The art of
Build a successful program by understanding the uniqueness of
these beautiful products and who your target audience is.
by Monica Humbard
The tropical flower category has barely been tapped in this
country, and author and consultant Rene van Rems, AIFD, PFCI,
says supermarket floral departments are missing a “huge”
potential market by not merchandising tropicals in their stores.
Contemporary interior design magazines give numerous examples of
how to use tropical flowers in the home. When maintained
properly along the distribution chain, tropicals offer an
exceptionally long decorative life, as many as five weeks for
some varieties of Anthuriums.
One of the keys to a successful tropical program is remembering
that these flowers are exotic. Therefore, you must approach them
differently from most flowers when it comes to target audience,
care and handling, and merchandising.
identify the customer
Despite their long vase life and trendiness, tropicals tend to
appeal to a particular audience. In California, where Mr. van
Rems is based, he describes the average tropical consumer as an
upper-class urban dweller who doesn’t like clutter—“Anyone who
eats sushi,” he quips. But in all seriousness, he says, you do
see some marketing parallels between sushi consumers and
tropical flower buyers.
Tropical customers often have more discretionary income than
most of their fellow floral shoppers. Beyond the fact that
tropicals can be a little pricier than other flowers, Mr. van
Rems explains that their larger size also demands bigger vases,
so they look more at home in roomier spaces. As a result, they
appeal more to those who live in larger homes.
Although the size and price of the average tropical flower may
seem to limit its appeal, don’t eliminate the possibilities if
your market is not high end. Paul Massaro, marketing director
for Plantas Y Flores Ornamentales, a tropical flower grower
based in San Jose, Costa Rica, has witnessed success in the
United States with smaller versions of tropicals, such as
Heliconias (lobster claws) with only one bract and gingers (Alpinias)
with 14-inch-long stems and 5- to 6-inch-long heads. In
addition, these versions are easier and less expensive to air
ship because they are not as heavy as other varieties.
Mr. van Rems points out that tropical flowers also tend to
appeal to consumers in their 20s or 30s who recognize what’s
“hip.” He says these probably aren’t going to be the flowers
someone takes to Grandma in the hospital.
In Hawaii, particularly in Honolulu, which has about 1.25
million city dwellers, the demographics are a little different.
According to Eric Tanouye, vice president of the Hawaii Tropical
Flower Council, Hawaii typically ships its highest-quality
tropical products out of the state and sells the seconds
locally. Therefore, tropicals sell for less, so they are not
limited to the affluent. Mr. Tanouye says 30- to 70-year-old
business professionals who live in condos are among the most
common tropical flower purchasers.
Member’s of Hawaii’s large Asian-American population make
frequent tropical flower purchases, Mr. Tanouye says. Many are
Buddhist, he says, and they maintain shrines in their homes on
which they regularly place flowers. It also is an Asian
tradition to take flowers to the grave sites of family members
once a week. The elderly purchase sleeved tropical bouquets from
supermarkets for this purpose, often choosing Anthurium, ginger
or Heliconia bouquets because of their durability.
Children of Asian descent learn to become tropical flower
purchasers at an early age because they accompany their elders
to the cemeteries. Beyond this group, Mr. Tanouye believes one
of the keys to reaching younger consumers is appealing to their
environmentally conscious attitudes and catching their attention
with colorful packaging.
Men are another group that offers much potential for expanding
tropical flower sales in your department. Mr. van Rems explains
that tropicals are “cool with guys” because men don’t find them
as feminine or as intimidating as other types of flowers.
hula through the holidays
Who says tropical flowers are only for the summer
months? If you find that tropicals are popular items at your
store, consider a holiday promotion. Here are some ideas from
the Hawaiian market.
