- Written by Hannah Dunne
- February 22, 2016
Price hikes of up to 40%? Run out of pinks? Forgotten foliage? Without wishing to put the fear of God into our readers, we spoke to the UK's flower suppliers to find out what's really about to go down this Mother's Day and sadly, it ain't looking good. But it's not all doom and gloom, there are some seriously good opportunities and we'd rather you were prepared and pleasantly surprised than totally shafted come March 6th.
You see three whopper peaks falling in the space of a few weeks is causing mayhem in terms of flower production. In case you're wondering which peak no.3 is, it's time to get clued up on Women's Day, an immensely popular celebration in Eastern Europe and Russia, and growing here as well.
Ah, Russia – that humungous country and its neighbours. So that's where all the flowers are going. Actually it's no new phenomenon – they've been celebrating lovely ladies on March 8th since 1913 – but each year brings new challenges for the industry and this year the double whammy lands just two days apart, so we spoke to wholesalers and importers to get the low down for UK florists.
SO EXACTLY HOW MUCH MORE WILL I BE PAYING?
Suppliers across the board all agreed there will be a price hike. It's a simple case of supply and demand, and Eastern Europe is a force to be reckoned with as Chris Wolfe at SouthEast Flowers says, "Russia just takes so much of the supply. Prices are especially high from Holland – its mid-Feb and chrysanth prices are already looking horrid."
"Some flowers take up to four days in a lorry to get to far flung destinations like Azerbaijan where there's more money to spend on Women's Day, so they are being bought now," explains Paul Richards at BJ Richards, who reckons prices probably won't drop until towards the end of March.
Dan Mead at Tom Brown also says growers just haven't had enough time to recover from Valentine's. He estimating a 20% up to... wait for it... maybe even 50% uplift but says it will be hard to quantify as the auction prices are so uncontrollable. A view shared by Chris Wolfe who told us "Relying on the Dutch auction prices means we are wide open to who knows what!!"
Steve France, founder of Florismart, says that despite its enormous popularity, Women's Day sales to Russia and Eastern Europe are actually declining, "That said, Women's Day is growing in popularity in Western Europe each year, which will balance things out."
And with a ray of hope amidst the gloom (don't worry, there's more optimism coming!) the traders at New Covent Garden Flower Market pointed out that the recent Russian ban on fresh produce imports from the EU might just reduce the impact Women's Day has on flower prices.
A greenhouse of Dutch Lilies (above: trolleys of roses at Floraholland auction)
CAN I STEER CLEAR BY AVOIDING CERTAIN VARIETIES?
Everyone agrees it will be the pinks, whites and lilacs at the top price points. Dan at Tom Brown added tulips and spring flowers into the mix, and Covent Garden say, "White flowers and chrysanths are traditionally the most popular with Eastern Europeans. For Mother's Day the preference is widespread, but does include lisianthus."
And as Paul at BJ Richards pointed out; "The biggest selling flowers will often be what the flower relays dictate. However the clever florist will substitute, so instead of Aqua roses which will be expensive, they'll choose something similar from South America which will be less so."
And if you're not a relay member, take advantage of the opportunity, be unique and buy different and unusual varieties. At Valentine's, Bloomsbury Flowers in London ran a #NoRedRose campaign as a way to stand out from the crowd so why not go for orange and pink or purple and blue and make the most of packaging to achieve colour if flowers are too expensive.
Steve France told us Florismart's top selling current pre-orders are, Pink Readan Chrysanth, White Radost Chrysanth, Blue Magic Iris, Aqua Rose, and Santander Oriental Lily. "But there are only so many of these stems to go around. The exporters supplying Florismart have booked out quite a lot in advance so we have plenty available for pre-order, but I'd advise to get your orders in quick."
And Chris at SouthEast reminded us, don't forget the foliage! "No one ever orders enough. Fix a price, get it in early and you are ready to go."
Could buying British be a viable alternative? Sadly many of our suppliers didn't feel there would be enough stems or variety to go around with it being so early in the year. "It sounds crazy but English stock can take twice as long to reach us as it does from Holland because our growers are often small scale in comparison," says Nick at Flowervision Bristol.
