Why does something you could just pluck out of the ground cost so much?
There are several reasons: flowers are delicate, high maintenance, perishable, difficult to grow, often imported and can cross continents as they make their way from field to florist.
So as 12 May approaches – Mother’s Day in nearly 100 countries – you may find yourself grumbling about how much a bouquet costs. But that price tag has to account for the house-of-cards nature of the product: the time and money farmers spend to hit holiday deadlines and the pressure for florists to match supply to demand, or lose out.
Perfect blooms are extremely fragile – both physically and from a business perspective.
And when it comes to flowers grown to hit holiday peaks, both farmers and florists face higher labour costs and financial risks. A big driver behind this is the fact that so many countries import their flowers.
According to research from Comtrade, the United Nations’ international trade database, global exports of cut flowers were worth $8.48bn in 2017, a 46% increase from 1995. (“Cut flowers” refers to flowers presented in bouquets, like roses, lilies, tulips and pansies.) The Netherlands was the top exporter, followed by developing countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya and Ethiopia. Ecuador and Colombia exported the most roses and carnations in 2018, Thailand topped the orchid trade while Colombia dominated with lilies and chrysanthemums.
Top importers are almost exclusively developed countries: the US, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Russia. Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential, a behind-the-curtain look at the industry, says almost all the blooms bought in the developed world are imported.
“They’re moving across continents and since they’re perishable, they have to be refrigerated as they travel, which is expensive. For florists, it can be risky, because they may order 10,000 tulips in hopes of selling them for a lone event on the calendar, like Mother’s Day. But if they don’t sell them all, the leftovers quickly die and become worthless. Part of what consumers are paying for is that risk.”
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