Eric Tanouye, vice president of the Hawaii Tropical Flower
Council, says that traditional favorites like poinsettias and
Northwestern evergreens are popular decorations for the holidays
in Hawaii, too, but the Hawaiian hospitality industry caters to
tourists who want to see tropicals when they visit. As a result,
designers for this industry choose tropicals and their
complements from a Christmas color palette. An arrangement might
include red gingers, yellow Cymbidium orchids and green tropical
In a supermarket at Christmas time, Mr. Tanouye says, you will
see Northwestern evergreens, including holly, incorporated into
tropical bouquets. The bouquets are made more festive with
In California, Mr. van Rems says, one of the biggest challenges
is just getting tropicals into stores. Because the state has so
many flowers grown locally, there is a lot of competition for
When the tropicals do reach the floral departments, he says,
they are often displayed improperly. Here are suggestions for
DISPLAY THEM AT EYE LEVEL Mixed tropical bouquets often
are merchandised in buckets on the floor. But because of the
architectural forms of these flowers, Mr. van Rems says, they
should be placed on cubes, pedestals or even counters at eye
level to make the most of the limited time you have to get
customers’ attention. Mr. Tanouye says Costco Wholesale Corp.
merchandises tropicals in its Hawaii locations on racks in clear
sleeves so consumers can see the bright colors of the blooms.
GIVE THEM THEIR OWN SPACE Reserve a particular space in
your department for tropicals. The Hawaii Costcos have kiosks
reserved for tropical bouquets and leis, Mr. Tanouye says.
Mr. van Rems suggests blocking flowers by categories in the same
manner that produce departments separate their products. When
categorizing, keep in mind that true tropicals are grown in
tropical climates and have bright colors and a waxy texture.
Other flowers with a similar exotic appearance often are
included the same category, such as subtropical
birds-of-paradise (Strelitzias) and Proteas. While not true
tropicals, they are good choices for combining with tropicals in
displays and arrangements.
Although it is acceptable to blur the edges of the tropical
category for some flowers, this is not always the case. You
should never merchandise tropicals with flowers such as roses
and sunflowers, Mr. van Rems says. Even if your tropicals and
roses happened to arrive in the United States on the same plane,
they don’t necessarily belong together in a display. Mr. van
Rems points out that these types of flowers appeal to different
customers. “Each group of flowers has its own personality,” he
says, “and the effective retailer knows those personalities.”
PUT THEM IN THE SPOTLIGHT. Mr. van Rems says lighting is
extremely important for tropicals because of their brilliant
colors. He suggests at least one spotlight in your tropical
TONE DOWN THE DISPLAY SETTING. Unlike other flowers in
your department, tropicals need little accessorizing to make
their point. These flowers, with their interesting textures and
brilliant colors, are the show and need a serene, clean, crisp
setting in which to perform. This setting also helps tropical
buyers more easily visualize them in their homes. Mr. van Rems
says those who purchase tropicals appreciate that they are
buying a sculpture that comes off best in a minimalist
KEEP THEM OUT OF THE COLD. Unless you have a cooler
designed specifically for tropicals, these flowers never should
be stored in one. These temperamental flowers do best in
temperatures between 55 F and 70 F, which leaves little room for
error. Also beware of drafty locations, such as near doors.
GIVE IDEAS FOR USING TROPICALS. In addition to
merchandising your tropical selection for sell-through purposes,
you also need to display the flowers in arrangements for
customers who are unfamiliar with them. For example, Mr. van
Rems suggests placing a clear vase filled with oranges, curly
willows and two Heliconias near your selection. This shows
customers how simple it is to arrange tropicals, and gives them
an idea of what to combine with tropicals.
ADD AN ELEMENT OF SURPRISE. No matter how spectacular
your selection of tropicals is, once in a while, offer shoppers
something unexpected, and limit its availability. This gives
customers the feeling that it is in season and a sense of
urgency in purchasing it.
Every three to four months, Mr. Tanouye says, Costcos in Hawaii
feature 8-inch and 10-inch Anthurium plants, which consumers
can’t find elsewhere. Each time, about 95 percent of the plants
sell. The unsold products are sent to a nearby nursery. Mr.
Tanouye says the program works great because customers get
something new, the store has almost complete sell-through and a
backup plan is scheduled for the leftover product.
care tips for tropicals
Anthuriums, with a vase life of more than
a month, are the most durable among tropicals. In addition, they
do not dirty the water or fall apart easily. Gingers (Alpinias)
and Heliconias (lobster claws) also have long-lasting qualities.
With proper care and handling, they can last 21 days or more.
Make sure your flowers live up to their reputation for long vase
life by following these simple care tips.
1. Cut at least 1 inch from the bottom of the stems, and place
into flower-food solution.
