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It’s Valentine’s Day. Do You Know Where Your Roses Came From?

Beautiful selection and variety of groses grown in California's Monterey Bay region at Pajarosa Farms.

Beautiful selection and variety of groses grown in California’s Monterey Bay region at Pajarosa Farms.

Guest Rant by Debra Prinzing

Earlier this week, Libby Francis-Baxter, owner of The Modest Florist in Baltimore, made headlines in the local media by announcing her plans for a rose-free Valentine’s Day.

“I don’t support outsourcing flower production to South and Central America at the expense of our own local farmers and greenhouse growers,” she said.

When her customers asked for roses this week, Libby tried to steer them to flowers from local farms, such as tulips, primroses and calla lilies.

I applaud Libby for taking a stand against imported roses, but I encourage her to source American-grown roses next Valentine’s Day.

In fact, The Modest Florist isn’t the only flower-seller who needs to discover American roses.  I’m convinced that if Whole Foods chose to support American rose farms, we’d see a major shift in the entire Valentine’s Day industrial complex.

Lovely hybrid tea roses grown in Oregon by Peterkort Roses, a 3rd generation family flower farm.

Lovely hybrid tea roses grown in Oregon by Peterkort Roses, a 3rd generation family flower farm.

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.

Whole Trade roses from Whole Foods. Imported from South America.

Whole Trade roses from Whole Foods. Imported from South America.

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?  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. (more…)

Posted by on February 14, 2014 at 7:15 am.   This post has 16 responses.