VERIFLORA GRABS HEADLINES, MORE FLORAL GROWERS, DISTRIBUTORS

EMERYVILLE, Calif. -- After its formal debut this summer, Veriflora, a standardized cut-flower certification program, has captured the attention of the consumer media, and attracted interest from growers and distributors who want to sign up.All this is good news for retailers who want to offer flowers with credible certification that addresses social and environmental issues, and sustainability, and

EMERYVILLE, Calif. -- After its formal debut this summer, Veriflora, a standardized cut-flower certification program, has captured the attention of the consumer media, and attracted interest from growers and distributors who want to sign up.

All this is good news for retailers who want to offer flowers with credible certification that addresses social and environmental issues, and sustainability, and lays the groundwork for an adequate supply of organic flowers in the future.

Indeed, sources at Scientific Certification Systems here, which developed the certification program, told SN there are 100 million certified stems in the pipeline right now.

The San Francisco Chronicle ran a lengthy article in its business section late last month that featured Organic Bouquet's founder Gerald Prolman, who pioneered the organic floral industry and spurred the development of the Veriflora program launched by SCS. That article and a recent Wall Street Journal article on Prolman outlined the move toward sustainability in the floral industry.

Veriflora's big send-off took place at a symposium on floral sustainability trends in San Francisco earlier this summer. The panel included flower growers, environmental scientists, wholesalers, distributors, labor experts, certification organizations and organic trade association leaders. There, they were introduced to Veriflora. The standard, which takes under its umbrella existing green label programs if they meet its standards, revolves around advanced agricultural practices, social responsibility, conservation of ecological resources, water conservation, waste management and product quality.

What's more, it's the first sustainable agriculture standard to explicitly incorporate organic or pre-organic agricultural practices into its criteria.

"Since June, we've had a constant stream of inquiries coming in," Linda Brown, SCS executive vice president, told SN last week. "Large and small growers here and in Colombia and Ecuador, and two large distributors are in the process of meeting certification requirements."

This country's largest flower producer, The Sun Valley Group, Arcata, Calif., has received Veriflora certification. So have Kendall Farms, Fall Brook, Calif., and two Ecuadorian growers, Nevado Roses and Latinflor. Others across the industry in Canada and Latin America are interested as well, Brown said.

Many growers are close to meeting requirements, but others in the infrastructure must get certified to get the product to the retailer efficiently. "Quality is important. Handlers in the cold chain have to be certified because we need to know the integrity is preserved," Brown said.

Organic Bouquet's Prolman, in the meantime, is wholesaling certified flowers to retailers via his online business, Eco Bouquet.

Industry sources told SN in earlier interviews they expect retailers to be eager to carry Veriflora-certified flowers. "Retailers are pro-environment, and this brings credibility to the growers they're buying their flowers from," said Ray Klocke, an Alamo, Calif.-based consultant who has served as vice president of produce and floral at Kroger, Wakefern and Safeway.

Whole Foods Market, Austin, paved the way. [See "Retailer Joins Cut Flower Certification Program," SN, 09/27/04]. The chain of natural foods stores joined with top growers and distributors to help SCS create the standardized Veriflora program.