Beautiful Flowers, Naturally
by Mary Connell
To Gerald Prolman, nothing could be more natural.
"When you give flowers, it's an expression of caring," he says. "So why not express your care about nature as well?"
Prolman, founder and CEO of Organic Bouquet Inc., is gearing up to sell 10,000 bouquets of organic blooms this Mother's Day. That comes on top of the 90,000 stems of organic roses he shipped all over the U.S. for Valentine's Day this year.
The 45-year-old Novato resident's latest venture combines the best of both worlds: the opportunity to help the environment and people, and to work in what is by its very nature a beautiful line of business.
Organic Bouquet, founded in 2001, is the world's first - as well as only - supplier of organically grown blooms.
Nearly all the company's flowers are sold online, "but we also supply select Whole Foods stores across the country," Prolman said. He's always looking for new retail outlets.
Consumers, he believes, "want to make responsible purchasing decisions and they rely on their retail stores to stock their shelves accordingly. Organic flowers are available, but the majority of people aren't aware of this eco-option just yet. We need support from more retailers to get behind this."
Consumers also have considerable power, he said. "It's important that consumers go into stores and ask for organic flowers until retailers agree to stock them. And once they do, they need to back up their requests and buy these flowers. That will get a new cycle going."
He added, "Organic flowers are certainly available. We're out there promoting like crazy to get the word out, and it's working."
As entrepreneurs go, Prolman is rare: he wouldn't mind having some competition.
"I welcome newcomers," he said. "Our first mission was to establish the market for organic flowers."
Organic flowers now make up the newest niche in the $230 billion market for what is known in the business as "lifestyles of health and sustainability" products.
And Organic Bouquet, Prolman says, "is on track to quadruple growth this year." Last year, he moved his offices from Novato to Mill Valley.
Prolman has 26 years' experience in the organics business. He founded Made In Nature, a line of "branded" organic produce. He sold the company to Dole Food Company Inc. in 1994.
The idea of organic flowers grew from the food business.
"It only makes sense that flowers should be grown in an environmentally responsible manner," Prolman said.
He started Organic Bouquet in 2001, after the dot com bust.
"It was one of the most difficult times to raise capital for most new business ventures, especially a dot com startup," he recalled.
His seed money came from "angel investors," he said, including Dave Smith of Smith & Hawken. Smith remains a shareholder in the business.
Friends and business associates, who knew his background and liked his plan, supported the fledgling enterprise.
"I like to call them 'Earth Angels' because they really care about the environment. They invested not only in a business but in a company they believed would make a difference," he said.
Michael Straus, executive director of the Internet radio show, "Beyond Organic," calls Prolman "and entrepreneur with a vast vision and unquenchable energy."
Prolman sought out commercial growers willing to make the transition to organic growing - growing without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemicals and using systems that promote sustainable agriculture.
Organic Bouquet's roses and most other blooms are grown in Ecuador, Columbia and the U.S. Flowers grown in South America are air-freighted to a refrigerated "fulfillment centerf" in Miami, where their stems are cut, they're hydrated and packed for shipment.
Domestically grown flowers - including magnificent tulips grown in greenhouses in Arcata - are shipped by FedEx directly from the farms to consumers.
Those tulips are so beautiful because the bulbs are grown biodynamically in the Netherlands, he said. "Biodynamics is the preferred standard in Europe," he said. "It utilizes Native American farming techniques, moon cycles and some of the most advanced agricultural practices of our time, all in harmony with the life and energy cycles on a farm."
Organic Bouquet, the "official florist" for the United Nations World Environment Day, will be decking San Francisco venues June 1 to 5 with organic flowers and floral sculptures.