Budding Romance


Floral departments woo customers with wedding bouquets, local lilies, creative classes and more.

Industry experts agree that floral sales often mirror the current economic landscape. When consumers feel rosy about their fiscal health, they're more apt to purchase a bouquet of fresh flowers.

So as the nation's economic recovery continues, supermarkets across the country are expanding their floral offerings and forecasting blossoming sales.

In Progressive Grocer's 80th Annual Report of the Grocery Industry, which appeared in last month's issue, a significant 41.1 percent of respondents said they anticipate increased floral traffic this year. Only 9.6 percent of respondents thought traffic in floral will decline this year, while 49.3 percent think it will remain the same.

But it's not the economic upturn alone that's spurring sales of everything from spring bouquets to orchids and hydrangeas. Retailers are redefining the supermarket floral department, making it a true destination and focal point of freshness for the whole store.

Arranged Marriage

Weddings have become big business for a growing number of supermarkets, particularly in floral. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets offers elegant custom and packaged wedding flowers through a number of its stores. Packages range from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the design and scope. Custom arrangements run the gamut.

Supermarket bridal shows, like the one hosted each spring by Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market (DLM), are also increasingly popular. "We take orders for flowers right there at the show," says Casey Eads, floral manager for the retailer's Oakwood store.

Are customers ever reluctant to choose wedding flowers from a supermarket over a stand-alone florist? "Not here," asserts Eads. "The DLM name presents something better to them, and our customer service is a big part of that. People shop here because they enjoy being here, not just because they need to buy food or flowers."

The same is true at United Supermarkets LLC, which recently wrapped the fifth annual Wedding Expo at its Market Street locations in north and west Texas. The event, as its name suggests, is a fullscale wedding extravaganza, complete with store greeters dressed as a bride and groom, product samples, and demonstrations from Market Street's floral, cake and wedding catering services. Market Street team members are also on hand to answer questions, make recommendations and schedule individual consultations.

"There is no doubt we are in the wedding business," Rex Henderson, business director of floral for Lubbock, Texas-based United, says of the lush wedding-inspired flower displays that greet expo visitors the moment they arrive. "Both moms and brides attend, often traveling many miles to see this happening," observes Henderson.

The highly successful expo and the business it attracts continue to show signs of growth. "Our wedding season, which starts in June, is already pretty well booked through the summer," explains Henderson. "With double-digit increases expected, we are projecting our biggest year ever for floral."

Even if shoppers don't have a wedding in mind, displays of upscale floral arrangements lend an undeniable ambiance to a supermarket trip. "Our floral departments set the tone for the entire shopping experience," Henderson declares. "When you walk by displays of beautiful, fresh flowers to feel, touch and smell, you feel good."

Sustainable Blossoms

Locally grown has become nearly as popular in floral as it is in produce, and the trend in organic and sustainable is also blossoming there. BLP Commerce in Orlando, Fla., parent company to Total Floral and Organic Bouquet, the largest online provider of eco-friendly and organic floral gifts, recently partnered with Tampa, Fla.-based Sweetbay Supermarket to expand the grocer's eco-friendly floral offerings. Sweetbay customers can now order an array of certified-sustainable arrangements online and in-store to be sent nationwide.

BLP also recently reached an agreement with Rancho Mirage, Calif.-based lifestyle designer Kathy Ireland Worldwide to market a line of eco-elegant floral gift products grown and harvested using environmentally and socially responsible practices that treat farm workers fairly.

"We're calling it 'Kathy's Corner,' says Robert McLaughlin, president of Organicbouquet.com and CEO of BLP, who anticipates that the program will roll out to supermarkets nationwide. "We want free-standing fixtures for the Kathy Ireland brand. These fixtures will feature potting soil, decorative plants and gifts with a "dirt diva"-type theme."

All of the products sold under the Kathy Ireland brand are environmentally or socially responsible, and all support Kathy Ireland Worldwide's social mission to help families in need around the globe.

Ace of Vase

As in every category, an educated consumer is a more loyal customer. With that in mind, some supermarkets now offer flower-arranging classes. Southern California's Gelson's Markets made an inspired move in advance of Mother's Day, offering free demos and hands-on classes in floral arranging. The "Showering Mom with Flowers" classes were held at a number of its stores throughout the month of April.

Several years ago, DLM began offering floral arrangement classes timed to various seasonal events. To make the classes more popular still, the grocer added wine and appetizers to the events, which now sell out regularly.

Everyone leaves with a beautiful arrangement and a lasting impression that DLM knows flowers.

"With double-digit increases expected, we are projecting our biggest year ever for floral."

—Rex Henderson, United Supermarkets

Bridal Blooms

What are the hottest floral colors and styles for events this year? The International Floral Distributors (IFD), a Richmond, Ind.-based marketing consortium of floral distributors, has published its annual Flower Trends Forecast since 2009. This year's forecast predicts that four main trends will define event flowers in 2013: "Eco Chic, Heirloom, Enchanted and Personality Palette."

In terms of specific blooms, the IFD forecast says roses, "especially garden roses mixed with old-time favorites like carnations," will be sought after, along with "bright flowers like gerberas and roses mixed with equally bright exotic flowers like pincushion protea and cymbidium orchids." Modernists, meanwhile, will be drawn to lush succulents.

As to color, the forecast notes, "Expect lots of brides to select flowers in muted tones of mixed pink and peach," while fans of gem tones, including violet, teal, emerald and sapphire, will be drawn to peacock feather accents.

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