Floral arrangements and traditional bulbs are getting an equal amount of attention in supermarket floral departments for the important Easter selling season this year.
Retailers contacted by SN about floral trends for the spring holidays said they also expect to see hanging baskets continue to grow in popularity as a gift for Mother's Day.
While lilies and other potted spring bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths continue to be important for Easter, several supermarket floral directors said interest in Easter dinners is fueling growth in arrangements, particularly table centerpieces.
With Mother's Day, May 14, at the peak of the bedding plant season, hanging baskets remain popular, but supermarkets are also planning to offer a variety of cut-flowers bouquets and arrangements, including some priced within a child's budget.
Glenn Mueller, general manager of Dierbergs Florist, a division of Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo., said the chain continues to develop its own arrangements for Easter and other holidays, as well as participate in the FTD wire delivery system.
"Easter is not a holiday for people to spend a lot for floral arrangements, so we try to keep price points down," said Mueller. Easter is not as big a holiday as it used to be, he added, with churchgoers dressing more casually and forgoing the traditional corsages. To help keep arrangement prices down, Dierbergs makes most in baskets with an Easter motif rather than in ceramic containers. The chain does frequently include extras such as seed packets or perfume with holiday arrangements. With Easter falling later this year, April 16, Mueller expects to do some bedding plant business related to the holiday.
Mother's Day is good for bedding plants, he noted. Dierbergs offers the annuals preplanted in large pots and containers, and last year started mixing in some green plants for an upgraded hanging basket.
Dierbergs plans a Mother's Day promotion offering an incentive to customers to send their wired floral greetings through the supermarket chain, said Mueller, noting Mother's Day is the biggest holiday of the year for the wire services.
Easter is a strong floral holiday for the 65-store Seaway Food Town chain, Maumee, Ohio, which has 26 full-service floral departments. While potted plants -- "everything from traditional lilies to Asiatic and Oriental lilies and rose bushes" -- do well at Easter, "the area with the greatest potential is cut flowers. We're projecting quite an increase, particularly in arrangements," said Rich Glauser, floral merchandiser.
Seaway contracts with local growers for a lot of its flowers, and therefore is able to include some bulb flowers in its spring arrangements, he noted. The chain uses a "subdued" amount of Easter trim, such as ceramic eggs or porcelain bunnies, he said, going instead toward baskets or spring-theme containers.
Mother's Day, he said, is more difficult. "It's very, very big, but a lot is done in bedding plants and hanging baskets," where the chain faces stiff competition from local growers. Glauser estimated about a third of his hanging basket sales are done for Mother's Day.
The stores do a strong business in carnations and roses -- arrangements, bouquets and bud vases -- for Mother's Day, he added.
"Every year lilies become less important and we do more of other kinds of plants," said Larry Olson, vice president of Minneapolis Floral, which operates leased floral departments in eight Lund's stores and several of Supervalu's Cub and New Market stores in the Minneapolis area.
"Easter is one of only two or three holidays for which we offer centerpieces," he said.
Olson's shops offer blooming plants for $5.99 to $12.99, with $9.99 the most popular price point, and cut flowers for around $6.99. "We keep our holiday prices similar to those the rest of the year. We want the occasional flower buyer to expect to spend $20 and end up spending $10 and want to do it again. It's important to use every holiday as an advertising opportunity to build the everyday business," Olson said.
For Mother's Day, Minneapolis Floral tries to keep prices down. "It's a holiday we offer a whole lot of price points we normally don't have, because people have a price in mind and won't go up," Olson said. The shops start as low as $3.99 for cut flowers for kids to buy and try to stay under $20.
A popular item last year that Olson expects to repeat this year is an inexpensive brooch or earrings with a small bouquet aimed at children purchasing for their mothers.
Instead of holiday ads, Minneapolis Floral promotes holiday arrangements with samples in the stores about a week or 10 days before the holiday. Olson avoids printed holiday flower sleeves because, he said, "they distract from the flowers," and limits the number of holiday picks.
