Organic Flowers are the latest upstart in the burgeoning organic produce market.
By Gerald Prolman
While Organic foods only constitute a tiny percent of the overall food market -- a $12 billion niche in a $500 billion industry-- consumer demand for them is rising. Organic foods comprise the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. food industry, one expected to reach #30.7 billion in sales next year.
Consumers are becoming more conscious of their options, and motivated not by traditional economics of supply and demand, but rather by a new values-based idea: supply and choice. Growing acknowledgement of issues such as global warming has increased consumer's awareness about the dangers of pollution and therefore, their interest in organic farming. With these developments in mind, I created OrganicBouquet.com, the first online organic florist, in 2001. The company capitalizes on both consumers' social awareness and the resulting demand for choice by offering flowers grown with natural biological controls instead of pesticides.
I've been in the environmental agriculture industry for 27 years, most notably with my previous company. Made In Nature, which focused on organic produce. Through my experience in this business, I became attentive to the environmental dangers implicit in traditional flower farming.
Flowers are generally grown using an extensive artillery of toxic fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides--chemicals that can harm people, animals, and the environment. A study by the United Nations International Labor Organization in 2000 found nearly 60 percent of floral workers in Ecuador showed poisoning symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, trembling hands and blurred vision. But nearly 70 percent of the flowers sold in the United States are imported, and federal law requires them to arrive at our borders free of pests. This mandate, along with the fact that none of the flowers grown abroad--or on our own soil for that matter--are inspected for pesticide residues, encourages the use of strong pesticides.
Organic flowers, as a category within the organic produce industry, have been largely overlooked. I felt that educating people about the effects of traditional flower farming would persuade them to choose the organic option when purchasing flowers, and encourage more flower plantations to consider natural farming practices.
I started with little more than my intentions and my experience. I had no product, no readily apparent demand and very little start-up capital. But I found angel investors among my former business associates and flower suppliers. In South America, I found growers who were using nearly organic practices, so it was easy to convince them to transition to organic farming. Fortunately for me, South America still possesses enough untouched land to support completely organic farms. Organic farming actually costs less in the long run because the soil remains rich and sustainable when it is not subjected to chemicals. We are able to keep the costs of our bouquets low because we rely on grassroots marketing initiatives. We've partnered with nonprofits to spread the word that there is an alternative to flowers grown with pesticides.
Organic flowers are the newest category in what marketers refer to as the $230 billion lifestyles of health and sustainability market. According to the Organic Trade Association, organic flower sales in the U.S. reached $8 million in 2003, a 52 percent increase over 2002. The association expects annual growth of 13 percent for organic flower sales. Our 2005 sales reached $3 million (representing about 5 million stems), and we project revenues of $5 million this year. We expect to reach profitability in 2007.
We are accelerating toward an inevitable tipping point. With increasing supplies of organic flowers, I envision a future in which retailers will insist that all flowers they merchandise be sourced from farms that maintain the highest social and environmental standards. More growers will respond once they see a genuine commitment from visionary consumers who are environmentally committed.
This momentum is spurred not only by our own economic self-interest, but from an increasing awareness and acceptance that our individual and collective investments directly impact that future well-being of our environment, our communities and, fundamentally, the earth beneath our feet.
Originally printed in the February 2006 issue of Worth Magazine