Colombian Protests and the Pandemic Cause Flower Shortages
Mother’s Day is one of the busiest holidays for florists. Moms love their flowers, and, oh goodness, they deserve them. While you were out shopping for your mama, you may have noticed less flowers than past years or higher prices. You’re not crazy or procrastinating (you may have been procrastinating, but that’s not the cause… this time). If you noticed the change, you were picking up on an interesting butterfly effect.
There’s no denying the world has changed a lot over the last year and a half. So many industries have been affected. The floral industry has been one of them. A luxury industry, flowers are something people can cut out of their budgets when they need to save. As people quarantined, scrimped, and lost their jobs, the demand for flowers decreased, and many florists, wholesalers, and farms saw huge losses and even shuttered their doors. Farmers and growers plant based on the demand they experienced in the previous year. Since demand was significantly down in 2020, there were less flowers planted in 2021 all over the world. Growers did not make these decisions lightly, but they were made in an effort to do what was best for their future without wasting product. Farms are also experiencing worker shortages as people battle to survive the pandemic and are struggling with COVID-19 restrictions. Less hands means less flowers.
Under the best of circumstances, it is a difficult balance predicting what quantity the world will need; that balance was only exacerbated by the global pandemic. Fewer plants and flowers were planted for the 2021 growing seasons. With the release of the vaccine and a reopening of the world, flower demand is rising again. Events—like weddings, workshops, conferences, celebrations, etc.—that were delayed during COVID are being rescheduled on top of already scheduled events and new ones as people begin living their lives once again. Florists are working over time to accommodate their clients. Demand has outpaced supply in 2021.
The majority of the world’s flowers are grown in South America. Colombia accounts for 78% of the U.S.’s flower importation, and Ecuador supplies another 15% of our total fresh flower imports. Mother Nature still has a big say in how well flowers grow, and she has not been a happy mama this year. Colombia and Ecuador experienced exceptionally cold weather before major flooding over the past several months. None of which makes for a happy flower. Less flowers were planted and even less flowers are growing.
Logistics of getting flowers from South America to the United States have been tricky. In the before times, flowers arrived in the U.S. via air cargo planes. As the pandemic spread, cargo planes were restricted and redirected for essential goods needing to be dispersed throughout the world. Flowers are not considered an essential good, so dedicated floral cargo planes were sent out of the region. Flowers have been shipped to the U.S. through any means necessary, which is slower, less reliable, and in fewer quantity. Shipping delays are affecting all industries and goods, not just flowers. On top of poor shipping logistics, there are higher shipping demands as the pandemic sent shoppers online. Nothing is getting anywhere on time. When you’re shipping flowers, time is of the essence. They only last so long.
Nothing has been going right for the 2021 flower season or growers.
On top of everything else, Colombia is in the midst of a third week of labor strikes as workers oppose a tax overhaul proposed by President Duque. Though the protest began over taxation, it quickly escalated due to police force. The death toll has reached 42 with a potential to continue rising. President Duque has ordered Colombia’s police and military to a “maximum deployment” to clear protestors, which will likely ensure more violence and police brutality. The strike means a few things for the floral industry. As people fill the streets in outrage, there are less workers to cut flowers in the fields; less people to transport the flowers; and even if that was possible, many roads, cities, and businesses are shut down due to protesting.
The world is still fighting the pandemic, but it is also starting to recover and move on. People are doing things they used to do, like buying flowers. A combination of less production, bad weather, shipping logistics, and protests, the floral industry is doing its best to get your flowers to you. In the coming days and weeks, you may notice less flowers and higher prices. Supply is down. Demand is high. Hang in there, things will get better and back to normal. In the meantime remember: we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got! And support your local florists because flowers are always a good idea!
Photo included was taken at one of our local wholesalers, who normally has every bucket full on a busy Monday morning.
Written by: RaeAnna Rekemeyer