Interview with Hariharan Subramaniam, CEO, La Fleur

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Studies suggest that the Indian floriculture is projected to reach INR 472 billion by 2024 riding on the increased demand for quality fresh cut flowers for the domestic market.

Being at the India Australia World Cup match at the Oval is an experience that is quite surreal. And more so when I had this invite from La Fleur CEO Hariharan Subramaniam to discuss his plans for the Indian market through its new Indian venture La Fleur. The concept of the new venture is simple – to make quality fresh flowers accessible to the Indian consumers. This is primarily being done through supermarkets which will be the main point of sale. Considering that the model of selling flowers at super markets work well abroad and the parent company, Indifresh has been doing business in the United Kingdom for 15 years and exports roses from India, the floriculture market in India is all set to get a swanky new makeover. The brand, born and bred in the UK will introduce the culture of hand bouquets to India by bringing their high quality, sustainably packaged flowers to leading supermarkets at attractive prices points all this while supporting only local growers for sourcing flowers. Interestingly the model in India is the set bouquet route rather than loose stems. Subramaniam tells us more in this exclusive tête-à-tête.

La Fleur Plantation
La Fleur Plantation

 

What is spurring the demand for flowers in India?

I think the Indian market is measuring very fast and there is already a demand for flowers. Traditionally we have been using it for weddings and events. With super markets coming in, there is a market that needs to be created as the consumer in India is very similar to a consumer in the West. Of course India is a varied country and the middle class and above is very aspirational and a lot of people are buying flowers for personal use and that market is grow. Convenience, lifestyle and economy is the three reasons why people shop in super markets and we believe with flowers we will find that the market will grow as we find new consumers and new buying habits.

What can La Fleur do to make its presence felt in the market?

What we want to do is bring in some structure into the market as currently how it is marketed in India is very unstructured as you buy from hawkers or florists. As we are experienced in exports to UK from India we have systems in place that have helped us to grow the market here. And that will help us to create awareness with consumer on quality. We have the same system for both as we have our export sector is well established. We use the same post-harvest technique for exports Quality, vase life and value of money is what we have added to the flower spectrum in India.

La Fleur Flowers

What are the key kinds of flowers that do well in the Indian market?

All flowers do well in India as there are a various segments in the market and each segment has a different taste and everything works in India. So I think what works worldwide will work in India and flowers that do well are roses, chrysanthemums, gerberas, lilies and carnations as these sell in big numbers. In India there is also a demand for exotic flowers that of course needs to be imported as it is not grown in India. But as we have just started we kept it simple and we use only flowers that grow in India.

What are the other distribution channels that you propose to use?

We have a big wish list and for the financial year 2019-2020 we are focusing on supermarkets and we are in 36 outlets in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore which we want to take to 75. The other channel is to corporates where we want to be the preferred supplier and have targeted about 100 such customers. The third channel is to have an online shop by the end of June that will be piloted in Mumbai and Pune.

What are the key challenges being faced in the market?

The biggest challenge is having a consistent market which will return consistent pricing to the grower. Also with the weather being inconsistent there are some growing challenges as there is a consistency that is required. Also to tap into foreign markets there are ethical requirements that need to be adhered to.

What kind of initial trends have you seen?

Although it is early days, some clear trends we see especially in Mumbai is that demography matters as does location as our South Mumbai outlets are doing well. People are appreciating quality of flowers and the fact that we are using ecofriendly packaging and flower foods are being appreciated. In fact when we did a survey we had equal number of responses for people who said premium flowers at Rs. 920 was reasonable and one set felt Rs. 360 was expensive. So we also have a range that starts at Rs. 250 and we are clear that we will be able to work with all the markets in India.

How are flowers kept fresh through the value chain?

We buy directly from the growers who we also give technical support that helps us know the product completely. Secondly we hydrate and use flower food (chlorine and sugar) and store in the cold store at temperatures between two and six degrees. We also maintain the cool chain as it is transported in refrigerated truck and this ensures that 80 percent of the freshness is retained in the stem when it reaches the destination.

La Fleur Plantation
La Fleur Plantation

How do you choose the suppliers to work with?

Traditionally with roses we know the suppliers so there is an established relationship there. For other flowers we meet the supplier, understand their growing practices and see their farms and then decide. We also have a proper feedback mechanism in place that helps as well. We do try and pass on our experience to the growers so we mutually benefit.

What are the ecofriendly measures in place?

Unlike other perishable products, flowers are not consumable so organically grown flowers are not something that will work as flowers need to be pest free. We do not use plastic for packaging so that helps.

What are your funding plans?

Currently it is self-funded and before we go for funding we want to grow the business. Also it is also a complex market that needs to be understood. We know this will work in India and will be a big business as there is a need for a better product and consistent quality. So we want to grow the concept first and then look at funding. We are selling 2.5 bouquets per outlet per day and we do 6 5 bouquets per outlet per day for the concept to work. We need to look at the next two years to understand this. We have invested in people and training and educating retailers on how the category works.

This story first appeared in Spice Route’s August 2019 story here: 

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