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Playing in God's Casino

Although the floral industry in North America has undergone unbelievable structural changes over the past 40 years, the physiology of flowers has remained the same. The question is, have our post harvest practices kept up so that the industry can achieve profitable repeat sales or have we succumbed to cost pressures and minimized post harvest practices.

Realities

● Flowers do not like cardboard

50 years ago cut flowers were generally sold within 200 miles of where they were grown, now 2000 or more miles is the norm and the amount of transit time is generally ignored as putting extra stress on the flowers. North America is a really big place, and unlike Europe, these distances translate into days in box not hours.

● Cut flowers are not widgets but living breathing organisms and being cut represents severe trauma to a cut flower - staying in a box for 7-10 days is not a successful means to overcome this trauma

● Proper post harvest care and handling involves a system, not just a step - and like any system, is only as good as it's weakest link

Today’s' common practices

pricing product cheaper if it is sold to the retailer in the shipping bo

assembling bouquets using flowers right out of the box - only cutting once - which serves for both hydration and presentation purposes

 ● hydrating product as a last resort

 ● only hydrating product at the end of the week after it has been in the box for 5  days

 ● only hydrating product if it is for a customer's order and it hydrates in transit - leaving product dry in the shipping box until it is required

Faced with these realities and practices, where is our industry going? Safe to say, I think that in the eyes of the consumer, we are getting away from selling fresh beautiful flowers, but more and more we are offering floral lottery tickets. Being in the floral industry, means we are playing in God's casino. but surprisingly, we do not follow the common sense practices we would use if we were going to play in the casinos of Las Vegas or Atlanta. There, we would at least know the various rules of the games, and as a professional gambler, be able to understand the odds that are against us and do our best to minimize the risk..

Back in the 70's, George Staby promoted a concept called "chain of life" which described a series of processing steps and conditions which would minimize and compensate for the post harvest stress to cut flowers and maximize the value transmitted to the end consumer. Now, we seem to be getting away from the system approach, but focus only on some of the steps involved - bacteria (cleanliness) and maintaining the cold chain (refrigeration) and ignoring some of the other steps and procedures which are just as critical as the aforementioned in having a good post harvest processing system which will consistently deliver value to the end consumer.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, there are no floral brand names that the consumer can identify and rely on to maximize the chance of getting value for a floral purchase. Rather, flowers are unbranded and the suppliers to a particular chain are often rotated just to keep them in line and on their toes when it comes to pricing. This is shortsighted. It is an anomaly, that in the floral business, lower prices do not necessarily mean that extra value is being transmitted to the end consumer. Proper post harvest procedures do cost money in labor, transportation and refrigeration, but the returns are there. Mass merchandisers should focus not only on which suppliers consistently practice the proper procedures as outlined in the "chain of life program", but insist that they will only purchase from suppliers who can prove that they follow these procedures consistently. The mass merchandisers should be more than willingly to pay for this because it will lead to an increase in consumer confidence in making an impulse purchase and increase the odds of having repeat sales in their stores. This floral business is all about repeat sales and repeat sales means repeat profits. People want to buy flowers, however they are not stupid. If they get burned on a floral purchase, they will only buy flowers when they have to for occasions such a funerals, birthdays and illness. We cannot build our industry based on once in a lifetime or once a year events. . The market that our industry has to focus on is the impulse market, where they see it, they like it and they buy it, and where they have some confidence in knowing that the flowers will last and give them some pleasure in their homes. To achieve this goal of profitable repeat sales, our total industry has to become oriented to becoming floral trauma specialists. If the confidence of the consumer begins to wane in the perceived value that our product represents, we all lose.

Appeared in Produce News - Floral Section - June 2007