Lilies in Holland being wrapped and packed
However bucking the trend was Graeme Diplock of Zest Flowers at Covent Garden who stocks a wide range of British for much of the year, and said "For us it will be bang on for British flowers, especially tulips. Everybody loves tulips and while pastel colours have been popular in the past there is more interest in the more vivid colours now."
And don't be fooled by cheap prices. We've heard of some suppliers who have been holding stock back and while it may seem cheap by comparison it could be as much as three weeks old by the time it gets to you so work with reliable wholesalers who will know their supply chain.
A cargo plane packed with perishables, image: IAG Cargo
WHAT ARE WHOLESALERS DOING TO HELP?
Hope is on the horizon as our trusty wholesalers have been looking further afield and building close relationships with growers and importers.
"We work directly with growers and UK importers to get you a much better price than if we were buying off the auction clock", says Ray Roffe and Tom Le Mesurier at FloraDirect.
Meanwhile Paul at BJ Richards – who also grows his own flowers – has been sourcing from Israel, Colombia, Ecuador and others in order to save his florist customers money.
"We always agree a headline special with our growers at a guaranteed price. That way our customers can offer deals on these items to their retail customers." explained Nick at Flowervision Bristol. "Transportation from Holland, the current – super high – state of the Euro and our web, pick and pack margins all contribute to our costs, but we always do our very best for our customers."
For those who never seem to have enough greens, Dan says, "At Tom Brown we noticed a shortage in quality foliage at Valentine's which meant prices rose, so for Mother's Day we've already secured fixed prices with our suppliers to give customers an early offer."
Meanwhile over at SouthEast Chris says she gave her rose order to Colombia and Ecuador back in January. "This means we're at the top of the queue and we won't be let down. Our job is to find items that can be used as an alternative to the expensive flowers and the team are on it like a car bonnet!"
Auction clocks at FloraHolland
Roses being prepared at Alexandra Farms, Colombia
ANY ADVICE FOR FLORISTS?
Our handful of wholesalers have been working with the nation's florists, of all shapes and sizes, for many years, and had a few words of advice for anyone worrying.
"Being organised is so essential," says Chris at SouthEast. "Make a menu of bouquets designed by you, using fixed priced flowers to ensure maximising profit. More than ever it's crucial that you know what you are paying before you order."
Paul of BJ Richards stresses that with the Dutch auctions being so difficult to predict, check with your local wholesaler before ordering anything from Holland because you'll probably get a better deal buying blooms from further afield.
Tom from FloraDirect advises to buy sensibly and push promotions on flowers other than the standard rose and chrysanth, whilst Ray at FlowerPro, a local wholesaler which is also a part of the FloraDirect platform, said, "Call us and discuss your order, don't try to do it all straight off a screen."
Carnations to be exported at Ayura Farms, Colombia
THIS WOMEN'S DAY EVENT, IS IT JUST FOR THE RUSSIANS?
Regardless of flower price or buying patterns, nearly everyone reckoned florists should take advantage of the event and jump on board the Women's Day bandwagon.
"Prices aside, I think it's a fantastic way to dual advertise both International Women's Day and Mother's Day," says John at Tom Brown. "Women's Day has a huge European following and with a lot of towns now having a cosmopolitan mix it's a real opportunity. Supermarkets have been doing this for ages with sections, and now whole aisles, dedicated to European products."
Have a quick Google and you'll find that the slogan for International Women's Day 2016 is 'Make It Happen, #PledgeForParity.'
"It's an opportunity for strong advertising recognising the special women in our lives (which I would imagine 99% of the time will include our mothers) and celebrating them rather than sticking to the more conventional Mother's Day window display."
Traders at Covent Garden have noticed that whilst Women's Day has been slow to take off in the UK, in the capital they are seeing a small but significant uplift driven by the increase of Londoners who have come from Eastern Europe.
And Florismart's Steve France points out that with Women's Day falling two days after Mother's Day, one advantage is that you can use it as an opportunity to sell what's leftover.
And as Chris Wolfe of SouthEast Flowers pointed out; "If florists do well, we do well. We are in it together."
So whatever happens, don't panic, remember communication is key, work closely with your wholesaler, order as early as possible, look further afield that just Holland for your supply, buy different varieties, promote the Women's Day opportunity, be proud of your skills and know that regardless of price, they are enough to set you apart from the mass market competition. YOU CAN DO THIS!