Valentine's Day 2020: Ups and downs in international rose trade

It is Valentine's Day today! While florists are still working overtime to supply their Valentine's bunches, for the trade the Valentine's rush is over. So it's time to reflect. When looking at the international rose trade ahead of Valentine's Day, it has been dictated by the weather. Kenya has had a lot of rain, which slowed down production and in turn reduced the supply for Valentine's Day. In Ecuador, as well as India, higher temperatures brought production forward. Sales from Colombia haven't been bad, but both Latin American countries missed out on orders to China due to the COVID-19 virus and there were complaints about overproduction. According to various growers and exporters, the fact that Valentine's Day is on a Friday hasn't helped. Americans have a day off the following Monday, so they're more out and about and thus less inclined to buy flowers.

Ethiopia on the other hand had good production weather, and at the Dutch auction the shortage of Kenyan roses resulted in higher prices. Both they and the Dutch growers benefited most from that: 9% fewer cut flowers resulted in a 10% increase on the average price, as Royal FloraHolland already reported last week. For the Dutch growers, this is only about 3% - the produce from Kenya that did make it through, sold for no less than 20% more compared to last year. The Ethiopian rose, of which 5% more came in than usual, went for 11% over the average price.

Fiorella, a variety from breeder Meilland

Traders are a bit less positive when it comes to the sales, Dutch wholesale organization VGB reports. Although the export value increased in January by 6% to 471 million euros, the effects of the COVID-19 virus on the export value to China were clearly noticeable. The export to China decreased by 27% in January, export statistics from Floridata show. The high rose prices also meant that the Dutch grower was able to make a profit, but for traders it turned out to be more difficult to get a margin.

Online sales
Dutch bank ABN AMRO forecasts that flower sales in the Netherlands will be stable for the next two years, but that the share of online sales will grow by about 7% annually. In recent years, the growth of online flower sales has been modest. From 4.3% in 2016 to 5% in 2019, which does mean faster growth than the revenue generated by brick-and-mortar flower and plant shops. That growth has stagnated, according to the report, which was compiled together with Chrysal and E-Flora.

Growers confirm these developments. David Espinosa, General Manager with Matiz Roses (Ecuador), says Valentine's Day was challenging this year. "Fortunately, the sales were good and the logistics for this holiday was OK as well. However, weather was tricky, too warm, which meant that there were more roses (about 5% more) exported out of Ecuador than last year and more or less the same price level."

Santiago Luzuriaga, General Manager with Ecuadoran rose nursery BellaRosa, agrees. "Weather conditions have been very different from other years, making it more difficult to plan production in advance. We plan production according to the cycle it takes to each rose to grow and bloom, usually the cycle is between 85 to 103 days depending on the variety and the altitude of the farm. But now that weather has changed, and plants received higher temperature during last months, the cycle of roses has reduced up to 5 days in some cases, which means that production planned for Valentine’s Day concentrated earlier, having lower production in the last days of the season."

He also adds that the cancellation of orders from China caused extra difficulty. "We had cancellations of all orders for that market - a lot of tinted flower on request - to Chinese customers preferences; for two factors: people did not leave home for the emergency and the airlines cancelled all cargo flights to that destination."

Despite all challenges Luzuriaga is satisfied with this year's Valentine;s Day. "We're satisfied because we reduced costs in several areas, including labor costs (even in staff), that helped us to obtain earnings, with lower sales than last year Valentine’s Day season." 

David Quesada of Inverpalmas from Colombia also indicates he's pleased with the development of the sales. This year, he sold more flowers, at more or less the same prices. He also experienced good weather, and when it started to freeze in the second week February, most of the Valentine's Day production had already been shipped. He says logistics were also excellent this year, with ‘no airspace issues’.

India also faced issues with unpredictable weather and the COVID-19 vrius,says Narendra Patil of Soex Flora. "We had delayed winter and some of the production started earlier than scheduled. Also they had to face some challenges with airlines space as many of them were carrying relief material and vaccines for China."

Finally Sujit Govindan, General Manager with Hansa Flowers from Ethiopia, says they have something to celebrate. Usually, in the run-up to Valentine's Day, it is too cold in Ethiopia to supply large volumes. However, this year, the weather was exceptional. "The weather was excellent, the quality good, and so were the price", says Govindan.

Finally, like every year, Hivos draws attention to the employees at African nurseries on Valentine's Day. In The Hague, work coats are hanging from every lamppost in one street. With these coats, the NGO wants to show the 'invisible work of tens of thousands of women', who according to them often receive wages that are too low, working under poor labor conditions. This is part of the campaign 'Small Change Big Deal', which intends to get supermarkets to increase the price of each bouquet with a few cents, which would provide the rose pickers with a living wage.

Women's Day
Now, even though Valentine's Day is not over yet, many growers are already looking at the next big flower holiday, namely Women's Day. This holiday is celebrated widely with flowers in Russia on March 8, but is increasingly being becoming an important flower holiday around the world.

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