Suddenly, a Flower for the Masses
Sales of Affordable Orchids Are Growing Like Weeds
By Margaret Webb Pressler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page F06
I've had mixed feelings about orchids. They are beautiful, exotic flowers that I can't help but admire. But I've always felt intimidated by them, and full of guilt when the petals of these expensive beauties eventually fall off and I do nothing to help them come back.
Then I see a little flat of potted yellow orchids by the cash register at Safeway for $9.99 each. Or for $6.49 at Home Depot or Costco or Wal-Mart. How did such "expensive" and "hard-to-handle" plants become a mass-market staple?
In fact, the orchid world (and it is its own world) has been quite roiled by the growing, marketing and distribution changes that have put these elegant plants in your local superstore. To be sure, these aren't the rare collectors'-item orchids that followers will search through jungles to find. But the mass market is increasingly offering beautiful and high-quality specimens at prices almost anyone can afford.
Not all traditional orchid connoisseurs are happy about the widespread distribution, but consumers apparently love it.
"Orchids are going through a transformation from specialty crop to common decor," said Marvin Miller, market research manager for Ball Horticultural Group of Chicago.
If you'll pardon the pun, the orchid is the fastest-growing potted plant in the country. Between 2000 and 2003, sales of potted orchids grew 36 percent, while the competition was down or flat: Florist azaleas fell 33 percent, mums were off 7 percent and poinsettias grew just 4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In terms of dollar volume, with sales of $121 million last year, orchids are now the second-highest-selling potted flowers, right behind the holiday-favorite poinsettias, which still outsell orchids by 2 to 1. The next-closest competitors are chrysanthemums, at $76 million. This increase in sales has been accompanied by falling prices -- the average wholesale price for a pot of orchids was down 8 percent in 2003, to $7.75.
Many of the orchids sold at wholesale last year -- 15.6 million -- were shipped to the mass market for resale. An appreciative audience is gradually understanding that orchids don't have to inspire anxiety. In fact, the varieties for sale in the supermarket are remarkably easy to care for, needing only occasional watering and typical indoor temperature and light conditions. Green thumbs? Not required.
"There's a really good value in orchids -- the flowers last a really long time," said Kerry Herndon, owner of Kerry's Bromeliad Nursery, a massive orchid wholesaler in Florida. "If you put a Phalaenopsis in your house and it lasts two to three months, and it was $20, compared to mums that were $10 and lasted two to three weeks, what's the better deal for you?"
And at that price, if consumers don't want to bother with trying to encourage more blooms, they don't have to. In fact, KB's orchid tags give reblooming instructions on one side (prune back to just below the lowest bloom), while the other side suggests throwing the whole thing away when the flowers are gone and buying another.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company