The surprising reason supermarkets sell flowers

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But some are far more subtle, so much so that you’ve probably never noticed them before. For example, imagine your local grocery store. What do you see when you first step inside?

Most likely: flowers. Large, bright bouquets of freshly cut blooms greet shoppers at almost every major grocery store, from Whole Foods to Kroger to countless New York City bodegas.

This is no coincidence – there is a strategic decision behind the placement of these flowers.

“It’s very, very simple,” says Paco Underhill, founder and CEO of behavioral research and consulting firm Envirosell. “If you can get someone’s nose and salivary glands working, they become a much less disciplined buyer.”

That’s right: Flowers stimulate the senses and prepare you to spend money. Sure, they’re aesthetically pleasing. And as you get closer, your nose picks up their scent, which tells your brain, “This place has good stuff.”

“They signal freshness, they signal ‘natural’… all the good things that make food good,” said Ashwani Monga, professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School.

“If I’m a grocery store, then I want you to see my store like this — logistically, if that person can manage and sell fresh flowers, that person isn’t going to sell stale food.”

This psychological preparation is just one way that doing business indirectly influences your behavior and encourages you to part with your money more readily. (Christmas music is another effective strategy.)

Psychologists call the effect misattribution – they are in a good mood and willing to pay for things like the holiday season without realizing it’s because of the music and the twinkling lights.

What makes flowers so effective is that they are a high-margin item. They may only account for 1% to 3% of total sales, but in 2019 stores reported an average gross margin of 47% on cut flowers, according to a report by the International Fresh Produce Association. In other words, the bouquet you bought for $15 probably only cost the store $7.50. That’s because most stalks sold in US grocery stores are flown in from South America, where land and labor are much cheaper.

The floral scene in grocery stores has emerged over the past 30 years, says Becky Roberts, Director of Flowers at IFPA. As shoppers ran out of time, grocery stores became more of a one-stop shop with bank branches, cafes, post offices and, of course, florists.

Covid-19 lockdowns have been particularly lucrative for the cut flower industry.

“People had to come to supermarkets as one of the few places where they could really come and shop anymore,” Roberts said. “They wanted things that could bring them a little joy, a little fun, a little happiness.”

Inflation is of course taking its toll, but Roberts said she expects flower sales to remain strong even as consumers cut back on non-essential items.

“They might not be able to afford a $200 dinner right now or take that road trip,” she said. “But you can still get a bouquet and be like, ‘Okay, I’m still treating myself.'”

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