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A blossoming business

Grocery stores are saying “I do” to wedding floral arrangements

More brides-to-be are adding a stop at the supermarket to their wedding to-do list, as retailers ramp up their offering of floral arrangements for the big day.

Brides are bypassing independent florists in favour of the lower-priced roses, lily-of-the-valleys and tulips offered by grocery stores with increasingly sophisticated floral departments. Some grocery chains even have floral experts on staff to handle a budding number of requests for wedding day bouquets, corsages and table arrangements.

According to a Produce Marketing Association and Food Marketing Institute report, grocery stores today are emphasizing wedding floral sales right behind holiday and impulse flower purchases. Among grocery stores that sell flowers, about one third offered a full-service floral department in 2015, up from about a quarter in 2013, the Trends in Mass-Market Floral report states.

By offering wedding floral options, grocers are attracting people that might not otherwise shop with them, with a goal of converting them into long-term customers across various departments. “If you can do someone’s wedding and you do a good job, you have them for life,” says Phil Lempert, an industry analyst and editor of Supermarket Guru, based in Santa Monica, Calif. Providing wedding flowers is also good marketing on the day of the event, he notes: “You are exposing your floral arrangements to more people who might come into your store.”

Fortinos (part of Loblaw) has been selling wedding flowers since the 1990s, but refreshed its program about three years ago due to increased demand, says Sergio Mazzuca, the chain’s senior category director for produce, bulk and floral. Fortinos offers contemporary floral designs for brides, and 21 of its 23 locations in the Greater Toronto Area have designated floral specialists on staff.

Mazzuca says his customers come for the chain’s competitive floral prices, but also benefit from the longer store hours (compared to many independent flower shops) and attentive service. “We offer the same quality and can turn it around much quicker because of our buying power,” says Mazzuca. “The floral customer is discerning ... we’ll do whatever it takes to make the wedding a successful day.”

A majority of wedding floral business comes from referrals, Mazzuca says, and doing a good job can bring repeat customers for other floral needs. “Florists are much like hairdressers. Once you get a florist that does everything right and you like what they do ,” Mazzuca says.

But while wedding business can draw in new and repeat customers, some floral departments can have trouble finding specialized staff as well as sourcing certain types of flowers, depending on the time of year and the market supply and demand.

Weather can also delay shipments of flowers from places such as the Netherlands or South America, says Dawn McLaughlin, a Chicago-based produce coordinator with Whole Foods, which has been offering wedding flowers for more than a decade. “We do our best to source exactly what our customers are looking for,” she says.

And while weddings may not have a huge profit margin for some grocery retailers—in part, because they may not charge as much for labour as independent florists—McLaughlin says the service addresses a consumer need. “We just wanted to do it to satisfy the customers,” she says. “We see the need out there for people who are budget conscious. It’s also just fun to do.”

McLaughlin says wedding flowers is a huge and expanding market and “is something that every grocer should get into pretty aggressively.” As she explains, “There’s marketing, referrals and you’re getting customers in your store that may not have been there before. Also, a lot of customers understand that you can get the same quality and design quality through a grocer—so why not?”

This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of Canadian Grocer.

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