TAMPA — This Mother's Day, shoppers can delight Mom and also do something good for the environment and people working on flower farms.
Sweetbay Supermarket is selling eco-friendly, sustainably grown flowers at its 72 stores in Florida and online for delivery nationwide.
"It's part of our commitment to sustainability," said Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau. "Mother's Day is a huge day to buy flowers, and we thought this would be a great time to start it."
Tampa-based Sweetbay partnered with OrganicBouquet.com to sell roses, mixed bouquets and other flowers under the True Green label. The flowers come from certified farms in California, Ecuador and Colombia that adhere to strict workplace standards and don't use harmful pesticides.
Founded in 2001, OrganicBouquet.com works with about two dozen growers certified by one or more of the leading certification agencies in the industry — Veriflora, Florverde and the Rain Forest Alliance. Based in Orlando, its flowers are sold online and in specialty grocers, mostly in California, Oregon, Washington and Texas.
Robert McLaughlin, CEO of OrganicBouquet.com, said Sweetbay's commitment reflects the public's blooming disdain for products made in countries with human rights violations and flagrant use of pesticides. All of the company's farms are audited annually and use no chemicals banned by the World Health Organization.
"There's a growing segment of customers that want to know where their products are grown and how they are being grown," he said, noting that about 75 percent of U.S. flowers sold come from South America.
Due to the competitiveness among grocery stores, the eco-friendly flowers come at no extra cost to consumers, he said. Bouquets of True Green flowers at Sweetbay start at $9.99.
Fresh-cut flowers are big business this time of year, topping many people's list of what to give mom. The National Retail Federation estimates consumers will spend $2.3 billion on flowers for Mother's Day this Sunday, surpassing Easter and even Valentine's Day. Grocers are bracing for the rush, stocking up floral sections and putting bouquets near checkout lines.
Sweetbay introduced the True Green label a few months ago and expects to have all of its flowers certified as sustainably grown by the end of the year. Any orders placed through sweetbaysupermarket.com/floral are directed to OrganicBouquet.com, which delivers nationwide.
Polly Hutchison, president of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, said the upsurge in interest in locally grown food has prompted the flower industry to focus on more eco-friendly practices. "Growers are using less pesticides and paying more attention on how they use them," she said.
Although her association supports buying American-grown flowers first, the group prefers that any flowers imported from South America come from certified farms over noncertified farms.
Sweetbay's flower initiative comes a few months after it announced a new sourcing policy for its seafood. It ensures that products are caught or farmed in ways that contribute to the long-term success of the species and well-being of oceans.
The effort surpasses even that of Whole Foods, a specialty grocer known for its eco-friendly practices and large selection of fresh-cut flowers, mostly from South America.
Only about one-quarter of its flowers are organic or Whole Trade, meaning they were grown at farms with a healthy work environment. However, several of its plants come from local suppliers.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.