New Ontario Wholesaler Focuses on Fair Trade Flowers
When Afshin Akhoundpour launched his company, Fair Trade Floral, in June 2016, he began to define what fair trade means when it comes to the floral industry in Canada.
“I wanted a company absolutely fair trade to employees, suppliers and customers,” Akhoundpour said. “I want to be fair to all three of these groups by providing them with enough information about the product, top quality, and competitive prices.”
However, he couldn’t find any guidelines for free trade flowers; Fair Trade Canada focuses on food and material objects.
So Akhoundpour basically started from scratch. But he knew it would be worth the effort, given consumers’ growing interest—and rising standards—for products’ origins. Fair Trade Floral, which specializes in hydrangeas, roses and alstroemeria, has earned the trust of about 55 customers so far.
Here’s how it works: The company sources flowers directly from both domestic growers, such as Rosa Flora, and those overseas in Ecuador, Colombia and beyond. The selection process is thorough, with Akhoundpour visiting farms to observe how they treat employees and communicating closely with managers so he understands their day-to-day operations.
Akhoundpour does business with farms with respectable working conditions, including some that provide training, pensions, compensation funds, onsite laundry facilities, educational classes for kids, and rules for equity and non-discrimination by race, religion or sex.
This past October, he made his third visit to Colombia to make and build supplier connections. To reach some of his farms, he had to drive for three hours through mountains and meadows.
“They made me a welcome sign,” he said, adding that the personal visits strengthened his relationship with farmers.
Akhoundpour has visited about 15 farms so far. In addition to vetting them for their human rights practices, he also scrutinizes the quality of their products. He imports, tests, and photographs the flowers, studying their vase life, opening size, and other product behaviours. Then, he cherry picks his orders, getting only the best varieties from each farm.
And customers have noticed.
“We’ve received lots of positive responses,” Akhoundpour told Canadian Florist.
It’s an honourable way to run a business. But is it profitable? Does it cut into earnings too deeply to be sustainable?
“My prices are very, very competitive to most wholesalers,” he said. “The quality I bring is above average with the right price.”
Akhoundpour approached Fair Trade Canada in 2015 but said a partnership didn’t end up being his best option to fulfill his vision.
“I decided to go to farms and shows and talk to them directly,” he said. “I learned there are many, many other certifications that we as Canadian wholesalers and end users/flower shops are not aware of (that are) similar to the Fair Trade Canada agenda” he said.
Akhoundpour runs Fair Trade Floral out of a 2,500-square-foot warehouse office in the Pacific Circle, having outgrown his first office at Highland Evergreen after just three months. The current 25x30x15 cooler holds about 25 steady items currently—and Akhoundpour would like to see it double or triple in size. Three full-time and three part-time employees help run the show.
Akhoundpour started year one with a focus on researching and selecting suppliers. Halfway through year two, he continues his new focus on development and advertising.
He has come a long way from his first shipment of seven sample boxes in June 2016. Within a month, he was receiving about 35 boxes a week. And by June 2017, about 240 boxes a week came in.
Akhoundpour’s floral career was rooted in a plant background. In his native Iran, he earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, specializing in agronomy and plant breeding, before completing his landscape design certificate.
Akhoundpour immigrated to Canada in 2003 and initially worked for Sheridan Nurseries in Ontario. He then joined the wholesale flower business in Mississauga, working for established players, such as Hofland. Altogether, he’s spent more than 12 years gaining experience in Canada plus another eight years concentrating in botany overseas.
Akhoundpour may love flowers, but there’s one thing he loves even more.
“I love people,” he said. “I’m a people person.”