Marketing Specialty Cut Flowers

Community, Local and Regional Food Systems September 28, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

By Holly Scoggins, Virginia Tech 

 

Introduction
The interest in locally grown cut flowers is blossoming! From you-pick to farmers’ markets; savvy brides to local-lifestylers, this niche market can enhance or supplement sales of vegetables, herbs, and/or value-added products. Direct marketing (field to end-user sales) fits perfectly with small-scale cut flower production. If volume grows, there is also the opportunity to sell wholesale for resale by florists or floral distributors. 

 

Cut flowers are high-value crops – one of the most profitable products one can grow in a field or cold frame (Byzinski 2008). Plot sizes can start small – even a fraction of an acre can yield a substantial quantity of product. Most cultural practices and inputs used in growing vegetable crops are well suited for specialty cut flowers. Well-prepared beds, drip irrigation, plastic or organic mulch: if a small farm already has these systems in place, it is fairly straight forward to add cut flowers to the product mix.

 

The following article defines products, describes potential markets, suggests pricing strategies, and offers additional resources for information on marketing specialty cut flowers.

 

Products

Specialty cut flowers include basically anything that can be placed in a bouquet or vase and is not one of the “big three” florist crops – carnations, roses, and chrysanthemums. It’s very difficult to compete with the massive influx of inexpensive cuts grown in central and South American and shipped by airfreight to North America. But there are countless more species and cultivars beyond the big three, including flowers of course, but also grasses, foliage, grains, woody sticks and branches, etc.

 

Cuts are usually sold as single stems, bunches, and/or pre-made bouquets. Bouquets can be best-sellers but add a significant labor component. 

 

Markets

Potential markets range from you-pick to providing full-service floral design and delivery for weddings and events.  The most common market outlets include farmers’ markets and CSAs.  Table 1 highlights the pros and cons of each of these markets, as well as provides a resource link for more information. 

 

Table 1.  Markets for specialty cut flower sales. 

Market

Pros

Cons

Resource

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

 Can be an enticing addition to current food-item product mix.

 Also works as a stand-alone program in the form of flower shares or subscriptions

 Matching bloom time to pick-up dates can be a challenge.

Cut Flowers for Beauty and Business by John Suscovich. Cornell Small Farms Program, Cornell University

Farmers’ Market

 Colorful draw to booth selling other products

 Most profitable for those who are able to extend the growing season, especially early spring (cold frame or high tunnel production)

 May be a saturated market  (depending on the season), reducing demand and increasing pressure on price. 

 To reiterate – competition can be fierce. Everyone has sunflowers and zinnias in July. Be sure to do research on the amount and timing of competition! 

13 Tips for Selling at a Farmers Market. In Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing by Janet Bachmann, NCAT Specialist. ATTRA

Farm stand

 Planted plots of flowers can draw attention to business. 

 Can sell cut stems, bouquets, or as you-pick

 See you-pick

Flower power for roadside markets by Lynn Byczynski Johnny’s Seeds Grower Library 

Florist

 Most florists love the unusual and hard-to-find. 

  Price may not be an object for uncommon items 

 As with wholesale, quality and consistency of delivery dates is imperative

Society of American Florists

Weddings and Special Events

 Dramatic increase in demand for locally-grown flowers

 Wedding and event “season” correlates well to production season

 Opportunity for creative expression

 Requires floral arranging skills

 Pressures of working with a bride/bridal party

 Communications can be time-consuming

 Perception that local = bargain. Be sure to build your time and effort into the price.

Byczynski , L. and E. Benzakein. 2014. Fresh From the Field Wedding Flowers. Fairplain Publications.  

Wholesale

 Highest prices are for species that do not ship well and are best obtained locally

 Don’t have to deal with the general public

 Requires consistent quality and quantities

 Don’t undercut wholesaler by selling same product directly to florist

One of the few sources of current wholesale prices: USDA  AMS weekly report from the Boston Ornamental Terminal 

You-pick

 Relatively low overhead costs

 Customer does the work for you!

 Customers will choose the most open flowers, leaving those with better post-harvest life behind for other markets

 

 Be sure children are closely supervised

 All the issues associated with hosting the general public on your farm

U-pick Flowers by Lynn Byczynski, Johnny’s Seeds Grower Library

 

Pricing strategies

Assuming you have determined your input costs and developed a production budget, you know what you need to charge to make a profit. Most growers sell a number of species and/or cultivars that may vary dramatically in cost of production, from inexpensive seed-grown zinnias to more costly lilies. But customers will appreciate a consistent approach to price. 

 

For cuts that are sold by the stem or bunch, there are several different pricing strategies (or use a combination thereof):

 Limit the number of price points but vary the stems per bunch; for example $6 for 3 sunflowers, 5 glads, or 6 zinnias.

 Keep the stem count consistent but vary the price per bunch; for example 10 curly willow twigs $6; 10 glads for $10; 10 lilies for $18.

 Price per stem (price may vary depending on species), offer discount on multiple stems (figure X). One caveat on single stem sales – customers rooting through buckets to find the “ perfect flower” can break stems or otherwise damage your product. Help them select stems when feasible. 

 

For pre-made bouquets, limit to one or two price points with a consistent amount of stems in each; for example small $8 or large $16. 

 

 

Figure 1. These flowers are headed for a farmers’ market and will be sold by the stem. Most are $2/stem with a discount for multiple stems. Wollam Gardens, Jeffersonton, VA. Photo credit: Kim Jefferson.

References and Resources

 

Byczynski, L. 2008. The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers. 2nd ed. Chelsea Green Publishing. White River Junction, VT.

 

Scoggins, H. 2014. Getting Started in the Production of Field-grown Cut Flowers. Holly L. Scoggins Virginia Cooperative Extension 426-618

 

Western Extension Marketing Committee. 2007. Niche Markets: Assessment and Strategy Development for Agriculture. [Online] Dept. of Agricultural & Resource Economics, Univ. of Arizona. Available at: http://cals.arizona.edu/arec/wemc/nichemarkets.html (verified 28 Mar 2014)

 

Growing for Market. Lynn Byczynski, editor and publisher. www.growingformarket.com. Monthly newsletter.

 

The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers. www.ascfg.org. The professional organization for cut flower growers.

 

 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.