You may have felt the shock of the sticker when you saw how much a dozen red roses cost. Paying over $100 for something that’s a fairly mundane gift can look like a scam.
Between labor costs and the actual price of flowers and vases, a rose’s journey from farm to counter is costly and “largely invisible to the consumer,” says Kate Penn, CEO of the Society of American Florists.
On Valentine’s Day, which accounts for 30% of flower sales for the whole year, according to 2019 data from the IPSOS Floral Tracking study, these costs only increase due to demand.
“On Valentine’s Day in particular, the demand for roses is exponentially higher than any other day of the year, which means that an exponential increase in labor is needed to make it happen, that’s why roses on Valentine’s Day are higher than other days of the year,” Penn says.
“You’re kind of paying a plane ticket for flowers”
With roses, in particular, consumers don’t see how much work goes into developing a commercially viable bloom and “promises rich, pigmented color, beautiful openness, and long vase life,” says Penn.
“[Consumers] I don’t see the work involved in growing a rose bush,” she says. “The weeks and months of monitoring the plant, to make sure it has the right nutrition, that it is protected from insects and disease, that it is harvested at the right time and that it is put in the right conditions and solutions that will ship it to the retailer.”
The majority of flowers you see in the United States, including roses, are imported, says Frank Montabon, professor of supply chain management at the University of Iowa.
“We get an awful lot of flowers from South America or Colombia, and you have a very narrow window to get those flowers from there to the United States,” he says. “Usually you have two weeks at most, which, at the risk of oversimplifying, Colombia is a long way off.
“Yeah, those things go on planes and they keep them in the fridge all the time and stuff, but it’s really not a long time to go from the field to a wedding or a Valentine’s Day dinner.”
Sachi Rose, owner of a flower studio in New Jersey, does floral designs for weddings and events, as well as other custom orders. She buys many of her flowers from wholesalers who import flowers from South America and Holland.
All of her flowers, she says, go through Miami and then have to be shipped to her.
“You’re sort of paying for a plane ticket for flowers,” Rose says. “We order from all over the world and these wholesale flowers are shipped and the cost of packaging, labor and airfare to get them to Miami and then they go to New York again or wherever . This adds a huge wholesale price tag just for a floral designer.”
“Wholesale cost can be between $1 and $25 per stem”
Some of the most popular wedding flowers, Rose says, vary widely in cost. A peony, for example, can be found locally but is often flown in from Canada, Israel or Holland. “If it’s local, it costs me $3 per stem, but if it’s not local, a peony stem would cost me up to $6,” she says. “Just a rod.”
Kara Nash of Kara Nash Designs in Atlanta, Georgia says the price per stem can vary wildly depending on the season, the flowers, and where the flower is being shipped from. “Wholesale pricing can range from $1 to $25 a stem,” she says.
Then there’s the cost of “hard goods” like vases, pots, and floral foam. To make a profit, she marks up the price of durable goods “two, three or four times, depending on the market,” she says. The flowers end up costing two to three times the wholesale price.
This is where the cost disparity between grocery store flowers and flowers for a florist might come into play. Flowers from a grocery store, like Trader Joe’s, might not come in a vase. Therefore, there are no or fewer “durable goods” to mark up.
Flowers from a grocery store can also cost less because they are less labor intensive.
“There’s a whole day to unpack flowers”
For an event, a lot of the work happens long before the big day, Rose says. Just getting the flowers out of their boxes is a task. As soon as the flowers come off the plane, they need to be revived and replenished with water, she says.
“There’s a whole day of unwrapping the flowers and stems, cleaning their thorns, picking up their petals and leaves, and making sure they have water,” she says. “It’s a whole day doing that. The next day is a whole day preparing vases and making bouquets and everything.”
Nash considers how much artistry goes into an arrangement. “Small detail work like bodices and floral crowns involve a lot more detail and are a lot more labor intensive,” she says.
In addition, she considers how many flowers will be photographed. “A bridal bouquet takes a lot of time because it’s one of the most important things,” she says.
Flowers that aren’t meant for an event can still be a lot of work. Tracey Morris, owner of Ella & Louie Flowers in Santa Barbara, Calif., says the inclusion of vases, as well as skill level, affect the cost of her arrangements.
“For me, personally, I sell wrapped bouquets for a lot less labor than arrangements,” she says. “There’s a lot less skill. You don’t pay any hard goods because there’s no slime and it takes less time to fix it.”
The high price of stems imported from around the world, combined with the fact that many florists want every bouquet to be perfect, makes this a high price.
“Flower people are pretty generous people in the sense that I want everything to be the nicest thing I’ve ever sent, but we’re a business,” Morris said.
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