ASCFG Customers Shop Hard

Increasing your flowers’ vase life using commercial postharvest solutions can be complicated. Gay Smith helps clear the water. So to speak.

In the Spring issue of the Quarterly, I made this statement, “Why commercial formulas are such a turnoff to everyone in the supply chain is a mystery.” which elicited a thoughtful response from ASCFG member Dr. Richard Uva of Seaberry Farm in Maryland.

He started by telling me that as a horticultural scientist and a farm owner, working with preservatives has been one of the most frustrating parts of flower farming. Ouch! I hated to hear that comment, but it started the wheels turning in my head about ways to convey information more reliably.

Grower’s Experiences as Valuable as Research

I’m guilty of getting caught up in today’s worship of customization and choices. I failed to appreciate the beauty of simplicity. Of course, simplicity in providing recommendations is not as easy as it first appears. In fact, trying to get my arms around the importance of providing one or two postharvest solution options rather than three or four feels as easy as taming a gorilla. The best recommendations go to hell when research sheds new light on a particular treatment.

But even the most con-vincing research doesn’t come close to the positive impact grower testimonials impart. A huge thank-you to every ASCFG member who has ever mentioned my products in presentations! What is better than hearing about another grower’s success with a solution on a crop you grow, which rang true in one of Richard’s comments about not having time to test, compare and evaluate solutions while growing 150 crops.

Dr. Uva informed me that “We usually don’t see a difference with or without preservatives except in very specific instances. With all the things we grow it seems like they made a difference only once, forcing forsythia.” Herein lies the conundrum: postharvest treatments maximize the genetic vase life potential of a flower. Consider vase life as a 24-hour clock that starts ticking when blooms are cut. Maximizing vase performance indicates the success of a treatment, but longevity is tallied at the end—let’s say from 7:00 p.m. to midnight on the vase life clock—long after the product is out of the grower’s hands. So without testing, comparing and evaluating, it’s difficult to know which treatment made the most positive difference.

Dr. Uva continued:  “We use (treatments) on wholesale dahlias too, but the dahlias move fast and I honestly don’t know if it matters. I am just doing it for the customer.”  We all know a satisfied customer is a repeat buyer. David Brown, manager of Boston’s Chester Brown Wholesale was quoted in Floral Marketing recently, saying “Our customers shop hard.” Every flower customer (wholesaler, retailer and consumer) shops hard because flowers are a luxury item and we tend to move to the next luxury fast when flowers disappoint.

Dr. Uva mentioned “…that environmental conditions, pre-harvest and storage conditions post-harvest usually outweigh the effect of preservative.” which is almost completely true. No solution will make a bad flower good. A beloved mentor of mine said it more colorfully; you can’t make chicken soup out of chicken poop. Vase success is affected by many factors—everything from pre-harvest techniques, the condition of the starting water, cut stage, seasonal light conditions, temperatures, handling logistics, method of packing (dry or wet), and proximity to customer, which is exactly why it’s sometimes necessary to provide options. Getting your willow to hydrate rather than crisp up is important whether you’re selling next door or shipping it across the country. But add packing, transit, and additional days involved with getting products to point of sale, and postharvest solutions suddenly become critical. What your customers do to the flowers also makes a huge difference in performance. If the buyer plops your blooms into plain water in a scummy bucket, the flowers flop fast. Flowers that don’t hold well are generally considered the grower’s fault and customers are not shy to request credit.

Alphabet Soup

What makes choosing the right product so difficult? Some of the blame lands squarely on flower chemical companies who muddy the water in an effort to win sales. I absolutely agree with Dr. Uva that some product names are a confusing litany of letters and numbers. Our grower treatments are listed as RVB, BVB, or AVB. The VB is an abbreviation of the Dutch word “voorbehandeling”, which translates as “pretreatment”.

Even my company’s name (Chrysal—no “t”) is usually mispronounced.

Chrysal’s U.S. subsidiary tried to simplify things by designating a professional line targeted to growers, wholesalers, and retailers, but it is confusing because the grower stage is not the only time a hydration solution is used. We also give solutions names to push sales, e.g. “Rose Pro” hydration. This solution does wonders for roses. It is actually our crème de la crème formula and works great on every kind of wilt-sensitive species. The name is a marketing tool.

A bit of solution vocabulary helps clarify product choices. Hydration solutions turn on flow, lower the pH, and contain no source of energy (sugars). Holding solutions are flower food with a minimum amount of sugar in the mix. Vase solutions are flower food with a maximum amount of sugar to take blooms all the way to the end. Bulb formulas contain minimum sugars and PGS’s for leaf quality, bloom opening, and color vibrancy. Gerbera pills are all about keeping the water clean and flowing. No sugar, no acidifier.

For even more clarification, contact me at the [email protected]

What about directions on how to use the products? Every product has instructions, but confusion abounds. Pictograms are used for mixing instructions on consumer packets to communicate across cultures. We’ve tried written instructions as well, but neither is particularly successful. In 25 years of training hundreds of retail florists on flower care, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve gotten a correct answer to how much water to mix with a 10g flower food packet, yet instructions are on every packet. Need MSDS information? Chrysal and Floralife both supply MSDS sheets for their product lines.

Dr. Uva made a good point about the lack of information suppliers have about different product use. We sell B2B which means wholesalers are our distributors. They sell flower chemicals to retailers and in some instances, growers, but their interest and understanding are poor—especially for grower solutions. Wholesalers like to be experts about flowers, but not too interested in knowing about solutions. They often simply substitute what they have in stock and what they perceive as equivalent products. They are not.

Uva stressed that our distributors (wholesalers) know very little about our products and cannot help the users. He felt that because of the above, our products come off looking like “cure-alls” or items that can be accessed only by experts. A pity, really. Don’t settle for sketchy information. Feel free to contact me directly for product information, questions and queries. Both Chrysal and Floralife support ASCFG growers.

In summary, Richard said “I think your industry has a marketing problem that could be easily fixed.” In response, I must say that I think the entire flower industry has a marketing problem that can be fixed. But I’ve learned that change happens slowly. Nevertheless, the comments and candor that Dr. Uva shared are extremely helpful in exposing weakness and working toward change.

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

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