Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube

Flower demand likely ‘through the roof’

Issue Date: February 9, 2022
By Kevin Hecteman
Laguna Flowers owner Sohaila Murtaza says her Elk Grove shop is short of vases and other supplies needed to fill orders for Valentine’s Day and other occasions. Flower growers and floral professionals expect booming business this year as a result of pent-up demand dating back to 2020.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Sohaila Murtaza is well along in her preparations for one of the flower business' biggest days of the year.

One thing she needs is something in which to put the blooms people will be buying for their sweethearts—and that's been a bit of a challenge. The same supply-chain issues that have snarled plenty of other farmers and commodities have been felt at Murtaza's shop in Sacramento County. Less than two weeks before Valentine's Day, she said she'd received barely half of the vases she needed.

"We already made the arrangements," said Murtaza, owner of Laguna Flowers in Elk Grove. "We took pictures we uploaded on our website. But now, all of a sudden, we don't have enough of the same vase." Wet foam, easels and other supplies also are running low, she added.

Andrew Bartholomew, the shop's manager, described Valentine's Day as "a little scary" for flower sellers.

"You're having to preorder this stuff starting in December," he said. "You're having to project things based the day of Valentine's, your sales for last year, where Valentine falls within the week—does it fall on a holiday? Does it fall on a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday?"

This year, it's on a Monday, which is "a little iffy," he added, suggesting that may impact sales if couples travel for the holiday on the weekend beforehand.

But flower growers and sellers expect to see a lot of celebrating going on this year as pandemic restrictions ease and long-postponed weddings and other events finally take place. "Consumer demand is through the roof," said Steve Dionne, executive director of the California Association of Flower Growers and Shippers, or CalFlowers.

Dionne said it's not just events driving the trend; it's something he's never seen before on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

"Where we're really seeing the difference is in people who have been purchasing cut flowers for themselves, which is not a trend that historically has existed in the United States market," Dionne said, noting that per-capita flower buying is higher in mainland Europe than in the U.S.

"A lot of that is tied to the fact that in Europe, culturally, people do buy flowers for themselves," Dionne said. "They seem to recognize the positive emotional benefits of having flowers in your environment—in your home or your office. That trend has definitely taken hold here."

Mike Mellano, whose family has a flower farm in San Diego County, said he thinks the uptick in sales is likely to stick.

"We do believe that consumer buying patterns have shifted to more people buying more flowers regularly," Mellano said. "People got used to having flowers in their house during the pandemic. They couldn't go out and about, so they brought nature in."

This year, people may have to be flexible, Mellano said, in case their preferred flower is in short supply. "Today, the market is so tight and the supply chain is so screwed up that I have not heard too many flower shops promising the bride that they'll get that variety," Mellano said. "They mostly claim they will do their best."

That, he indicated, is a function of limited flights out of South America and trucking challenges stateside.

"The trucking network is in disarray," Mellano said. "There's not enough truckers. There's not enough trucks. California, with our (California Air Resources Board) restrictions, there's not enough CARB-compliant vehicles. It really makes it difficult to get the products from Point A to Point B in efficient fashion."

So far, Dionne reports no hiccups.

"By all reports and all the calls that I'm making and everybody that I'm talking to, things are going really, really smooth right now," Dionne said. "Flowers are moving through the system at the pace they should be and are beginning to arrive at the doors of retail florists. We think it's going to be a fantastic holiday."

Flowers themselves are not immune to supply challenges. Murtaza said customers will see higher prices this year because she's having to pay more

"The prices are high," she said. "We try to, of course, make it affordable for consumers, but it's just impossible because we get it so high when we buy it."

She aims to source everything but roses from California farms—but that has issues of its own. "A lot of the local California growers aren't growing anymore," Bartholomew said.

It's not just a California issue, said Camron King, chief executive officer and ambassador of Certified American Grown, which promotes U.S. flowers. King cites pressure from imports.

"The price pressures of production here in the U.S. are higher than what they are" overseas, King said. "We have seen a decline or a decrease over the last number of years in terms of domestic, large-scale cut flower and foliage producers."

The vast majority of American-grown flowers are produced in California, King said, estimating the Golden State's share at 75% to 80%. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service is for the first time conducting a floriculture survey of all 50 states. King said he's encouraging producers to fill them out and return them.

"This is data that will help them make strategic business decisions in what they're planting, what they're growing, selling, and where we as an industry have a better sense of who's producing, or what states are producing what, and what that looks like," King said. "It's really, really important to have that data."

The impact of shifting patterns on the farm "remains to be seen," Mellano said.

"We're constantly evaluating the crops that we have, looking at their trend, their cost of production and their return," Mellano said. "We're constantly trialing new varieties and new species to see what might fit better in our operations." This includes a formal research and development team, he added; among other projects, new varieties of ranunculas are being bred in the farm's Carlsbad flower fields.

Despite an excellent 2021, the pandemic exacerbated a worker shortage Mellano was already experiencing. "We just haven't had the field workers to actually harvest all the crops that we have or could sell, which has been a real challenge," he said.

But King said there is reason to believe domestic flower production has a bright future. "There is some optimism, and there is some prospect in that there is a lot of interest and a lot more small and micro-sized cut flower and foliage farms popping up across the country that are affording people the opportunity to buy and source local, and support local farms," he said.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




Special Reports

Features

Series

Special Issues

Special Sections