A simpler, greener floral department

Photogenic potted plants have been popping up on Pinterest and Instagram for a few years, but now the trend has firmly found its footing in the grocery store, and it’s a welcome addition to the floral department, a number of retailers say.

Dione Baird, the floral sales manager at Albertsons Southern Division, can’t keep Maidenhair ferns in stock at any of her stores. And at her urban locations, succulents are a hit with her younger customers.

“A couple years ago we saw [succulents and foliage] starting to be introduced,” said Baird. “But as a mass market, sometimes you can’t go out too early with the latest trend because it kind of hasn’t caught up to people yet. But now we’re seeing such a demand for these items.”

When Baird sells ferns and other types of foliage, she’s often told the plants are used for health reasons. “It’s that whole clean air, promotes better sleep, promotes better health, promotes better oxygen, cleans the toxins out of the air that’s for foliage and things like that,” she said.

As for succulents, “I don’t know where the movement’s coming from with them other than the simplicity and the uniqueness of them.”

Lora Burns, the marketing and conference manager at the International Floriculture Expo (IFE), which co-locates with the United Fresh Produce Convention, thinks social media has spurred the potted plant craze, particularly with succulents.

“The advent of social media and Pinterest has really helped this take off,” she said. “You’re seeing a lot of really trendy pots or vases or containers. They’re becoming more lifestyle pieces.”

In her position, Burns is responsible for tracking the fast-moving trends in the floral industry, but she said, the succulents and potted plants trend is “definitely one that’s here to stay.”

“Fresh-cut flowers are still the number-one sold thing [in the department], but you definitely are starting to see other potted plants creep up, I think, in places that you didn’t normally,” Burns said.

It’s a lifestyle choice

John Agnew, Whole Foods’ senior coordinator of floral for the Northeast Region, started noticing the popularity of lifestyle plants about four years ago.

“At Whole Foods Market, we try to always procure product locally when we can, and it was at that time when I connected with a local New Jersey succulent grower,” he said. “Succulents and air plants are now a staple of our everyday plant mix. In the past, they were items we carried occasionally, but the program has grown to make it so we need to have them as part of our everyday mix. The succulent category makes up 5% to 10% of our potted plant line.”

Bisser Georgiev, founder and CEO of LiveTrends, creates an array of decor for potted plants that retail for about $10 each. Supermarkets are some of his biggest clients, including Kroger, Safeway, HEB, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Publix.

“The biggest thing is that when people go to the grocery store, they are looking for impulse buys that appeal to their aesthetic senses,” he said, adding that LiveTrends forecasts what colors, designs, and fashions will be popular and incorporates elements into their pieces. “What we sell basically fits with whatever they see on Pinterest today.”

And Georgiev believes his potted plants are attractive for the retailer, too. While there’s a good deal of waste in cut flowers, these potted plants often last much longer. “We only use varieties that can last up to six weeks without any care in the store,” he said. 

Low maintenance a selling point

When it comes to upkeep in the floral department, “the easier the better,” said Baird. “Succulents, I mean you really don’t have to do anything to a succulent. They do sell themselves, but the hardest thing right now at store level is you don’t have to water these as often as you think.”

Shoppers like how easy these plants are, too. “Customers many times tell us they are not good with caring for flowering plants so they enjoy the succulents due to the minimal care needed to keep them looking great,” said Agnew.

In addition to being easy to care for, these new plants have opened up a whole new way of merchandising for retailers.

“They don’t need to be kept in water, so you might see them in different parts of the store,” said Burns. Placing plants in different departments and marketing them as gifts or houseware pieces helps position them to a whole new type of shopper. A customer “might think either, ‘I never buy flowers in general’ or ‘I’m not used to buying flowers from a supermarket,’ but I feel like these little potted things are more approachable,” Burns said.

Baird sees these plants enticing different shoppers to her stores.

“It’s attracting a whole different clientele than we even thought was possible,” she said. “I think the new and unique items that we’re putting in there are drawing on a different customer base.”

And she’s already thinking of what the next floral trends will be. She’s currently looking for a local air plant supplier. “They’re becoming more and more popular because there’s no care to them,” she said.

But she hasn’t forgotten about cut flowers.

“We do have a supplier that does put the succulents in the bouquets, and we are going to start to carry those this fall.”

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