Patty Nicoletti, floral buyer for the Phoenix division of Fleming Cos., Oklahoma City, supplying about 300 stores, sticks primarily with basics for the holidays, adding in one or two novelty items. "Easter is always a basic business with lilies and tulips," she said.
She's looking for strong Mother's Day sales. "If Valentine's Day was any indication, it will be a tremendous year," Nicoletti said, citing a strong potted plant business for the February holiday. Azaleas, she added, are particularly strong for Mother's Day.
Nicoletti expects pricing from growers to be about the same as last year for this spring's holidays, and noted retailers in her market did not promote prices particularly heavily at Valentine's Day. "A few retailers try to get tricky on prices, but they hurt themselves. They may have quality problems that will haunt them" for the long term, she noted.
Easter arrangements are a growing business at Marsh Supermarkets, noted Terry Landrey, director of floral merchandising for the 58-store, Indianapolis-based chain. "Airy table arrangements" and cut flowers in clear vases are becoming popular with Marsh customers, she noted.
The chain also grows lilies in its own greenhouses for a strong Easter business. Marsh advertises holiday flowers heavily, she said, and uses in-store banners as well. "We try to have plants, bouquets and three arrangements for each holiday, and give customers a price range from $4.99 to about $29.99," she said.
For Mother's Day, roses continue to be a top seller at Marsh. Customers, said Landrey, are opting more for vases over elaborate arrangements, which keeps the price down because vases are less labor-intensive.
Mother's Day cut-flower arrangements run from $13.99 to $50, with $30 to $35 a popular price point. Marsh floral departments offer Teleflora wire service and the chain delivers floral products, making it more competitive with area florists, she noted.
This year's late Easter provides "a wonderful opportunity to move product outside, and that's a good way to increase sales," noted Sue Glenn, floral specialist at Genuardi Super Markets, Norristown, Pa. Of Genuardi's 27 stores, 23 have floral departments and the other four offer seasonal products.
Easter "is one of our best holidays, maybe the best" in floral, with equal emphasis on plants and cut flowers, she noted. "Winter is over and spring is beginning, and people buy for themselves," she said.
For Mother's Day, Genuardi puts a little more emphasis on flowering plants than on fresh flowers. "People are buying to plant outside," Glenn said. The chain does a major promotion on plants for that holiday and also makes sure to have some lower-priced items on hand for children to purchase.
Ukrop's Super Markets, Richmond, Va., has full-service floral departments in nine of its 23 stores, and is reinforcing its position as a florist by participating in area flower shows, noted Donna Shultz, manager of floral operations. The chain has just set up floral as a separate department and still uses a distributor to service stores that do not have full-service shops.
For Easter, Ukrop's will concentrate on lilies and potted bulbs, and will add some decorative accessories and holiday pots. Mother's Day continues to be a strong bouquet and arrangement holiday, she said.
At a northern California chain, lilies continue to be the big item, along with potted bulbs, said the floral merchandiser. The chain concentrates more on potted plants than arrangements for the Easter holiday. The supply of lilies is good this year, she noted, with pricing the same as last year.
For Mother's Day, the chain focuses on traditional bouquets "with a lot of color," and hopes to repeat last year's success with a hat box container for Mother's Day arrangements that has "a lot of warmth," she said.
Potted plants, particularly azaleas and Rubrum lilies, have been strong for Mother's Day, and "bedding plants keep getting bigger and bigger. An adequate supply is starting to be a problem," she noted.
Don Fillis, floral buyer at United Grocers, Portland, Ore., with 300 members, about a third of which have floral departments, expects foil-wrapped pots of lilies to repeat as this year's big Easter item. "Our cut-flower business is very minimal for Easter," he said.
For Mother's Day, the stores United supplies are carrying more cut flowers and a greater variety of hanging baskets than in the past. "Mother's Day is probably our biggest week of the year," led by the plant business, Fillis said.