You may have experienced the sticker shock brought on by seeing just how much a dozen red roses cost. Paying upwards of $100 for something that is a pretty commonplace gift can feel like a rip off.
Between the labor costs and the actual price of flowers and vases, the journey of a rose from farm to countertop is an expensive one that is "largely invisible to the consumer," says Kate Penn, the CEO of the Society of American Florists.
On Valentine's Day, which makes up 30% of flower sales for the entire year, according to 2019 data by the IPSOS Floral Tracking Study, these costs only get higher due to demand.
"At Valentine's Day in particular, the demand for roses is exponentially higher than any other day of the year, so that means an exponential increase in labor is needed to make that happen, which is why roses at Valentine's Day are higher than other days of the year," Penn says.
With roses, specifically, consumers don't see how much work goes into developing a bloom that is commercially viable and "promises rich, pigmented color, a beautiful opening, and a long vase life," Penn says.
"[Consumers] don't see the labor that goes into growing a rose plant," she says. "The weeks and months of monitoring the plant, ensuring it has the proper nutrition, is protected from insects and diseases, is harvested at the proper time, and put in the proper conditions and solutions that will allow it to be shipped to the retailer."
A majority of flowers you see in the United States, including roses, are imported, says Frank Montabon, a professor of supply chain management at Iowa State University.
"We get a heck of a lot of flowers from South America or Colombia, and you got a really tight window to get those flowers from there to the U.S.," he says. "Generally you have two weeks at most, which, at the risk of over-simplifying, Colombia is far away.
"Yes, those things go on airplanes and they keep them refrigerated the whole time and all that, but that's really not a lot of time to go from the field to either a wedding or a Valentine's Day dinner."
Sachi Rose Pollard, owner of a flower studio in New Jersey, does floral designs for weddings and events, along with other custom orders. She buys many of her flowers from wholesalers who import blooms from South America and Holland.
All of her flowers, she says, go through Miami and then are to shipped her.
"You're sort of paying for a plane ticket for flowers," Pollard says. "We're ordering from all over the world and these wholesale flowers are shipped and the price of the packaging and the labor and plane ticket to get them into Miami and then again they go to New York or wherever. It adds a huge wholesale price tag just for a floral designer."
Some of the most popular wedding flowers, Pollard says, vary widely in cost. A peony, for example, could be found locally but is often flown over from Canada, Israel, or Holland. "If it's local it costs me $3 per stem, but if they are not local, one peony stem would cost me up to $6," she says. "Just one stem."
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 bloom is being shipped from. "Wholesale cost can range anywhere from a $1 to $25 a stem," she says.
Then there is the cost of "hard goods" like vases, pots, and floral foam. To make a profit, she marks up the price of hard goods by "two, three, or four times, depending on the market," she says. The flowers end up priced at two to three times the wholesale cost.
This is where the disparity in cost between grocery flowers and flowers for a florist might come in. Flowers from a grocery store, like Trader Joe's, might not come in a vase. Therefore there are no or fewer "hard goods" to mark up.
Flowers from a grocery store might also cost less because they are less labor intensive.
For an event, much of the labor happens well before the big day, Pollard says. Just taking the flowers out of their boxes is a task. As soon as the flowers get off the plane you have to revive them and replenish them with water, she says.
"There is a full day of unboxing flowers and stems and cleaning up their thorns and taking their petals and leaves and making sure they get water," she says. "It's an entire day of doing that. The following day is an entire day of getting vases ready and making bouquets and everything."
Nash considers how much artistry goes into an arrangement. "Small detail work like corsages and floral crowns involve a lot more detail and are a lot more labor intensive," she says.
Plus, she considers how much the flowers will be photographed. "A bridal bouquet takes a lot of time because that is one of the most important things," she says.
Flowers that aren't for an event can still be labor intensive. Tracey Morris, who owns Ella & Louie Flowers in Santa Barbara, California, says the inclusion of vases, along with the level of skill, affect the cost of her arrangements.
"For me, personally, I sell wrapped bouquets for a lot less labor than arrangements," she says. "There is lot less skill. You're not paying for any hard goods because there is no vase and it takes less time to arrange it."
The high price of stems being imported from around the world combined with the fact that many florists want every bouquet to be perfect, make for a high price tag.
"Flower people are pretty generous people in that I want everything to be the prettiest thing I've ever sent out, but we are a business," Morris says.
This story has been updated to clarify Frank Montabon's title.
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