Interview with CEO and Founder
by Erin Engelke
World Neighbors Magazine
Gerald Prolman, CEO and founder of Organic Bouquet, is a natural at running a business…but not just any business…the organic product business. Having started his first business at the young age of 19, Prolman recognized decades before organic goods were even a consideration that a market existed for healthy, earth-friendly products. World Neighbors recently partnered with Organic Bouquet in their online charitable giving program where World Neighbors receives a portion of the proceeds from every World Neighbors exclusive organic bouquet purchased. We sat down with Prolman to talk about his history and the future of the "green" business.
World Neighbors: How did you get started in the organic product business?
I've been working in the natural product industry for 29 years, specifically in international agricultural business development building organic business companies. I was the former CEO of Made in Nature, an organic produce company, which eventually sold to Dole Food Company in 1994. This was the first company to succeed in selling branded organic produce to mass marketed retailers in the early 1990s. Now the Organic Trade Association is an 18 million dollar industry.
In my work in the organic agricultural field, I was able to get large businesses to invest money to research how to grow organically and get quality produce on a large scale. The field was challenging because people wanted to market their goods to retailers so the consumers could buy cheap. What I discovered is that the people who did the most work got paid the least. I wanted to make the direct connection between producers and consumers, cutting out the middleman, and saw the Internet as a perfect way to make that connection. That's where organicbouquet.com came in.
How does Organic Bouquet support farmers through your eco-friendly flowers?
We work with all kinds of growers - large, medium and small throughout the world, giving local growers a priority and work with flower growers in Calif., Ore., Holland, Israel, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Columbia.
When organicbouquet.com started, we wanted to establish the market for organic flowers. In 2000, the commercial supply for eco-flowers was non-existent and consumer awareness was minimal. So for the past seven years, we have been organizing a regional network of growers. As a result of these efforts, there are now eco-friendly flowers being grown from typical flower growing regions around the world.
What's happening now, through our marketing efforts, and because everything "green" is popular, consumers are asking retailers to carry certified flowers. We are very proud that organicbouquet.com is at the forefront of this movement.
So why did you focus on organic flowers in the beginning?
In the beginning, this whole flower category had been overlooked by the natural products market. At the same time, awareness for the need or organic products beyond foods was minimal. People would say all the time, "Why organic flowers when we don't eat them?" What many people don't know is that organic is an environmental farming method and impacts more than just food. In many cases, in fact, 50-1,000 times the legal amount of pesticides is used to grow flowers
Originally when I started organicbouquet.com, I wanted to create an eco-style company offering more than just flowers. But because we needed to stat somewhere, flowers were a great start. Now, we are expanding beyond flowers, the new Organicstyle.com is an online resource for everything organic…from organic cotton towels from India, organic body care, sheets and robes, gardening supplies, pet lover gifts, and fair trade crafts.
What made you start your charitable bouquet program?
We are most proud of our charitable bouquet program. It started several years ago, before Organic Bouquet was started, when I received a gift during the holidays from a company - it was a box and on the card it stated that a donation had been made in my name to a nonprofit. I thought, that's the most important gift I've ever received. How thoughtful that this company made a donation and brought awareness to that organization! That concept stuck with me and I thought that's what I'd like to do for my own gifting.
Through our charitable bouquet program, when someone clicks on our nonprofit featured links and makes a purchase, that organization receives a donation from Organic Bouquet. It's a way for the nonprofit's members to support them and for the recipient of the gift to receive a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a gift card indicating that a donation has been made to World Neighbors.
How have your travels internationally affected the way you run your company?
I personally believe we're all cut from the same cloth. But I see a huge disconnect from where I live and how privelaged we are here to some of the places I go. There's a growth imbalance in the world, which is why one of the missions of our company is to make a connection and to provide an outlet for producers in rural areas who wouldn't normally have an opportunity to reach people in the developed world.