Make my Roses “Whole American,” Please
February 11th, 2014
In the grand scheme of things, Whole Foods is supposed to be one of the “good guys,” right? From the point of view of the American flower farming community, I know that many of my farmer-friends sell beautiful, seasonal and local blooms from their fields to Whole Foods stores in their specific regions. This “local sourcing” is done on a region-by-region basis with kudos going to passionate store and floral department managers who develop strong ties to their local farmers.
But at the corporate level, and especially during Valentine’s Day, something else is going on altogether. And I’m not alone in being bothered by it.
Labeled “Whole Trade,” which is the proprietary corporate branding that Whole Foods puts on imported roses, these blooms are as far from local as you can find. They’re shockingly similar in appearance to the bunches of roses being marketed by all the wire services, 1-800 marketers and big boxes.
So the local, sustainable and seasonal banner that the Whole Foods brand is waving above its front doors has some serious flaws when it comes to the flowers they are selling.
Somehow, Whole Foods has decided to market its practice of importing South American roses as a kind of missionary endeavor. Personally, I find it so disingenuous. Last year, the company posted a pro-rose Valentine’s Day story on its blog, featuring a video of children at an afterschool program for the workers at a Colombian rose plantation. The post generated 100 responses, many from frustrated customers and American flower farmers who wondered why Whole Foods had skipped doing business with rose farms here and devoted 100% of their Valentine’s Day marketing budget to feature and promote imports from Colombia and Ecuador?
In response to the customer outcry, Whole Foods’ “Global Floral Buyer” Amanda Rainey made a statement and offered this explanation: “Americans bought more than $189 million stems last year! – domestic rose production is very limited and they’re frequently shipped from overseas.”
So does that makes it right Amanda?
Is it the $189 million you’re interested in or are you justifying importing your roses because everyone else is doing it? Is that right, Whole Foods?
I was one of those 100 people who left a comment last year, urging Whole Foods to reconsider their strategy with the flowers they are buying. I truly expected more from this market leader this year. I can tell you if a company like Whole Foods made a commitment to nurturing relationships with American rose farms, things would change. Sure, Whole Foods might have to take a little less profit, but if Whole Trade is designed to give 1% back from every purchase, apparently they have some margin to work with.
More importantly, so many good, healthy and sustainable benefits would come from that endeavor. In my opinion, there is no good reason more than 97% of the roses sold on Valentine’s Day should be flown in from Colombia and Ecuador. I also don’t believe a company like Whole Foods should be party to it.
So, I ask that if you’re a Whole Foods customer, please join me in letting Whole Foods know that we want a “Whole American” campaign that supports and cultivates relationships with our American flower farmers. With the millions they’ve spent developing the Whole Trade program, I don’t expect it to go away. But if Whole Foods can give 1% back to Colombia, they can also give 1% here at home. If they can give more money to Ecuadorian producers, they can certainly give more money to our American flower farmers. If they can work to ensure better wages and working conditions on Colombian plantations, then they can support flower farming communities’ schools and non-profits here at home. If Whole Food really cares about the environment, then they can limit their need to source flowers that have to be flown into the United States.
So, Please make a comment here on Whole Foods’ current blog post about their Whole Trade roses. Let’s encourage them to do the right thing here and support “Whole American” flowers!
I see quite a profound parallel between the Whole Trade campaign and a brand new Whole American campaign for flowers. I don’t believe that America’s flower farmers expect imports to go away. But they do want a level playing field. They do want a chance to sell more of their irises, sunflowers, lilies and roses to the largest “green” branded supermarket in the U.S.
So to help them get started, here is a list I’ve compiled of the top domestic U.S. rose farms that I’m aware of. It’s simply not fair to say the American flower supply is limited. The supply is only limited by our vision to see the opportunity. Whole Foods should launch a campaign that guarantees that they will source from American rose farms by next Valentine’s Day. That promise will give the flower farmers the ability to increase their production and invest in expanding their volume of beautiful, homegrown American roses.
“Whole American” is a beautiful concept that should be a reality. Wouldn’t be amazing if consumer demand could help Whole Foods do the right thing? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Whole American roses offered when Valentine’s Day 2015 rolls around?
