Food Forum: Flower power

New varieties of orchids are easier to grow and can fit into any budget.

By P. Allen Smith

Over the past several years, floral and live goods offerings in grocery stores have changed tremendously, with the range, quality and display of products helping to increase consumer appeal. While not everyone goes to the garden center or florist, most of the female customer base goes to the grocery store, and displays of potted flowers and plants may be the only regular exposure many have when it comes to floral and live goods. “A plant-buying consumer’s confidence is gained each time she has a successful experience,” says Scott Giesbrecht sales manager for Oberlin, Ohio-based Green Circle Growers, one of the country’s largest suppliers of or­chids. “Because most plants are purchased impulsively, it is important to have fresh, sellable inventory stocked in clean, well-merchandised displays to ensure readiness for purchase.”

The popularity of orchids has grown exponentially as growers have worked to create better distribution and lower cost. Because of their exotic nature, orchids have had a reputation for being fussy and elitist, making them an unlikely choice for the everyday consumer. However, growers are offering easy-to-grow options and placing these beautiful flowering plants in grocery store floral departments, helping to overcome the stigma of orchids being expensive and temperamental.

When shoppers encounter a display of orchids, they instantly size up the total package, from the container style to the color of the blooms. This is the time to make a great first impression.

After the display has captured the customer’s attention, their focus turns to the point-of-purchase materials and the information for growing, care and inspired ideas for use in the home.  Easy access to information has become very important with consumers, and it is critical to communicate the message about caring for any purchase. Products such as Green Circle Growers’ Just Add Ice Orchids offer customers substantial Internet-based support, from basics such as watering to advanced topics such as triggering re-blooming, all of which are covered in frequently asked questions, blogs, videos and even forums that help create a sense of community among orchid owners. This same level of support is provided to floral department managers to ensure they are able to pass along the same information to the consumer right in the store.

Curt Banister, general manager of The Fresh Market store in Little Rock, Ark., attributes the growth in floral in part to the influence that popular cooking and lifestyle shows have had on the consumer. “Our customers shop for the entire lifestyle experience and floral is an important and growing category for us because of that,” says Banister. “Retailers have learned that not only do their customers want help with planning the meal for special occasions, but they also want assistance with the centerpiece for the table and plants and flowers throughout the house. We help them stimulate the senses.”

Banister also notes that pricing has encouraged consumers to experiment with orchids and cut-flower bouquets from the supermarket. “Orchids can range from $27.99 to $9.99 and stylish cut-flower bouquets retail for $9.99, so price is no longer an obstacle,” he says.

Unlike most retailers that only stock potted plants and bouquets during holidays such as Christmas and Valentine’s Day, most grocery stores have a non-stop floral program that must be supported 52 weeks a year. Orchids are particularly compelling because they’re a year-round product, while cut flowers and season-specific houseplants cycle in and out. The consistency of this product can help offset the peaks and valleys that occur in the other areas of the floral department.

Customizable solutions, from color-specific pots to seasonal add-ons such as tags, glitter sticks, gift cards, wrapping paper, candy and other accessories, are simple yet effective ways to stimulate purchases and keep the product fresh and appealing.

Price is another. Approaching sales with a cost-plus model allows for as much customization with price as it does with the overall packaging of the plant or bouquet itself. By offering a range of basic and upgraded containers and accessories, floral departments are able to design a well-priced product that is attractive both to the consumer and their bottom line.

By stocking orchids and other live goods in the floral department, you’re not only offering unique products to customers, you are also making an introduction on a basic level that could lead to a lifetime of enjoying houseplants as a hobby.

Little Rock, Ark.-based P. Allen Smith is the host of P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home on PBS, a regular contributor to NBC’s Today show, noted author and accomplished painter.

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