While the pandemic forced many to stay at home last year, it didn’t stop consumers from bringing the outside in with plants and floral arrangements, many of which were purchased from local supermarkets.
“After struggling during the early days of the pandemic due to the enormous social and economic disruption which shifted consumer behaviors, the U.S. supermarket floral industry bounced back and grew $182.7 million in sales over 2019,” said Cathy Burns, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).
“While purchasing decisions in the flower industry are based on discretionary income, recessions are often smaller due to the small price tag on an item that brings joy. As people spent more time at home, brightening their environment and bringing the outside in became a priority and a practice in wellness,” Burns continued. “Consumers began buying fresh flowers and plants to bring color, fragrance and happiness—as well as to reduce stress—in their everyday lives. The industry has seen an increase in sales that, in most months, exceeds pre-pandemic levels.”
During a virtual press call last month to announce the merger of the country’s two leading produce trade associations, PMA and United Fresh, Burns made it clear that floral would be a chief concern for the joint organizations. “We will absolutely own the floral space,” she said on the call.
The two associations will continue to operate as independent organizations through 2021, with the new association to be launched Jan. 1, 2022.
“In terms of advocacy, members of the new organization can expect to see an even stronger, singular voice for floral as it relates to not only policy and trade issues but also broader support for the Joy of Fresh campaign launched a year ago in the early days of the pandemic,” Burns told WGB. “I expect there will be continued integration of supermarket floral perspectives and insights across volunteer leadership groups, events—live, hybrid and virtual—as well as original and curated research to help our members capitalize on consumer demands for floral products.”
Ready to Blossom
With vaccination rates rising and pandemic restrictions lifting, what will the new normal look like in the floral space?
“As markets stabilize, consumers are expected to practice cautious spending as it relates to affordable luxuries—of which flowers and plants are a great example. People are not spending on big luxuries like high-end purses, jewelry, etc., and instead buying flowers and plants. Our consumer sentiment data conducted early this spring found that consumers are looking to continue the trend of purchasing floral more frequently. The industry has long been focused on how to turn consumer floral purchasing behavior from ‘impulse’ or ‘holiday’ buys to a frequent purchase and this is a great opportunity for the industry to continue that momentum,” Burns said, adding that this topic will be explored in-depth during PMA’s June 17 Drive Demand for Floral webinar.
Other floral industry resources for the PMA member community include trend updates such as the Pantone Color/Home Decor webinar, as well as IRI holiday reports that provide point-of-sales data on those important categories to, as Burns said, “get a clear impression on how floral performed."
“A virtual town hall on May 26 will feature a number of prominent floral buyers discussing where the industry is currently and how it can be positioned to drive everyday purchasing in response to new consumer behaviors,” added Burns.
PMA has also established a partnership with Floriology to offer its members discounts on virtual floral design courses for grocery store staff members to build confidence and design skills.
“It has been exciting to see the shift in the relevance of supermarket floral driven by consumers,” Burns said. “Retailers that jumped on the opportunity to be the preferred channel for flowers, blooms and plants last year have reaped the benefits.
“As with any in-store department, to drive sales there must be an organizational commitment and investment. This may require a shift in terms of strategy, tactics and culture, that floral is exceptionally relevant, provides incremental sales and essential to store profits,” she said.
Retailers in Full Bloom
A number of grocers have honed their floral game of late, including the Austin-based Whole Foods Market, which has been actively promoting its tulip supplier Bloomia, as part of its Sourced for Good program.
“In 2020, Bloomia became the first flower farm in the U.S. to be certified by the Fair Food Program, which means sales of its Virginia-grown tulips directly benefit the farmworkers who plant and harvest them,” said Kate Kennedy, principal floral buyer at Whole Foods Market.
Created by Whole Foods Market, the Sourced for Good program helps support workers, communities and environmental stewardship where products are sourced. Whole Foods collaborates with farms, suppliers and international third-party certifiers, including Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade America, Fair Food Program and Equitable Food Initiative to help provide things like improved wages, healthcare, student scholarships, planting trees to prevent erosion and more, the company said.
As one of the largest producers of fresh cut flowers in the world, Bloomia has built success on fostering mutually beneficial relationships with buyers, the tulip company said, which has relationships with 14 different retailers, including Whole Foods, Publix, Trader Joe’s and Kroger.
Petal to the Metal
The Fresh Market of Greensboro, N.C., is another grocer with blossoming floral departments. Featuring a host of seasonal and year-round flowers and plants from fresh orchids to premium long-stemmed roses, bright bouquets, potted bulbs and more, the specialty grocer seeks to bring in the freshest, most vibrant florals throughout the year, including new “Command Performance Peony flowers for the spring that are so exclusive, they will only be available at The Fresh Market for an extremely limited time,” the company said.
Grown in Southwest France in the region of Gironde, near the city of Bordeaux, Command Performance Peonies are full-petaled and among the largest of all peony varieties with blossoms as large as 20 centimeters. The petals start out hot pink and change every day transitioning to an antique pink color during the blooming process. “At first, the peony’s buds will appear bulky, but they will soon transform into big, beautiful flowers treating you to a spectacular metamorphosis of colors along the way,” The Fresh Market website reads.
“We’re so excited to be able to offer these special flowers for our guests this year. Not only are they fun to watch, but they also have a long vase life so you can enjoy them for a longer period of time,” said JoAnn Whitley, director of floral for The Fresh Market, in a statement.
The Fresh Market is one of the only retailers on the East Coast offering Command Performance Peonies during peak season, according to the grocer. They will be available in bunches of three beginning May 19, while supplies last.