So Much For Supermarkets

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Considering the half-hearted commitments many supermarkets are making to floral these days, it’s difficult for consumers to take their supermarket’s floral department seriously. How can a dozen poorly displayed primrose, a small table of daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, and a few dozen cut flower assortments constitute a department? Sure, there’s a customer service desk in the area, but how often is someone actually manning it?

The demise of the supermarket floral department has largely contributed to the demise of the blooming potted category. Even longtime growers who’ve framed their businesses around blooming potted plants are reconsidering their business models. Norm White, for example, is putting more emphasis on ornamental bedding plants at White’s Nursery & Greenhouse in Chesapeake, Va., and other growers like him are trying to do the same.

“What’s happening at the supermarkets is very discouraging because I know consumers will buy our product if they put it in stores in an appealing fashion,” White says. “But as you go into a grocery store, you see only a half dozen plants that aren’t displayed well. How do you display six pot mums and a pot kalanchoe?”

Supermarkets could, of course, display blooming potted items by following the produce department’s lead. Picture how produce displays apples, oranges and other fruits. No supermarket displays six apples. Instead, it probably displays 60 of each variety and 600 or more apples as a whole. Why aren’t floral departments taking the same approach?

Produce and floral, of course, used to operate hand in hand at many chains. Unfortunately, floral was cast away from produce and left as an afterthought. As a result, floral departments lack the right personnel to elevate floral to the level of other supermarket departments. Floral departments may have knowledgeable people leading them, but what a number of managers have in knowledge they lack in business acumen or customer service.

“Supermarket floral buyers have changed, and supermarkets have different strategies today” says Tom Lavagetto, president of the Floral Consulting Group. “They no longer value a person who has a floral background. They’re just looking for a body. As a result, when you put someone in a position that requires some technical and industry knowledge–and the people put in these slots do not have that–it’s a detriment.”

What To Do

Ideally, it’d be great if supermarket floral departments could revisit their glory days of great displays and higher inventory volumes. Or, as Lavagetto suggests, supermarkets need to get back to basics. They shouldn’t treat the floral department like the red-headed stepchild, but rather run it like every other department within the store and apply the same principles of business to it: provide quality, service and price in that order, and make more of the real estate they give floral. Many departments are positioned somewhere up front or near an entrance, a “wow” space to which few supermarkets do justice.

Still, it’s unlikely supermarkets will see the light, so growers deeply invested in blooming potted may want to reconsider what their business is growing.

“Grow what’s being sold out there and make a profit,” Lavagetto says. “If I were working with the supermarkets, I would interview all my customers and ask them where they’re taking their floral program. I would ask 5,000 questions. I would go to perpetual people so I could determine a strategy for my business.”

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.

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2 comments on “So Much For Supermarkets

  1. Anonymous

    I think the merchandising concept is key for both the supermarket and the consumer. I myself have considered a spontaneous purchase of potted floral, but due to location and handling it seemed inconvenient. Many areas of the country do not have a strong local garden center presence, if one at all, other than the big box stores. If I counted how many times a year I (or most people)shop big box versus the grocery store, it is clear there is good opportunity for the supermarkets to grow the floral division. Quality inventory, space allocation, and strategic placement is key.

  2. Anonymous

    I think the merchandising concept is key for both the supermarket and the consumer. I myself have considered a spontaneous purchase of potted floral, but due to location and handling it seemed inconvenient. Many areas of the country do not have a strong local garden center presence, if one at all, other than the big box stores. If I counted how many times a year I (or most people)shop big box versus the grocery store, it is clear there is good opportunity for the supermarkets to grow the floral division. Quality inventory, space allocation, and strategic placement is key.