FRESH FOOD: Floral: The big trim

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FRESH FOOD: Floral: The big trim

In a bid to prune operating costs and boost profitability and efficiencies, Landover, Md.-based Giant Food, LLC recently pulled 62 floral department associates from what it said were some low-volume stores (it relocated 55 seafood staffers as well). The chain is just one of a growing set of grocers that are cutting back service in their floral departments in favor of self-service presentations.

It's simply of sign of the times, admits Chris Buss, president of Homestead, Fla.-based TotalFloral, a retail floral solutions provider -- but it indicates a misunderstanding of floral's true worth in the context of a retailer's larger fresh presentation and image, he contends.

"The recent occurrences at Giant and other chains reflect the increasing competition in the supermarket channel that's forcing retailers to take a close look at the resources they've deployed, reassess where they're at, and make objective judgments accordingly," says Buss. "No matter how good it gets, the floral category, as nice as it is, is the smallest departmental contributor in the store. And it's not that I've got anything against the category -- quite the contrary -- but that's just the way it is."

Buss expects to see more retailers follow Giant's lead and make similar adjustments after "more carefully evaluating the operational resources they've devoted to the floral category."

He says going self-service will not directly grow an operator's total floral business; it's more of a defensive ploy. "It's a strategy that enables supermarkets to stay in the business, without going out of business."

Nonetheless, Buss is a staunch advocate of the power flowers play in building a supermarket's fresh appeal. "Nobody's ever going to make a mountain of money in floral, but they can make a mountain of money [in adjacent fresh departments] if their floral program is properly projected with beauty, freshness, and contemporary style. When a shopper walks through the front door, even if they're walking right by it with no purchase intent, the floral department sets the tone prior to the lead-in of other fresh departments, where the real money is made."

Buss says a great many operators underestimate the floral category's potential as a brand and image builder. "Floral could, should, and ought to be a category that helps define the ambiance and overall fresh statement."

While the trend toward self-service floral may continue to flourish, the mantra for retailers "is not to do a haphazard, sloppy job just because it's only 1 percent of the business, but to direct resources where they most need to be applied, and, if possible, leverage the expertise of a trusted vendor partner to help accomplish those goals."