Change is Inevitable, Except from a Vending Machine

As you toast in the New Year, consider what changes and trends that will affect (or continue to affect) your business in 2008.  Few will deny that a glass or two of bubbly tend to stimulate the creative juices, so might as well have a toast to your continued success as you read on.

Green-washing is likely the most obvious trend that will color 2008.  It is impossible to read an advertisement or product label today without being assured that the contents are “green” and you’ve made the right choice to save the environment, improve your community, health, or state of mind by purchasing this item.  Floral was a bit slow to pick up on the green-washing trend, but it’s safe to say the industry is fully on board as we zoom into the new year. The most compelling  green aspect of production may be the interest in and popularity of certification programs.

Although many have been in place for more than a decade in South America, the concept is still finding its legs in the U.S.  Keep in mind that sustainability—not organic certification—is the essence of green labeling programs in the floral industry.  Certification programs in Colombia, Ecuador and Europe include FloraVerde, Sierra Eco, Flower Labeling Program (FLP), EurepGAP, Veriflora and Fair Trade.  There are differences within each program, but all share a common goal of engaging in responsible environmental practices.  Some of the programs also focus on social and economic sustainability.  Veriflora, monitored by SCS (Scientific Certification Systems), is probably the newest sustainable label program available to both Latin American and U.S. growers.  Veriflora certification is the only program that requires a long-term commitment to organic crop production.

Is the surge in green interest a consequence of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” or just the general public’s need for a more hopeful topic than the war on terror?  Regardless, it’s impossible to miss the hype touting green, sustainable and organic products in venues as diverse as personal wellness products, Home Depot’s 2007 product label “Eco Options”, or Honda’s “Environmentology” campaign.  All support clean and healthy environments for U.S. communities. Flower certification programs are not going away.  The public is more comfortable purchasing products that carry a seal of quality because it reduces their risk and makes them feel like smart consumers.
More Stuff to Buy

SAF (Society of American Florists) has done some green-washing too.  It has funded research and developed an entire marketing campaign on the advantages of having flowers as part of one’s lifestyle, because plants and flowers are proven mood elevators, air fresheners, productivity boosters, and offer spiritual healing.  Flowers and plants are green by nature, so green-washing makes sense to a consuming public that needs compelling reasons to buy our goods.

A trend that continues to strengthen in the U.S. is the push to provide collateral materials with products.  Collateral materials are widely used in Europe because they satisfy an information-driven customer base.  Whether tiny bottles of olive oil are attached to olive trees grown as patio plants, or planters are filled with sand colorized to match the plant, they act as triggers to catch consumer interest and add value to the purchase.

Collateral materials for horticultural products are catching on in the U.S., too.  My booth neighbor at a supermarket show this summer displayed plants with purse-size tubes of scented body lotions to match the variety of plant offered (e.g. lemon cypress lotion on potted cypress trees.)  They explained that trimmings were saved when plants were groomed and then used to scent the lotion.  The line was called “Scents Collection”.  This grower offered another line with 3x 5” information booklets attached providing care, plant history and recipe cards that featured dishes using their potted herbs.  An individual leaf cleaner (cloth impregnated with Leaf Shine) is another example of collateral to upgrade foliage plants lines.

Flower suppliers are offering collateral materials as well. A good example is the California bouquet maker who patented a Kraft paper sleeve with rope handles.  At the 2007 Hortifair House of Retail exhibition, display after display gave visitors ideas on packaging methods to satisfy a variety of customer needs: packaging with handles to simplify the “carry” half of the “cash and carry” equation, luxury wraps as a way to sex up the single stem sale or convey a specific message the flowers deliver, displays that provide information on how to make the best product selection for the occasion or home environment and various ways to enjoy the product.  The take-home message in the House of Retail: if your packaging lacks product ideas or information, is not convenient to handle, walk away with or understand—it won’t fly.

Another trend that continues to dominate retail sales and marketing campaigns is “lifestyle”. Know the ten commandments of lifestyle and take advantage of any of them at every opportunity. They are as follows: Exclusivity; Unique therefore distinguishable; DIY; Make it easy and convenient; Honesty; Customers want information at every step of the chain; Focus on wellness; Demand for quality; Close to nature and back to the roots; and I want it my way.

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

What about changes in product handling? With water costs rising around the U.S., more attention is being paid to the number of times solutions can be reused effectively.  Making simple changes in handling protocols helps defray costs.  An example is STS.  The hassle of neutralizing STS (as well as the increase in the costs of silver) has led growers to make subtle changes in the way the product is applied.  Since stems pull solution from the bottom, reducing the depth of STS in buckets is a cost-effective way to reduce the amount left to neutralize. By the time the solution is spent, the flowers have essentially sucked the bucket dry.

One handling change you may consider is the reuse of hydration solutions.  It is an efficient way to reduce not only treatment cost, but also water and labor costs.  An article by Karen Robb, Julie Newman and James Bethke in Vol.11, 2007 summer issue of CORF News gave compelling insights on postharvest changes that improved the bottom line.  According to their surveys, all the California growers interviewed reported that although changes in their postharvest handling procedures increased their direct costs, these costs were more than offset by reduced credits.

Examples cited were:
•Using STS for ethylene-sensitive crops.
•Switching from non-cooled to refrigerated delivery trucks.
•Bunching flowers under cool (50-60F) conditions instead of in greenhouses (85-90F) not only improved flower quality, but increased worker productivity from 35 to 130 bunches per hour per person.
•Having third-party inspections to verify that flowers meet the requirements of supermarkets helped reduced shrink and increased crop quality, while fewer credits were received resulting in more satisfied customers.
Consumers are getting smarter and supermarket buyers more demanding, all of which require growers to pay closer attention to correct handling methods.  In many cases, customers (supermarket buyers at least) are presenting specific codes of practices to growers as a means of ensuring consistent quality.  Another innovation changing the way flowers are treated includes flower-specific treatments applied at both grower and consumer level  Emphasis is now on developing solutions targeted to treat specific needs of various flowers, thereby proving the extra boost needed to maximize genetic potential.

It will be interesting to see what changes move our industry forward in 2008.

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

Gay Smith is the Technical Consulting Manager for Chrysal USA. Contact her at [email protected]