California Pajarosa – www.pajarosa.com
Dramm & Echter – www.drammechter.com
Eufloria Flowers – www.eufloriaflowers.com
Green Valley Floral – www.greenvalleyfloral.com
Koch California – Koch California
Myriad Flowers – www.myriadflowers.com
Neve Brothers – www.nevebros.net
Rose Story Farm – www.rosestoryfarm.com
Len Busch Roses – www.lenbuschroses.com
Peterkort Roses – www.peterkortroses.com
February 11th, 2014 at 2:43 pm
Go Debra!! Thanks for the great info as usual. Comment submitted to Whole Foods.
February 11th, 2014 at 2:56 pm
This article is so interesting in that I was in Wholefoods just two days ago and they have a huge banner promoting their relationship with flower growers in South America! I’m a supporter of the slow flower movement and wondered why they’re not striving to promote relationships with American flower farmers. It sickens me that people really don’t care where their flowers are coming from, or the fact that these imported flowers are covered in pesticides and fungicides. I work in a small shop that uses only imported blooms and I’m resigning soon to begin my own business with US flowers. The flowers we get out if the box from overseas look dehydrated and near-death when we pull them out of the box.
People need to learn more about American flowers and support our flower farmers in this country!
I’m surprised and disappointed in Wholefoods as the leader in the local, green supermarket promoting South American flowers! Shame on them. I don’t even want to shop there anymore
February 11th, 2014 at 3:06 pm
Whole American – by next Valentines Day – might just be the single biggest, smartest move corporate Whole Foods could ever make! HUGE marketing value at the right time to move on.
February 11th, 2014 at 3:55 pm
Great post, Debra. Smart companies are waking up to the fact that the tides are turning and the American floral consumer does care more and more all the time about where their flowers come from. You snooze, you lose Whole Foods. Might’ve already happened.
February 11th, 2014 at 8:47 pm
Spot on as usual Debra. It saddens me that the Whole Foods has the opportunity to make a huge difference in Americans’ lives and they choose not to. A true missionary does not have a hidden agenda.
February 12th, 2014 at 7:35 am
“Whole Foods has the opportunity to make a huge difference in Americans’ lives and they choose not to”. Once Whole Foods is convinced of the monetary value of marketing American Grown flowers for Valentines day they will get on board. The bottom line is Whole Foods bottom line. Americans bought $189 million roses on Valentines day. How did roses become the official Valentines day flower? Debra lists only ten rose farms. Domestic rose production is limited. We need a campaign to promote floral diversity on Valentines day. What about American grown sweet peas, anemones, ranunculus, lilies, tulips ? All these flowers and more are grown with love on hundreds of American flower farms and are readily available all over the US for Valentines Day.
February 12th, 2014 at 7:42 am
Makes me wonder how many comments they won’t be approving. Their
“Helpful hints section” suggests sprinkling rose petals in bath. That would be great if you had botrytis or black spot who knows what is on those petals.
February 13th, 2014 at 7:37 am
One reason for our limited domestic rose production is the trade agreement we have with South America to import South American flowers. US farmers can’t sell roses at a profit when South American imports are cheaper so they stopped producing them. A cheaper sales price is not always a better bargain. We need to emphasize the quality, and environmental sustainability of American grown flowers as well as the economic viability of supporting American Flower Farmers. Americans want to support their farmers. Once they know where the flowers come from sales will increase.
Thank you Debra for all the work you’ve done bringing American Grown Flowers to the attention of the American consumer.
February 14th, 2014 at 1:18 pm
Once again, I do think that it would be terrific if US growers could produce everything that it needs, whether in food, energy or flowers. With regard to Ecuadorian roses, (which now have an import duty imposed on them as result of a dispute between the US and Ecuador over Edward Snowden), there simply is no other place in the world, with the possible exception of Ethiopia that can produce the stunning, large-headed roses the country has become famous for. Secondly, the entire acreage of all the rose growers in the USA is equal in size to only one large rose farm in Ecuador. Obviously, there is a market for domestic roses, but there is also a market for the superior quality of many Ecuadorian rose farms. Growing roses in America does not make too much sense, but growing sweet peas, ranuncs and so on as Ms. Sparks pointed out makes a lot of sense. Local and logically grown flowers have a great future in this country. Growing roses and carnations in large quantities does not.
