The Paradigm Shift in Floriculture
by Terry Johnson
The Produce Newsf
It was Thomas Kuhn who first defined the term "paradigm shift" as the phenomenon where "one conceptual world view is replaced by another."
In other words, it describes a change from one way of thinking to another--
a transformation that doesn't "just happen" but is driven by agents of change.
Anyone carefully examining the significance of our current market dynamics
would conclude that floriculture is certainly in the midst of a transformation
that could very well mean that this paradigm shift is well underway.
Nowhere were these indications of a transformation more apparent than at two
recently held June conferences on opposite sides of the U.S. The first conference took place
June 3rd in San Francisco entitled "Eco-Flower Power: Sustainability Trends for the Floral
Industry", an event organized by Gerald Prolman, Founder and CEO of Organic Bouquet, Inc. of
Mill Valley, California
Several excellent speakers from around the world brought attendees up to date
on what has been happening on issues and programs related to world floriculture
and it's relationship to the environment. The event also showcased flowers
grown with newly developed standards with a focus on sustainable flower production that
include reduction in pesticide use, improvements in worker
safety, and the role of organic practices in flower growing. The Conference
also highlighted a new flower certification initiative that has been developed by
Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) Emeryville, California.
According to the SCS Veriflora Certification Manual, "Increasingly, flower
retailers and consumers are looking for assurances regarding the environmental sustainability
and social responsibility of farming practices employed in the production and handling of fresh
cut flowers and ornamentals, and the safety
of handling such products. This Sustainable Agriculture Certification Standard
for Cut Flowers and Ornamental Plants (the "Standard") establishes a framework
for certifying "best practices" among flower and ornamental production
operations and handling operations, and for ensuring that products purchased are safe to
Finally, the Conference concluded by pointing out many opportunities for floral
from a marketing and distribution standpoint in attracting a growing number of
consumers interested in flowers and concerned about social and environmental
best practices. It was a fitting end to a highly interesting and enlightening day
that clearly opened an exciting and profitable future for our industry.
The second event, held June 26-29 at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York,
was the Seeley Conference, an annual "think tank" for industry leadership that
focuses on one issue each year. This year's topic was "Stayin' Alive: Can we
Captivate the Elusive Consumer." Conference organizers brought in several
professional presenters from outside the industry that had been asked to bring
their perspectives of floral to help Conference attendees answer the following
questions: Who is consuming flowers and plants? What is on the mind of floral
consumers? How are other industries reacting to the changing consumer?
What new business models are working to reach the elusive consumer?
What benefits should be conveyed to consumers to achieve the goals of the
industry and individual businesses? and How must we reinvent our industry's
products to better relate to consumers?
Attendees freely contributed to the formal presentations and had many other
opportunities for less formal discussions during several networking sessions
throughout the Conference. There was also an open discussion on the final day
where all were encouraged to share their opinions of what we need to do to
develop solutions to the most serious issues that were discussed during the
While both conferences looked at our industry from different perspectives,
there were several common themes that surfaced in both:
- The tremendous upside opportunities ahead for us in floral. No one at either
conference could identify another product that has the marketing potential
of fresh flowers.
- The negative perceptions of the value of flowers currently held by consumers.
Even among the 30% of households that do purchase flowers, one study
showed only 50% of consumers thought they had purchased "fresh" flowers,
only 28% thought that the flowers lasted long enough, and only 27% believed
that they had gotten their money's worth!
- Broad acknowledgement that our industry is not reaching out to consumers
effectively enough. Especially compared to other industries, flowers just don't
seem to be high enough on consumer's radar.
- The tremendous need for clearly differentiated floral products available to
consumers from the various retail models. Without a clear choice of flower
value, consumers tend to believe that "all things being equal" the cheapest
flowers are the best choice.
- The need for an industry-wide set of standards for growing, distributing, and
handling fresh flowers. Both conferences covered the fact that these standards
could very well lead to the solutions of the problems previously discussed.
Many conference attendees were amazed that we don't already have a set of
standards as other perishables industries have. Currently, many companies
develop their own purchasing and handling standards based on their individual
quality assurance programs or their value propositions. But each of these is
unique and depends on the individual company's perceptions, not necessarily
on industry-wide acceptable standards.
Could adopting floral industry standards be the catalyst that propels us forward
within this paradigm shift? A rapidly growing number of knowledgeable industry
veterans believe that it is inevitable.