The flower industry operates behind the scenes, exerting a direct impact on your wallet. Why does something as simple as plucking a flower from the ground come with such a hefty price tag? There are multiple factors at play. Flowers are delicate and require high maintenance. They are perishable, challenging to cultivate, and often imported, undertaking long journeys across continents before reaching your local florist.
As Valentine’s Day approaches on the 14th of February, celebrated in many countries, you might find yourself grumbling about the cost of a bouquet. However, the price reflects the fragility of the product. It takes both time and money for farmers to meet holiday deadlines, and florists face immense pressure to meet the demand or risk missing out.
PEAK SEASON OF HIGH RISK
Delicate and exquisite, perfect blooms are not only physically fragile but also present business challenges. Both farmers and florists face increased labor costs and financial risks when cultivating flowers for peak holiday demand. A major contributing factor is the heavy reliance on flower imports by many countries.
In Malaysia, we import fresh flowers from a variety of countries including China, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador, and others. These blooms traverse continents, requiring refrigeration to preserve their perishable nature, which significantly adds to the expenses. For florists, the risk is inherent as they may order a large quantity of tulips or roses, anticipating high demand for a specific event like Valentine’s Day. However, if they fail to sell all the flowers, the leftovers quickly wilt and lose their value. It is important to note that consumers bear a portion of this risk through their purchases.
LABOUR EXPERIENCES A SIGNIFICANT SURGE
Achieving peak performance in flower cultivation requires precision and skill. The meticulous growth process is crucial to prevent diseases or fungi from spreading throughout the entire crop.
Flowers must bloom on schedule, especially for special occasions like Valentine’s Day when tulips planted in October or November need to bloom by early February for picking and shipping.
Labour costs are already high, with contract and hired labour accounting for an average of 10% of total agricultural operating expenses. However, for greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture production, this number soars to 40% due to a tighter farm labour market and rising wages. Additional costs are incurred during peak periods.
Growers hire extra help during these busy periods, but the delicate task of flower cutting requires experienced hands and cannot be entrusted to just any part-time employee. In Malaysia, the average salary ranges from MYR 2000 to 4000. “To meet holiday demand and ramp up production, growers are required to pay well above this average,” he explains.
Developed countries like the Netherlands and Japan employ greenhouses equipped with automated technology, such as sophisticated watering machines, robot transplanters, and harvesters, which reduce the need for manual labour. However, in poorer nations with cheaper labour, the adoption of such technology is limited.
Next comes the crucial shipping stage. Flowers must be carefully transported, ensuring they are not exposed to extreme temperatures, whether too cold (for Valentine’s Day) or too hot (for Mother’s Day). Upon arrival at the wholesaler, the flowers must be flawless, free from bug bites, missing petals, or dead buds. Otherwise, they are discarded.
In summary, achieving perfection in flower production demands expertise, strategic planning, and meticulous care at every stage of the process.
During holidays, the volume of flower sales skyrockets, reaching almost 20 times the usual daily volume. To meet this demand, farmers and growers dedicate themselves to nurturing flowers year-round. Outside of the holiday season, flowers are either sold at cost, below cost, or discarded and repurposed into mulch.
Consumers, understanding the effort and expense involved in maintaining plants year-round, willingly pay a premium to ensure a wide variety of flowers are available for each holiday. This compensation helps cover the costs incurred throughout the supply chain, including renting temporary space, fuel surcharges, transportation logistics, and overtime wages.
Transportation costs are influenced by the type of flower being shipped. For instance, 300 carnations can be packed into the same box as 150 roses, effectively halving the transport price per stem. The transit time from field to florist can range from 1-2 weeks, depending on the origin of the flowers, and requires meticulous handling at every stage.
Time emerges as the biggest challenge for cut flower growers, as the demands of seeding, planting, harvesting, marketing, selling, and accounting leave little room for respite. This multifaceted role encompasses five full-time jobs, often with meagre compensation.
Additionally, the flower industry faces the ever-changing trends in fashion. Similar to fashion, flower popularity fluctuates based on colour, shape, and texture. Staying abreast of social media and growing forums becomes crucial to comprehend and adapt to these trends. Currently, dahlias reign supreme due to their photogenic qualities and wide array of colours and shapes.
When ordering a bouquet, it is advisable to provide the florist with some creative freedom. By giving them a general idea, such as wanting a bouquet with a Korean-style aesthetic, florists who possess great skill and training can deliver a professional and personalized arrangement that will leave customers satisfied and eager to return.
THE STORIES OF ORIGINS
Given the challenges, logistical demands, and skill levels required throughout the supply chain, it’s no surprise that flowers come with a significant price tag. However, some industry insiders argue that it’s a matter of educating consumers about the effort put into creating a single bouquet.
Weng Seng, a seasoned florist, stylist, and decorator with nearly two decades of experience, draws parallels between the flower industry and the food industry’s evolution a few decades ago. He emphasizes the importance of cherishing flowers and their origin stories, just as one would appreciate the narrative behind the truffles in a dish, rather than viewing them as mere consumables.
“I believe flowers hold immense value when you have a personal connection with the human farmer who grew them,” he remarks. Understanding and appreciating the time, effort, and risks involved in crafting that special bouquet can help one understand its price.
“Those flowers have passed through numerous hands, traversed multiple countries, been discussed in different languages, and haggled over in various currencies. They have journeyed more extensively than you did on your last summer vacation,” Weng Seng explains. “The complexity behind the scenes is truly astounding.”