February 14th, 2014 at 2:45 pm
Parts of California and Oregon have perfect climates for growing roses. The reason most roses are grown and shipped from Ecuador is not the climate. It’s the lack of regulation and the economy. Before the trade agreement there were many more thriving rose farms in the U.S. These farms went out of business because of the lack of support from our government for U.S. grown flowers. Yes, there is a market for Ecuadorian roses but it shouldn’t be at the expense of putting U.S. farmers out of business. 97% of roses sold in the U.S. come from S. America. It should be 50% of less.
February 15th, 2014 at 3:09 pm
Hello everyone~ It has been a crazy-busy Valentine’s Day week and I’m sure you’re all as exhausted as I am. In fact, I’m going to a fun dinner party tonight for floral designers and their partner/spouses. The theme is “Surviving Valentine’s Day” – and thanks to Whitney R. White and Ryan Page for the brilliant idea and invitation. We all need to have fun and get off of our feet.
Thanks Laurie, Jenine, Val, Diane, Vivian and Kathleen for your encouragement. Everyone’s insightful comments are important to the conversation. I sense a lot of frustration among those of us who want to support retailers like Whole Foods because of the many good things they do, such as buying from their local agricultural community (when it comes to some food crops and some flower crops). But we’re also confused and uncomfortable when an entire category of an agricultural crop is outsourced and no domestic alternative is offered.
I believe that all American rose farmers are asking for is some percentage of WF’s business – even in a pilot project – to give their customers access to domestic roses.
Kate, the energy equation is an inexact science and one I’ve often discussed and written about. It has much to do with consumer “perception” – which has a greater carbon footprint? A locally-grown rose that was raised in a seasonally heated greenhouse OR an imported rose that took an international jet to get to you? It’s like buying blueberries just because they’re labeled organic and came from Mexico versus local, seasonal blueberries that don’t have an organic label. What I’m trying to say is that people make choices based on their values and on the information they have gathered.
David, I understand that you have a vested interest and expertise in flowers from Ecuador, but what you are trying to highlight is a very subjective point of quality that not everyone shares. You’re suggesting that large headed roses from Ecuador are of some superior quality, when another person might prefer a smaller more dainty rose loaded with fragrance. As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Of course, as you know, if 95+% of the roses that people do see are imported, how would consumers in the marketplace come to appreciate anything different? The average person today buys flowers from a florist or a grocery store and as you know, they get what they get.
I believe American Grown roses are more beautiful, romantic, feminine and fragrant than anything I’ve seen out of Ecuador, but my reasons for that are different than yours and that’s okay. I do appreciate your interest, support and continued comments and I thank everyone who has taken the time to add their voice to the conversation~
February 16th, 2014 at 11:18 am
It’s a sad story, but I’m hopeful things will change. Thanks for sharing with us.
February 16th, 2014 at 11:24 am
As usual Debra, you raise a very good point regarding how business gets done in the floral industry. Consumer education is the key. Working with retailers that are willing to highlight and feature the origin of the flowers they sell will find a wanting public for locally grown.
I will say that if Whole Foods has trademarked Whole Trade, I’d trademark “Whole American,” if I were you. What an amazing message, one that Whole Foods should definitely include in their floral promotions every holiday.
Thanks for all you do Debra!
February 18th, 2014 at 8:01 am
I am 100% all for domestic production but the economics for roses do not work. The climate in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Connecticut et al are tremendous for growing roses. But not all year long. Heating a modern greenhouse in winter in the US is very expensive, and apart from the carbon footprint this leaves, the quality is somewhat compromised. Trust me if small headed petite roses were what the marketplace wanted, then you would see them everywhere. FACT: They are generally a superior product, and God knows the Dutch held on longer than anyone growing the small varieties because they are aware of the superior vase life, but most consumers are desirous of large headed roses. So it is terrific that there is a marketplace for locally grown, small roses with fragrance. If they grew them in Florida I would buy them.
Secondly, I am rather tired of disingenuous comments about rose growers in Ecuador, because they are also trying very hard to produce quality products while minimizing the impact on the environment. To say there is no regulation in Ecuador is ridiculous. Also, I can assure you that there are growers in Ecuador who produce the MOST expensive roses available for sale in the world. $4.00 a stem anyone?
I feel we need to dispel the myths in the flower industry, which means shining a light everywhere. Please consider this – whose carbon footprint is more severe to the environment – a shipment of roses in December from California to Miami or a shipment of roses from Ecuador in December? Distance from San Francisco to Miami 2,585 miles, Quito to Miami 1,792 miles. And which is more local?