Why flowers get so expensive on Valentine's Day

Every year, Miami's international airport is flooded with imported flowers to meet Valentine's Day demand. Here's how those flowers are stored, inspected, and distributed.

Posted: Feb 14, 2019 9:20 AM


A dozen roses at Kroger stores usually costs around $10. During the Valentine's Day stretch, they go for double.

Why are flowers so expensive around Valentine's Day? The rush for flowers creates international logistics bottlenecks and elevated transportation costs for a limited supply of perishable flowers.

"It's an old economic adage. Supply and demand," said Charles Hall, professor of horticulture at Texas A&M University. "It's really expensive just to get them to the market."

Refrigerated trucks

Flower shops around the country have been preparing for Valentine's Day, the industry's busiest day, for months.

Kroger, the country's largest florist, started getting ready for Valentine's Day last spring with growers in Colombia and Ecuador. The two countries were the biggest flower exporters to the United States during last year's Valentine's season, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

"It's pretty complicated," said Jennifer Lien, Kroger's director of floral merchandising. "We have to keep a cold chain going. We have to make sure that the products keep the quality going from Colombia to Miami and then throughout the country."

Kroger's floral team first estimated how many roses the company would need at its thousands of stores around the country. More than 250 million roses are produced for Valentine's Day, according to estimates from the trade group Society of American Florists.

The grocery store also had to prepare its supply chain to preserve fresh stems along the journey from South America.

Flowers are fragile and have a short shelf life. Any mistake along the route could spoil them. Although improvements in cooling technology and preservatives in recent years have helped growers and retailers keep flowers fresh for longer, it's a high-stakes trip to stores.

Chris Drummond, who owns Penney's by Plaza Flowers in Philadelphia, said the temperature in refrigerated trucks is set to 34 to 35 degrees. "It keeps the flowers from getting moldy," he said. "We want to keep the flowers really cold."

Drummond buys flowers for his two stores from growers overseas and through wholesalers in the United States. He also buys from farms in the Netherlands, a top exporter of flowers to the United States.

Companies in Holland use an auction system to sell flowers. Drummond retains a broker who sits in on auctions and bids for flowers. "It's got to be the most efficient auction in the world," he said.

Kroger placed its orders for Valentine's Day roses around three months ago. Farmers in South America cut the roses at greenhouses and boxed them up in coolers before sending them to the airport. They fly in cold planes and land at Miami International Airport, the busiest airport in the country for flowers.

During last year's Valentine's season, US Customs and Border Protection in Miami processed around 1.3 billion stems, or more than 90% of the total imported flowers to the United States.

After clearing inspection for bugs and bacteria, roses hit cold trucks headed for Kroger's distribution centers. Then it's straight to fridges at stores.

Higher costs

In the lead-up to Valentine's Day, every flower retailer and wholesaler in America scrambles to get planes full of boxed flowers off the ground in Bogota, Colombia, and Quito, Ecuador.

Demand for flowers dropped off during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, but it's picked up in recent years.

That's forced companies to hire extra workers in both South America and the United States to help with logistics during the rush.

While Kroger is able to use its size and scale to keep costs down, smaller players like Drummond say they're feeling the effects of higher transportation and labor costs in a tight jobs market.

"At every link in the chain, there's an increase in costs," he said. "The biggest thing I've noticed this year is the difficulty finding labor. Go try to find temporary help that wants to work in a 34-degree cooler."

High costs and razor-thin profit margins have pushed thousands of local florists shops out of business in recent years. The number of private florists has dropped 45% since 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Profit margins have eroded over time for the floral industry," said Texas A&M's Hall.

So when Valentine's Day rolls around, florists have a chance to recoup some of the money they lose during slow months.

Terre Haute
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 63°
Robinson
Overcast
65° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 65°
Indianapolis
Few Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 63°
Rockville
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 64°
Casey
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 61°
Brazil
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 63°
Marshall
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 63°
A Pleasant Overnight
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 281303

Reported Deaths: 8744
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1406235180
DuPage16955551
Lake16545486
Will13612374
Kane12790325
St. Clair6386187
Winnebago5531149
Madison5463131
Champaign447220
McHenry4463118
Peoria331449
McLean320020
Rock Island286974
Kankakee267677
Sangamon229044
Unassigned2238236
Kendall194725
Tazewell165721
LaSalle164056
DeKalb148438
Macon143642
Coles139630
Williamson135139
Jackson124824
Clinton108820
Boone107423
Adams103210
Randolph92611
Effingham8361
Whiteside70220
Ogle6516
Vermilion6484
Grundy6455
Monroe63915
Henry6365
Morgan62823
Knox6273
Bureau59711
Jefferson57238
Marion5180
Macoupin5157
Union50724
Franklin5053
Stephenson4846
Christian46011
McDonough45915
Logan4401
Woodford4086
Crawford4002
Cass38911
Jersey38514
Fayette3733
Shelby3604
Iroquois35919
Livingston3486
Lee3471
Perry34215
Montgomery33913
Warren3142
Saline2993
Bond2964
Douglas2857
Wayne2565
Lawrence2512
Jo Daviess2462
Carroll2174
Greene2167
Moultrie2083
Jasper2029
Cumberland2014
Hancock1993
Washington1981
Richland1714
Pulaski1611
White1610
Clark1542
Fulton1530
Johnson1480
Wabash1471
Clay1420
Piatt1320
Mason1291
Mercer1295
Menard1200
Pike1131
Edgar1117
De Witt1041
Ford995
Marshall980
Massac972
Scott750
Alexander731
Gallatin692
Hamilton670
Edwards640
Henderson640
Putnam550
Stark532
Calhoun470
Schuyler460
Brown430
Hardin370
Pope261
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 113337

Reported Deaths: 3530
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20936761
Lake10334319
Elkhart6438109
St. Joseph6226103
Allen6060200
Hamilton4761109
Vanderburgh349430
Hendricks2681122
Monroe251236
Tippecanoe231213
Johnson2279123
Clark215756
Porter209046
Cass19339
Delaware189561
Vigo178524
Madison161075
LaPorte138239
Floyd132161
Howard129063
Warrick122336
Kosciusko120617
Bartholomew115357
Marshall99424
Dubois95918
Boone95646
Hancock91443
Grant89733
Noble89432
Henry78125
Wayne74714
Jackson7429
Morgan70638
Shelby66629
Daviess65428
Dearborn63928
LaGrange63211
Clinton59513
Harrison56424
Putnam53810
Lawrence50628
Montgomery50521
Knox5039
Gibson4894
White48214
DeKalb46311
Decatur45739
Miami4303
Greene41935
Fayette41813
Jasper3862
Steuben3747
Scott35910
Sullivan33112
Jennings31212
Posey3090
Franklin30325
Clay2985
Orange28624
Ripley2828
Carroll27113
Wabash2628
Washington2611
Whitley2556
Starke2537
Adams2523
Wells2503
Jefferson2443
Fulton2352
Huntington2223
Spencer2223
Tipton22022
Perry21513
Randolph2097
Jay1750
Newton17211
Owen1671
Martin1640
Rush1534
Pike1411
Vermillion1260
Fountain1202
Pulaski1151
Blackford1133
Brown1033
Crawford1030
Parke961
Benton880
Ohio777
Union770
Switzerland690
Warren391
Unassigned0225