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From Fair Trade coffee to organic breakfast cereals and locally grown produce, products with a conscience are popping up throughout supermarkets today, and that movement is making its way into floral departments and the industry as a whole.

a new movement
Though specialty retailers like Whole Foods Market have made organic and environmentally friendly products part of their niche for years, stores are taking up the environmental drumbeat in evergrowing numbers. Wal-Mart has stocked up on organic products, and The Home Depot in mid-April unveiled a new label, Eco Options, that identifies nearly 3,000 of its stock-keeping units (SKUs) as better for the environment.
New York-based Price Chopper also has taken the environment to heart. Jon Strom, who has directed the 115-store chain’s floral operations, has been named vice president of floral and lifestyle merchandising, adding a focus on health and wellness throughout the stores. In mid-March, the company unveiled a campaign to promote organic and natural products, more of which have been added to every department.
“In floral, we decided to promote the fact that most of our suppliers are environmentally conscious,” Mr. Strom shares. The stores’ Signature Collection bouquet, which Miami, Fla.-based supplier Nature’s Flowers verified was composed entirely of Florverde-certified flowers (see “Green Labels for Flowers” on Page 64), was renamed the Eco-Friendly Bouquet, keeping its same product mix and $7.99 and $12.99 price points. In its first week—the mid-March companywide promotion—sales of these bouquets increased 18 percent, Mr. Strom describes.
“I really believe that informing the customer about the practices—the growing practices, the reduced use of chemicals and pesticides, the fair wages paid to the laborers, and the education and health benefits given to the employees and the families in Colombia—resonated with our guests,” he says.
Publix Super Markets in mid-April introduced a year-round bouquet to all of its 901 stores that also carries the Florverde label and has a broad environmental message. Maria Brous, director of media and community relations, says this new bouquet is the first such floral offering but that Publix is “actively sourcing Earth-friendly products and organic flowers.”
The EarthSmart™ Bouquet is supplied by Gems Global Inc., Miami, Fla., and includes an “earthy” mix of flowers in a recyclable sleeve and recyclable merchandisers, explains Bonnie Armellini, co-owner of Gems Global. Ms. Armellini is creating EarthSmart™ hang tags that will include consumer tips for helping the environment, such as shutting off computers to save energy and stopping junk-mail.
Anne-Marie Langelier, president of Savoir Fleur, a company in Montreal that supplies ready-made fresh floral products to supermarkets and mass markets in Canada and is a Veriflora-certified handler (see “Green Labels for Flowers,” Page 64), says her short-term goal is to have at least 30 percent of her product mix carrying an environmental certification; long-term, her goal is to source only such certified products.
 
 
Organic: According to the Organic Trade Assoc-iation (OTA), “organic” refers to agricultural practices that “maintain and replenish soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers.” Flowers and plants may carry the USDA Organic seal. To do so, they must meet the guidelines of the National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). A USDA-accredited certifying agency ensures that guidelines are met, and there are international certifiers to gauge products that will be exported to the United States. Growers and handlers with less than $5,000 in sales of organic products are exempt from certification and may label their products as organic if they adhere to the same standards, but they can’t use the USDA Organic seal.
 

www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexNet.htm
 



 
 
Florverde: This label developed in 1996 by Asocolflores, the Col-ombian Association of Flower Exporters, applies to flowers grown in Col-ombia that have met standards of sustainable farming practices such as reducing pesticide use, including banning any pesticides not registered for use in the United States and European Union, and conserving water; and standards for working conditions such as not hiring employees younger than 18 and paying above-market wages. Augusto Solano, president of Asocolflores, says as of April, 137 companies representing 167 farms were participating in Florverde. Of those, 109 had been certified by independent auditor SGS Group, of Switzerland. SGS has certified such farms since 2003 and this year began annually inspecting all certified farms.
 

www.florverde.org
 



 
 
FlorEcuador: A program of Expoflores, the Ecuadorean Association of Flower Growers and Exporters, FlorEcuador began in June 2005 to hold its members to standards regarding environmental practices, social practices and quality. There are two stages to FlorEcuador: Chapter 1, mandatory for all 180 Expoflores members, requires that companies meet basic standards and is certified by Expoflores; Chapter 2, which five farms have achieved, is certified by SGS Group, an independent auditor based in Switzerland, and requires that companies meet higher standards, including Good Agriculture Practices (GAP). Wenddy Obando Sevilla, program manager for FlorEcuador, says 35 farms have Chapter 1 certification, with the rest working toward certification, and she says Expoflores has conducted 92 inspections.
 

