Organic Articles: Changing The World…One Stem At A Time!

The Organic Consultancy

Changing The World…One Stem At A Time!

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

Simon Wright of The Organic Consultancy looks at organic cut flowers, the latest addition to the organic lifestyle. This article originally appeared in organiclife magazine for July/August 2002

June 2002 sees a new range of organically-grown flowers going on sale in Waitrose. This has come about through the vision of the Dutch company Eosta who saw a gap in the market. Founded by the visionary Vokert Engelsmann in 1990, today Eosta are major players throughout Europe and supply most UK supermarkets with fresh organic fruit and vegetables via their sister company Organic Farm Foods.

But why move into organic flowers ? Azra Secerbegovic of Eosta explains the benefits.” First and foremost, many cut flowers have been sprayed with toxic chemicals to keep them cosmetically perfect and those chemical residues are still on the flowers when they reach shops. Agricultural chemicals not only endanger the people who buy products sprayed with them, but can directly harm the workers who handle them. Some florists develop dermatitis on their hands and worry about what other effects their exposure to chemicals is having on their health. But there are other good reasons to grow flowers organically. When you put flowers in your home, it is the place where your children play, where you entertain friends, where you yourself come for solace and respite. Flowers should be there to nourish your soul, not something you have to feel cautious and tense about. With organic flowers, you will be free to enjoy with all your senses, and to experience the true joy that comes from working as a partner with nature.”

Azra is convinced that organic flowers last longer. “Organic practices focus on building soil fertility and growing healthy crops that are better able to withstand pests. Flowers are grown to follow the rhythm of the seasons and as the result they are strong, hardy and their vase life is longer.” Having combined an early training at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew with a Masters in Horticulture and Business Azra clearly feels that organic products must pay their way “I have a personal interest in organics, I believe that economy and ecology are inextricably connected. I think that sustainable agriculture needs a sustainable business approach to ensure ecological and social wealth for future generations.”

Eosta have their organic flowers inspected and certified by Skal, the leading Dutch independent organic certification body, in exactly the same way that organic food is certified. Every bunch or pot carries the certification mark (EKO) so customers can be reassured that the flowers are genuine products of organic agriculture. Azra explains that whilst all the flowers she sells are already certified” we are working with new growers to extend the range of flowers and the growing season. At the moment our demand is higher than our supply, a dangerous situation to be in. So we are looking for new growers all the time. Sales are very good in Germany, especially in health food shops. And we have strong sales in Holland, Belgium and France.”

Why are organic flowers significantly more expensive than non-organic ? Azra lists five main reasons.”Firstly the organic flowers take longer to grow, typically 2-3 weeks. Secondly the yield is lower, with less stems per square foot. Thirdly the flowers grow taller without chemical treatment so when we cut them to saleable height we lose more weight. Fourthly organic methods are more labour-intensive and therefore more costly. And finally we have to spend more on controlling pests using methods other then artificial pesticides.”

On the positive side Eosta claim that organic flowers have a stronger smell, are safer to touch and lead to a healthier environment. Are any of these features relevant to today’s consumers ? Asking consumers why they buy organic food and drink consistently come up with the same answers: the two most important factors given are better taste and better for you. So people buy organic food and drink for essentially selfish reasons – will consumers pay extra for organic flowers which cannot deliver these factors ? Sue Steptoe, Horticulture Buyer at Waitrose thinks that they will. Waitrose is selling the Eosta organic sunflower bouquet in all 136 branches at a price of 6.95 per bouquet. She may also be stocking a second bouquet in 85 branches of Waitrose, depending on what else is available this season.”We began selling organic flowers as far back as 1998″ said Sue. She sees the main point of difference as the environmental benefits offered by organic horticulture.”This will appeal to some of our customers. Generally customers buy these bouquets if they look like offering value for money and because they like the mix of the flowers.” Would Waitrose extend the current range ?”Probably not unless there was much better availability of a large range all year round. Prices would need to be reasonably close to those of non-organic flowers.” For Eosta cut flowers are only part of their range as waiting in the wings they have organic Daffodil and Muscari bulbs, plus bunches of Tulips. They also produce a full range of twenty-two different fresh organic herbs growing in pots, including coriander, oregano, rosemary, parsley and mint.

My Eosta organic mixed yellow bouquet was still looking good over two weeks after I got it home. The flowers smelt strongly and looked great. So I’m a convert. I like knowing that no horticultural workers suffered pesticide-related illnesses as a result of my liking for flowers around the house, in the same way that I am glad that my organic chocolate habit does not exploit cocoa producers. In Germany and Scandinavia there is a rapidly growing market for organic gardens, paint, cosmetics, furniture, leather, shoes and clothes. It is possible to see the development of organic flowers as part of a move to a totally sustainable lifestyle. However historically German and Scandinavian consumers have shown more enthusiasm for the environmental benefits delivered by organic production, whereas in the UK we have mostly responded to food scares and potential threats to individual health. If organic flowers take off in the UK then it will be good indicator that we see the organic market from a wider perspective than before.

For more information on Eosta organic flowers please visit www.eosta.com.