2. Store at 55 F to 60 F and upright to prevent bending
HELICONIAS (LOBSTER CLAWS)
1. Flowers often do not continue development after harvest, so
choose the most open for best display.
2. Cut at least 1 inch from the bottom of the stems, and place
into flower-food solution.
3. To remove the white powder that often covers the flower
heads, stems and leaves, sponge the areas with a
room-temperature solution of soap that contains a few drops of
cooking oil, then rinse with fresh water, and allow to dry.
4. Store at 55 F to 65 F (three days or fewer) or 53 F to 55 F
(more than three days). They are extremely chill sensitive.
Sources: The Chain of Life NetworkÆ,
Hawaii Tropical Flower Council,
SAF’s Flower & Plant Care manual,
educate the shopper
Fear of the unknown keeps many shoppers from trying tropicals.
Therefore, you should make it a point to educate your customers
about them. Vendors can provide information for your staff as
well as your customers that covers how to merchandise, display
and arrange tropicals.
The Hawaii Tropical Flower Council also has care and handling
information available on its Web site,
as well as a DVD that you can request through member suppliers.
The DVD has care and handling information for retailers and
consumers as well as beautiful photos of tropical flower fields
at commercial nurseries. Mr. Tanouye says you could play it in
your department to attract attention to a tropical flower
The cost of tropicals also can intimidate customers. Place a
simple arrangement in your display with signage that gives the
estimated cost to reproduce it themselves. This will demonstrate
that, while tropicals may cost a little more per stem, not as
many are needed to make an impressive arrangement.
true tropicals and their floral complements
True tropical flowers are ones that are native to
the region between the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern
Hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern.
These flowers will make ideal complements to true tropical
flowers in designs.
Source: Rene van Rems, AIFD, PFCI
make a commitment
If you decide that you might have a market for tropicals, Mr.
van Rems says, make the commitment and stick to it. He stresses
that tropicals are not flowers you can try once and immediately
decide they are not for your audience. At first, you may need to
arrange your department so that customers almost run into the
tropical display. It could take up to three months for tropicals
to “catch on,” Mr. van Rems says, but don’t give up.
One of the strongest selling points for tropicals
is their long vase life. But can you deliver on this vase life
promise? Paul Massaro, marketing director for Plantas Y Flores
Ornamentales, a tropical flower farm based in San JosÈ, Costa
Rica, believes many retailers don’t, whether they realize it or
not, which may be costing them repeat tropical sales.
For the past three years, Mr. Massaro has worked on improving
the distribution chain for tropicals. His company has its own
tropical cooler facilities at the airports in Costa Rica and
Miami. Once the flowers are in the United States, the company
transports the flowers in its own refrigerated truck set at 60
degrees, a significantly higher temperature than they normally
would be transported at if mixed with other varieties.
The company takes these steps, he says, because keeping
tropicals at the optimal temperature is not easy. To get the
best vase life from these temperamental flowers, Mr. Massaro
says, they must be kept at around 55 degrees throughout the
distribution chain. Anything less will damage the flowers.
Temperatures over 70 degrees result in decreased vase life as
Mr. Massaro maintains that if tropicals are kept below 50 F for
more than eight hours, the shelf life drops to three to four
days. Dark spots on tropicals when they are delivered to your
store might indicate that the flowers were exposed to the cold
temperatures, but Mr. Massaro says many times the flowers look
normal and retailers don’t realize what has happened. The
consumers experience the loss, remember paying more for them
than other flowers and don’t purchase again.
Because of improper temperatures along the distribution chain,
Mr. Massaro says many tropicals are not arriving with their full
vase life intact. While air shipping might solve the temperature
problems, he says it is too expensive to ship the average
tropicals, which can be around 32 inches long, because they are
so large and bulky.
Mr. Massaro believes that all the proper merchandising and
promotions are wasted if the flowers don’t deliver the vase life
promised to consumers. Check with your suppliers to see what
steps they take to make sure your flowers arrive in top shape at
You may reach reach Amy Bauer by e-mail at
email@example.com or by phone at (800)
Photos courtesy of:
California Cut Flower Commission,
Flower Council of Holland,
Gallup & Stribling Orchids, Carpenteria, Calif.,
Hawaii Tropical Flower Council,
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