Ethics in the gift industry?

Ethics in the gift industry?

If a few weeks Valentine’s Day will be upon us, and a good portion of the country will be doing something for their special someone.

Today we’ll look at two types of situations, one where the public thinks something is wrong and others where something is actually wrong.

Spike in prices: are they gouging?
Roses and chocolate covered strawberries are perishable; they cannot sit in a warehouse for months, or even a few days, and still be any good.  (last year we stopped someone from ordering a Valentine’s Day Chocolate Covered Strawberry gift box that he planned to put in the closet for a few weeks.. it would have been an ugly surprise)

From the growers perspective:

Everybody wants the same thing on the same day, plants (strawberry and rose) have to be planted and prepped so that on this one day of the year they have the most product available, that is not an easy thing to do. It’s extra work (and fertilizer) to make all those flowers and strawberries ripen at the same time. Cold weather can quickly ruin all those roses and create shortages (like we are expecting this year).

Those same strawberries and roses need to be harvested by hand, that means bringing in a lot of extra people, training them to harvest correctly, and then the labor for the actual peak days of harvest. All those extra people are more expensive than normal because all the other growers in the area also need extra staff.

Logistics: Trucks, trains and plains:
It’s the middle of winter, if you think about it: Where are flowers being grown this time of year? Certainly not New York, Vermont, Colorado or Utah, it is ski season after all, snow and flowers don’t mix. That means the roses have to brought in: trains are to slow, and trucks are only used for the final part of the trip from the airport to the refrigerated warehouses. That means tons of are being flown into the country & even if you fill a cargo plane with flowers: it really adds to the cost.

Strawberries are only grown in a few places this time of year, California, Florida, Mexico as well as a few other places that are far outside the country. There are no ‘special’ large long stem strawberry plants, these are the biggest strawberries that are available on the existing plants, but the extra size and different of methods of harvesting and packaging (to prevent bruising) all add to the price.  All it takes is one cold weather event (freezing) in any of these areas and a significant amount of product will be lost. January freezing happens in Florida or California every few years, ruining the product that would ripen into the fruit or blooms that become the fruit that would be used at Valentine’s Day.  The growers try to limit the damage from the cold weather through various methods: helicopters to circulate air over the fields work in some situations, in others they have to encase the plants in ice and hope for the best. I’ve been hearing about really cold weather in Miami, so the chances are that the Florida strawberry crop is not going to be that useful during the peak time of year.

Grower summary:
The prices are higher because everybody wants the exact same thing on the exact same day during a time of year that it’s risky to grow.  That peak effort has a lot of higher costs in all segments from forced ripening, picking, and delivery.

Florist and strawberry manufacturers, we’ll take these two separately.

Florists:  local florist are in a rough spot, they have generally smaller locations and there often is not enough room to properly handle the huge volume of flowers that have to be stored and prepped for delivery, they also don’t have the delivery staff needed for all those deliveries. This means they need to get extra storage space and a lot of extra staff for deliveries. Even the sites that ship from warehouses need extra space for the big day. That extra space and staff costs a lot of money.

Strawberries are even more perishable than flowers, they have to be dipped the same day they are shipped to preserve freshness. Volume for the peak day will be over 100 times higher than other days of the year. All that extra production means extra staff, and that staff needs days of training. Extra shifts are a given: regular employees will probably be working 18-20 hours a day for three days straight. That is a lot of expensive overtime.  We also have to get extra storage space for supplies (boxes, gel packs, insulated containers and the rest), perishables (fruit) and finished/boxed product.  For the fresh fruit and the finished product ready for the FedEx/UPS pickup, refrigerated trucks solve part of the problem, but they are not cheap. Plus there is a lot of hardware,  such as all the extra melters, dipping stations, tempering.. even tape guns that are needed for all those extra people.

That box of machine made chocolates you saw in the drug store was probably made several months ago, it’s not the same type of product as something perishable like chocolate covered strawberries.

Summary: At least some of the price rises you see in the gift industry are market and conditions driven, the costs are a lot higher but so is the volume.

But what about the other unethical companies in the gift industry?
Nothing has changed in the last year… and parts have gotten worse.

Companies that advertise chocolate covered strawberries but the product is not made with chocolate? They are still at it (read more and even more), unforgettably fake chocolate is not what they advertise.

Companies that are being sued for the easy saver scam? Visa and MasterCard or the California Attorney General have not shut them down  (read more), not being able to trust a a company to protect your credit card information is very basic and their customers say they violated that trust.

Companies advertising “fresh from the grower” who really truck their flowers around the US to regional warehouses? (They even say they are fresher than local florists but those several days on the road to their regional warehouses say differently (it’s the same group as the “Easy Saver Scam”)) plus they even use local florists to deliver some of their flowers.

Surprise “care” fees at checkout? Of course.. (same people as above)

Corporate discriminatory Religious policies? Yep they are still at it (read more)

Fake Free shipping? The FTC seems to be sleeping on this one. They are not supposed to raise prices and then claim free shipping.

In the gift industry it seems like the government is not really doing it’s job correctly, and the largest players in the gift industry seem to be running amok while the regulators sleep, which seems to be a pattern in the enforcement segment of government. We are too small to play games like they do, and frankly we’d rather spend the time making a better product (and web site) than pay a bunch of lawyers to separate you from your money.

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  1. By Be careful what you believe… on March 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    […] hit on some companies mis-representing their products before, (Ethics, Fake Chocolate, Spotting fake chocolate) so we will not beat a 80,000 lb dead horse, (really.. if […]