www.expoflores.com/index1.php
 



 
 
Fair Trade: This label has been in existence in Europe since the early 1990s and in the United States since 1999. In May, the label was to begin applying to cut flowers grown in developing countries for sale in the United States. TransFair USA is the certifying agency that oversees the label for U.S.-sold flowers, and Hannah Freeman, produce and floral account manager, said as of mid-April that 32 growers around the world were to be Fair Trade certified in cut flowers. The label guarantees livable wages and has standards for working conditions and the environment. Buyers/importers pay a social premium that goes to a fund at the farms for worker development programs. Buyers/importers also pay a volume fee to cover audits and consumer awareness campaigns.
 

www.transfairusa.org
 



 
 
Veriflora: This label applies to flowers and potted plants grown anywhere in the world that are being sold in North America and certifies that those products were produced in ways that preserve the environment, ensure good working conditions and provide optimal flower quality such as cold-chain management. The Veriflora certification can apply either to specific cultivars or to entire farms or companies. Created in 2003, Veriflora’s first certifications were granted in 2005. As of mid-April, 13 growers representing 32 farms in South America and six growers representing 18 farms in the United States were either certified or about to achieve certification, according to Alexander Winslow, director of communications for Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which owns the rights to the Veriflora label and manages the certification program. Three North American floral distributors also have Veriflora certification.
 

www.scscertified.com/csrpurchasing/veriflora
 



 
 
Sierra Eco: This brand was created by Montreal-based Sierra Flower Trading, Ltd., in 1999. In addition to applying this label to products that carry certain environmental certifications, the company developed a video and marketing materials to promote the brand and its meaning as well as allowing wholesale and retail florists who commit to the same values to carry the label as well, says Tom Leckman, president and CEO. Sierra Flower Trading is a certified Veriflora handler and was among companies that helped develop that standard.
 

www.sierraeco.com
 



 
 
International Labels:
Green labels in the European and international flower
marketplace include:
EurepGAP, www.eurepgap.org;
FFP (Fair Flowers Fair Plants), www.fairflowersfairplants.com;
Max Havelaar, Switzerland, www.maxhavelaar.ch/en/;
Flower Label Program (FLP), Germany, www.fairflowers.de;
MPS (Milieu Programma Sierteelt), Netherlands;
LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), the United Kingdom, www.leafuk.org;
KENYAGAP, Kenya, www.fpeak.org.
 


 


customer demand
As one indicator of the growth of this category in the flower industry, the Organic Trade Association’s 2006 Manufacturer Survey gives a clue. Sales of organic flowers were $16 million in 2005, a 50 percent increase over 2004. Organic Bouquet, Inc., a company that since 2001 has been selling organic flowers and other certified sustainable flowers direct to consumers through its online site, www.organicbouquet.com, predicted earlier this year that consumer demand will exceed $100 million in such flower purchases by 2012. Gerald Prolman, founder and CEO of Organic Bouquet, says his company’s sales have nearly doubled each of the past few years. And last year, the company added a wholesale division to supply florists and retailers.
“To the extent the market demands sustainable practices, growers will respond. Consumers will demand eco-flowers if they know they are available. It’s the classic chicken-and-the-egg story,” he describes.
Mr. Prolman has been among those helping to increase the demand. He led the effort to create the Veriflora standard by bringing the idea and key grower and distributor players together, says Alexander Winslow, director of communications for Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which owns the Veriflora standard and manages the certification program.
Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential, a book released in February that delves behind the scenes of the industry, says she’s asked audiences in her promotional tour of more than two dozen cities how many would buy a product because it’s organic, sustainable or socially responsible. “On average, two-thirds of the audience raised their hands,” she describes, though noting this is a self-selected group with an interest in the topic. “The lowest I ever saw was about half, but there were many times when it was 100 percent.”

