services reflect a clear mission and values. Affirms Ms. Tuitele: “We let our standards for high quality and natural and organic product drive everything that we do.”
LOCATION Boulder, Colo.
FOUNDERS Mark Retzloff, Barney Feinblum, Hugo van Seenus and Jimmy Searcy
OWNERSHIP 90 percent locally owned, with a predominant base of Colorado shareholders
ESTABLISHED 1979 as Pearl Street Market; the first Alfalfa’s opened in 1983; revived in 2011
STORE SIZE 20,000 square feet
FLORAL DEPARTMENT SIZE 500 square feet
STORE EMPLOYEES 150
FLORAL EMPLOYEES As many as eight, depending on the season; full and part time
FLORAL SERVICES Full-service florals including custom designs, weddings, events and free delivery
keys to success
PRODUCTS The floral department at Alfalfa’s in Boulder, Colo., meets the needs of its environmentally conscious customers by providing sustainably grown flowers and plants.
SERVICE The department has two full-time and as many as six part-time designers on staff, depending on the season, offering services from custom designs to wedding florals seven days a week.
GETTING THE WORD OUT Customers learn about the floral department through word-of-mouth, the store’s website, wedding shows and newspaper ads.
Reach Editor in Chief
Cynthia L. McGowan at
or (800) 355-8086.