NOVATO, Calif. -- Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets are looking to make the most of a newly available, year-round supply of branded, certified organic flowers.
So is Trader Joe's, and a number of independent retailers, too. They told SN a sustainable supply of organic floral products, bred of new technology and a honed distribution system, presents a good sales opportunity for them.
"[The increased availability of organic flowers] is so new, it's difficult to know what the prevailing market is, but most customers coming into our stores see organic floral as an added bonus," said James Parker, regional produce/floral director for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods' Northern Pacific region. "It's as beautiful as the conventional, but not as harmful to the environment."
Until now, organic flowers have been available strictly on a seasonal basis in most areas because they have been sourced from local growers. But the advent of a new company whose founders have developed a system to distribute organic flowers nationally, at competitive prices, has changed that, and that's good news, said Parker.
"We're doing some evaluating right now," he said.
"We have a customer base that's very committed to organic, or at least, to sustainable agriculture. Will the floral products make the leap to the mainstream customer? I don't know, but I'm cautiously optimistic."
So are the founders of Organic Bouquet, who said their company, based here, is the first to make branded, certified organic floral products available nationwide.
Earlier this year, the company introduced its first crop of organic tulips, and by the time spring is in full swing, it expects to be able to supply sufficient organic flowers and bouquets for a complete organic floral department.
Meanwhile, officials at Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., said they're eager to test more product because organic flowers are such a good fit with Wild Oats' philosophy.
"We think it's exciting and we will take their program companywide," said Sonja Tuitele, the retailer's director of corporate communications.
At Whole Foods, stores currently carry conventional and organic product. The retailer priced Organic Bouquet's organic tulips at $10.99 for 10 stems, with little customer resistance, Parker said. His stores also offered a comparable grade of conventional tulips at $9.99 for 10 stems.
At a Wild Oats unit in St. Louis, retail pricing of the organic tulips in February was comparable to the conventional counterparts.
"We were selling the organics at $6.99 for five stems, and the nonorganics for $6.69. We'll be ordering more," said the floral department manager at that store.
At Rainbow Market in San Francisco, produce buyer Kim Kaput said Organic Bouquet tulips represented that single-unit cooperative's first venture into floral in the wintertime.
"We do sell some organic flowers in season, but we don't carry commercial flowers because they're loaded with pesticides. You know, there aren't as many restrictions on using pesticides on flowers as there are on food products," Kaput said, adding the $6.99 price for five stems of Organic Bouquet tulips was well accepted.
Not so, however, with all retailers. At Sendik's in White Fish Bay, Wis., the difference in retail between bunches of Organic Bouquet tulips and nonorganics was bigger and resulted in few sales of the organics, an associate there said.
But as the season progresses, Organic Bouquet will be able to offer retailers across the country a large variety of organic flowers at more competitive prices, said the company's co-founder, Gerald Prolman.
"We've solved critical supply, distribution and merchandising issues that have previously inhibited the market introduction of organic floral products on a wide scale," he said.