Each year, in the United States alone, an estimated $1.9billion worth of cut flowers is sold before or on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is approaching, and winter’s chill continues to linger. It leaves us wondering, where do all the flowers come from? How do the roses make it from their grower to your lover?
As a professor of sustainability, I have studied the impact of various business models including cut flowers. When there is money to be earned (or a favour to be gained), short-term economics often trumps the social and environment implications of business decision.
The Flower Industry
The global cut flower market has been booming since 2019. Over the next five years, it was predicted that the market for cut flower, houseplants, and landscape greenery would increase by approximately 6.3 percent.
The pandemic was a major factor in the decline of this market, which fell to an estimate US$29.2 Billion in 2020. This is a 6.2% contraction from 2019. The United States was the top market in 2020, accounting for US$ 7.9 billion, or 27% of the global market.
Cut flowers are sold by florists, along with floral arrangements and potted plants. These products are sourced from domestic and international flower farms and wholesalers. Around 80 percent of these flowers in the U.S., Canada and other countries are imported.
Florists are a small business. The average florist in Canada and the United States has just two employees. The florist industry in Canada is estimated to be 2,822 businesses with 5,054 workers and a $602 million annual revenue. Last year in the U.S., there were 31663 florists with 65,000 workers, on a market worth US$5 billion.
The supply chain for cut flowers
Cut flower supply chains often begin in Colombia. About 80 percent of the cut flowers sold in America are imported. Colombia is No. Ecuador is the No. 2.
Colombia, Ecuador, and the Netherlands are the top producers of roses and carnations. Roses are the most popular flower in the world. They symbolize love and romance.
The top four flower-producing countries in 2019 in terms of export revenue were: The Netherlands (4.6 billion dollars), Colombia ($1.4billion), Ecuador (879.8 million dollars) and Kenya (709.4 million).
The Bogota Plateau’s flowers are cut and combined into bundles, and then hydrated up to 24 hour — to prepare for the “cold-chain.” Roses are transported to Bogota El Dorado International Airport by refrigerated trucks. Shipping and storage temperatures must be maintained at around 1C.
Then, the roses are transported to Miami, Fla. Most cut flowers headed for the U.S. and Canada are shipped via Miami International Airport.
The Edmonton-based Grower Direct loads roses and other flowers into refrigerated trucks to be delivered directly to stores throughout Canada. The journey between the farm and flower shop can take as little as 4 days. 45 percent of all cut flower dies before they are sold.
Low wages, pesticides, and greenhouse gases
Sustainability is the balance of social, economic, and environmental implications in decisions and actions today and for the future.
The cut flower industry is not without its costs. International Labor Rights Fund states that this industry is known for its low wages and poor conditions of work. The majority of workers on Colombian flower farms are women. They work for 16 hours or more a day, earning a monthly salary of $300.