growing green
You’ll hear different terms regarding a flower’s environmental and social impact: “organic,” “sustainably grown,” “environmentally friendly,” “worker-friendly,” “socially responsible,” “green.” Each flower certification program has its own standards that companies must meet—some addressing the environmental impact of the production, some addressing the social impact, some addressing flower quality standards, and others addressing all of these aspects. Companies must pay fees for most certification processes, in addition to any corrective measures to meet the particular standards. For companies doing business in the global marketplace, this isn’t a new phenomenon; European markets have a number of flower certification standards.
Lane DeVries, president and CEO of Sun Valley Floral Group, Arcata, Calif., says it’s just in the past seven to nine months that the company has started promoting its Veriflora certification with the seal on its products. Sun Valley was among companies that joined in developing the Veriflora standards, and its first products were certified in 2005, with certification for all of its farms being achieved within the past year.
“From a pure dollars-and-cents perspective, we have not seen any benefit from this program, as of yet anyway,
and I’m not sure that we will, at least in the foreseeable future,” Mr. DeVries describes, noting that there’s no difference in the price buyers pay for a certified stem versus a noncertified stem. “The real goal in this is not necessarily to do this for a profit motive.”
Producers say organic products, however, do come with higher price tags. In Sun Valley’s case, it has been producing some organic tulips for the past six years. Mr. DeVries says his company pays double what it pays for a conventional bulb. For buyers, he says, this results in a 30 percent higher price for Sun Valley’s organic tulips versus its conventionally grown tulips. “In that particular case, we can only do a program like that if we’re able to get compensated for that extra cost,” Mr. DeVries explains.
Another hurdle to organic production for Sun Valley is a limited supply of organic bulbs, says Mr. DeVries. Part of the Veriflora label is a requirement that companies either be producing organic product or have a plan to transition to organic production, though no timeline is attached to this requirement, Mr. Winslow says.
Kami Castillo, who is involved in marketing and design for grower Kendall Farms, Fallbrook, Calif., says 25 of Kendall Farms’ more than 115 crops are organic. The rest of its product mix carries the Veriflora certification. Kendall Farms also was among companies that helped develop the Veriflora standard, and it carries the certification on its entire operation.
The company is promoting this fact by marketing bouquets and consumer bunches under its new “Simple Sun-shine” title. Ms. Castillo says it is up to buyers whether the bouquets at store-level carry the appropriate eco-label, either Veriflora or USDA Organic depending on the product mix. “We’re utilizing the marketing materials that Veriflora created and offering them to our customers so they can get that information to the end consumer,” Ms. Castillo describes.
Roberto Nevado, CEO of rose grower Nevado Ecuador, Latacunga, Ecuador, says demand for certified products has increased more slowly than expected and that it has been difficult to obtain a higher price to compensate for the costs of complying with such requirements. “The market has not yet understood that this is a special product for special clients and at a special higher price,” he says.
Nevado Ecuador carries nine certifications—among them Veriflora and FlorEcuador—in the course of its business not only with the United States but also the European market. “A certified flower must have extra personnel that deals with different issues that the certification makes compulsory. Besides, the social aspects come with a higher cost for the farms,” he explains. “Having so many certifications as Nevado Ecuador has makes this matter an important economic aspect.”

a question of promotion
Those with labels targeting the North American marketplace say they are working to expand awareness. Augusto Solano, president of Asocolflores, the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters, says the association is working to get its Florverde label recognized by more end consumers. He says the 167 farms participating in Florverde, which turned 10 last year, account for 30 percent of flowers sold to U.S. consumers. “In the case of the U.S. market, not many labels can offer more than 700 million stems of certified flowers per year,” he says.
Mr. Winslow says SCS recently entered a licensing agreement with MasterTag to create in-store merchandising materials, stem tags, sleeves, signage and other items to promote the Veriflora label to consumers. “We’ve got approximately 600 million stems somewhere in the pipeline, either being grown or somewhere in the distribution channel. So we’re hitting that critical mass, where now it’s really making an impact,” Mr. Winslow says.

looking ahead
Ultimately, consumers and large floral buyers will vote with their dollars. Tom Leckman, president and CEO of Sierra Flower Trading, Ltd., Montreal, Quebec, Canada, which has promoted its own Sierra Eco brand on its products as a way to highlight the practices of such certifications as FLP, Florverde and Veriflora without confusing customers with multiple labels, sees a new wave overtaking the industry. “Six years ago, you wouldn’t have walked into a traditional food store and said, ‘Hey, there’s a big market for organic produce,’” he says. “Whether people will identify themselves as 100 percent green, as the awareness grows of the impacts of all the decisions we make with our consumption, I believe the market will be there for these products.
“I think many more organizations are stopping now and not just asking the price,” he says, “but trying to understand what are the real costs.”
 

You may reach Amy Bauer by e-mail at abauer@superfloralretailing.com or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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