Canada’s changing face presents opportunity for Ontario flower growers

By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario

Vineland – Immigrants coming to Canada bring with them not only their own culture and food, but also distinct floral preferences. As Canada’s demographic makeup changes, this means new opportunity for flower growers in this country.

Researchers at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) in collaboration with Ontario grocery chain Longo’s have identified a particular opportunity for jasmine – Jasminum sambac specifically – and  are now working with flower grower Westbrook Floral to bring the first Ontario-grown jasmine plants to market this spring.

“There is a very different flower culture in Asia compared to the Western tradition, especially with Hindu and Buddhist religions,” said Dr. Alexandra Grygorczyk, a consumer insights researcher at Vineland. “Flowers have very specific meanings and new Canadians are very specific about what they want.”

The consumer insights team at Vineland reached out to new Canadians from South, East and South East Asia and found that over 80 per cent of these consumers expressed that there were plants from their home countries that they missed and wished they could purchase here in Canada.

The market opportunity this presents is not insignificant. According to Grygorczyk, Toronto-area South Asian consumers alone spend approximately $60 million on cut and potted flowers annually. According to Statistics Canada, South Asians (people from countries including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) are Canada’s largest and fastest growing visible minority group.The majority of respondents identified jasmine, a very feminine flower in high demand for its fragrance.

Its lighter green leaves, natural tendency for lanky growth and small, white flowers don’t fit in with the typical flower profile preferred by Canadian consumers, who look for more compact, bushy plants with dark green leaves and larger, more colourful flowers.

“We looked at over 30 different flowers not widely available in Canada but recognizable by ethnic consumers, and Jasminum sambac came out on top,” Grygorczyk said. “There is great potential for jasmine as there is a lot of cultural significance and meaning to this plant.”

She adds there aren’t many fragrant potted plants on the Canadian market currently and jasmine’s intoxicating fragrance will be attractive to a broad audience, particularly new Canadians – for many, the smell will be a reminder of home.

Production trials at Vineland, conducted by Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) greenhouse floriculture specialist Chevonne Carlow, and at Westbrook have shown the plant to be an easy one to grow.

Jasmine grows well in summer heat, making it ideal for growers looking to fill their greenhouses with a crop after the spring bedding plant rush.

A very small release of Ontario jasmine plants in six-inch pots is expected to be available in Longo’s stores this spring. A larger scale launch hopes to put the plants in all Longo’s stores this fall to coincide with Diwali, the Hindu festival of light.

The ethnic flower research at Vineland is funded by the OMAFRA – University of Guelph Research partnership, and Longo’s.

Photo source: Chevonne Carlow, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs