Ever heard of the Red Naomi? Or the Red Eagle? Perhaps the Pink Avalanche?
No, these are not euphemisms.
They are the varieties of roses that are the most commonly grown in the Netherlands, one of the world’s largest players in the floriculture industry.
All day yesterday, overnight, and in the early hours of this morning, florists over the world mobilised to meet a voracious appetite in flowers that faithfully spikes annually on this day.
It is estimated that 250 million roses are sold on Valentine’s Day globally each year. To meet this demand, every link in the floristry supply chain drafts in contingency labour — from farms, to hauliers, to flower arrangement specialists, causing a surge in pricing.
Floriculture, as charming as it may appear to the uninitiated, is no cottage industry. It is a sector that generates approximately USD 8.5 billion worldwide annually, and in the United States employs some 83,000 people.
In 2021, the Netherlands exported 680,090 metric tons of cut flowers valued at USD 5.7 billion. Colombia, whose economy has a less diverse export profile, relied on the flower industry to generate USD 1.5 billion in export earnings in 2021, of which at least one-fifth was roses.
It is not just growers who profit from the flower trade. The logistics around flower transport is delicate, complex, and meticulously considered.
Flowers are highly perishable commodities and require a just-in-time delivery system. Weather data, traffic data, maritime data, are all taken into consideration in wholesale flower brokerage.
A minor quality remark by quality controllers at the auction floor can lead to a decrease in the price of 5% to 10%. Therefore, cold chain management (CCM) is an important issue in the cut flower business.
Source: Floriculture Magazine
Logistics experts labour to ensure optimal temperature management throughout the entire journey from farm to auction floor to florist floor — this journey includes refrigerated shipping containers, or cool night flights; to refrigerated road vehicles.
Wholesale flower packing is a subindustry in its own right: flower storage R&D has flourished a wealth of trade equipment suppliers, each vying for optimum storage results by taking into account box material, number of air holes, and box stacking configurations to protect the fragile heads of stems.
In the UK, the issue of Brexit has resulted in the imposition of 8% customs duties on cut flowers, of which 80% comes from the Netherlands. The customs duties vary depending on the flower type and season, and these have increased the cost of importing flowers, which in turn has affected the flower industry. The British Florist Association has reported that these costs have been passed on to the consumer, resulting in higher prices for flowers.
Brexit has sprung other challenges to British florists. In addition to customs duties, imported plants are subject to inspections and must have a phytosanitary certificate in order to clear customs.
Since 2022, all flowers crossing the GB border need to be examined, costing suppliers a flat rate of £100 per shipment. The Fresh Produce Consortium estimates that the new customs rules and tariffs, post-Brexit, will add £100 million to the cost of importing cut flowers into the UK.
The floristry sundries that accompany bouquets have also increased costs to florists. Ribbons have gone up 30% in price. Manager of Flowers by Sian in Morriston, Swansea, Sian Evans explains:
It isn’t just fresh flowers, there are price rises across the board, with sundries, including floral foam, wrapping, ribbon, glassware, not to mention the huge increase of silk or faux flowers – another huge jump in price.
There is also the environmental impact of imported roses. According to Lancaster University, a mixed bouquet imported to the UK produces 10 times more CO2 than a British-grown-and-sold equivalent. In Colombia, flower farming is associated with deforestation, water pollution, and soil degradation.
The floristry industry reports there has been a rise in demand for British-grown cut flowers, which currently only makes up 14% of the UK flower economy, down 45% compared to 30 years ago. Flowers from the Farm – an association for artisan flower growers – has seen its membership double in recent years.
British-grown cut-flowers, however lauded by environmentalists and artisanal florists, will remain a luxury to few, as their wholesale prices are unable to compete with the efficacy and logistical prowess of the Dutch flower industry. Where British cut flower exports reached £18.8 million in 2021, the Dutch exported €0.7 billion to the UK in the same year.
Until the British flower grower communities mature and industrialise accordingly, I’ll have Red Eagle on my mind and await my Pink Avalanche tonight.