A Valentine’s Day crisis: Is the flower industry the latest pandemic casualty?

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Around 1500 tonnes of fresh flowers are being dumped every week overseas while the local industry grapples with a widespread flower shortage, the Australian Flower Traders Association (AFTA) says.

AFTA, which represents 90% of flower imports to Australia, says florists have been working “around the clock” ahead of Valentine’s Day as a rapidly tightening global freight crisis chokes business.

Hunter-based Tony Murdocca has worked in flowers for nearly 40 years and says the pandemic has seen massive demand for flowers, with sales up more than 50% — but, dismally, the wholesale price of flowers has surged more than 80% during the same period.

“With the restrictions on flights experienced, it means that air freight costs have increased in many cases more than 300% leading to higher wholesale flower prices than the industry has ever seen before,” Murdocca, who owns Belflora Newcastle Flower Market and runs a flower farm in Sydney’s west, says.

It couldn’t’ve come at a worse time — imported flowers make up around 40% of all cut flowers and foliage, and the majority of these are roses — that’s because roses require “mild all-year-round temperatures, and day lengths as well as high altitudes, conditions which are not present in Australia”, AFTA founding member Craig Musson continues.

At the moment international growers in Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia and India are unable to get affordable freight space to ship to global markets, seeing huge flower wastage strangle business for about 2500 florists in Australia — and the pressure is not about to alleviate any time soon, Musson warned.

“During November and December last year, the global freight and logistics industry experienced a virtual gridlock, affecting the movement of fresh-cut flowers and foliage around the world, including Australia,” he says.

Musson says airlines are actually offloading freight — including flowers — to make room for passenger luggage or other, more valuable freight, amputating a logistics pathway for fresh cut flowers.

“There is little doubt that prices will increase and create difficulty for florists whose businesses rely on these calendar events dates to generate sufficient revenue to sustain them throughout the year,” he says.

He warns a shortage of flowers today for Valentine’s Day and again on Mother’s Day (May 8) is almost certain, and that means prices will skyrocket for the consumer.

This year consumers will spend $415 million on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to research from the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) and Roy Morgan, with one in four Australians celebrating and more than half buying flowers.

During the pandemic, flowers have been in higher demand as a more straightforward product in an environment where hospitality and retail restrictions, as well as public health fears, disrupt normal consumer habits on the holiday.

“We’re unlikely to see the usual volumes of people going out for their Valentine’s Day dinner dates, which is another blow for small businesses in the hospitality sector,” ARA CEO Paul Zahra says.

The research shows Valentine’s Day is a much bigger deal for younger Australians with 38% of 18-24-year-olds planning on buying a gift, compared to 7% of people over the age of 65.

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