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In the upcoming year, the floral industry will continue to seek innovative solutions to challenges that have arisen within the globalized marketplace. Whether it’s the cost of shipping floral products from farms in South America to flower markets across the U.S. or the availability and cost of labor to produce domestically grown products, Super Floral consulted with experts and researchers to identify core issues within the industry and suggest solutions for businesses across the floral supply chain.


“From farm to florist, existing challenges are forcing the floral industry to find viable solutions.”

Transportation and Vase-life Considerations

As cut flower imports to the U.S. continue to increase, the industry finds itself confronted with a lack of capacity and increased prices for transporting flowers from South America to the United States. A majority of cut flowers enter the U.S. via air from top flower-producing countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica, but researchers suggest a switch in transportation methods may be necessary to keep floral products affordable and attractive to American consumers.

In his research, Michael Reid, Ph.D, professor emeritus and leader for innovation and technology of the Horticulture Innovation at the University of California, Davis, found that maritime transportation provides a more economic alternative to air freight while, at the same time, maintaining higher product quality. “Bananas get shipped in huge volumes every day by sea in perfect condition,” Reid pointed out. “The same can be done for flowers.”

Most cut flowers from South America enter the U.S. through Miami – about 80 percent of flowers imported to the U.S. come through the city’s airport – according to foreign trade data published by the U.S. Census Bureau. “If you’re going through a place like Miami, the chances are that the flowers are going to heat up on the tarmac,” Reid said. “That’s devastating for their eventual quality and vase life.”

According to Reid, it’s not just the price of transportation that should cause the industry to rethink its shipping methods but also the marketability of their products once they arrive in stores. “The quality of flowers is terrible, mostly because of temperature and time,” Reid said. “Why do people not buy flowers? Because they have very poor experiences when they do. That’s a huge issue for the industry.”

A switch in transportation methods wouldn’t come without its own obstacles, Reid admitted. “The problem with the marine containers is that they have a huge capacity, even these very large farms may not fill a whole container on a daily basis,” he said. In an industry that is deeply fragmented, coordinating shipments between different farms and importers has proved to be a challenge. Still, Reid noted that maritime transportation is the only way to maintain a high quality of products at a reasonable price. “I certainly think it’s a different paradigm that’s worth exploring.”

Finding and Retaining Farm Labor

Another major challenge faced by the floral industry today is the acquisition and retention of talent across all sectors, from farm labor to floral designers. A study by the University of Florida, located in Gainesville, Fla., found that employment in the U.S. floral industry was down 52 percent from the first quarter of 2001 to the last quarter of 2014. According to the researchers, a decline in brick-and-mortar florists is one reason for the decline in employment. While the retail sector has seen steep declines in employment opportunities, the agricultural sector is struggling with a lack of workers.

In the past, migrant workers from rural Mexico supplied most of the farm labor in the U.S., but research shows that this source of comparably cheap labor is likely to dry up. Diane Charlton, Ph.D., assistant professor of Agricultural Production, Labor and Development Economics at Montana State University, in Bozeman, Mont., analyzed household survey data collected by the Mexican government between 1980 and 2010, and found that an increasing number of rural Mexicans are leaving the agricultural industry.

Higher education levels, smaller family sizes and more employment opportunities in the service and industrial sectors have led 150,000 Mexicans to leave the agricultural industry each year over the 30 years analyzed by Charlton and her fellow researchers. “If Mexico and the United States are both trying to draw from this common supply of farm workers, that supply is getting smaller and smaller,” Charlton summarized.

Farms hoping to attract agricultural workers from outside the U.S. might have to become more proactive, for example, by hiring foreign workers through the H-2A guest worker program for agricultural labor. The H-2A guest worker program, “allows agricultural employers to hire workers from other countries on temporary work permits for agricultural jobs that last 10 months or less.”

In the long term, however, Charlton believes the industry will shift towards mechanization. “There are a lot of opportunities in the future to bring in technologies that really can make these jobs more comfortable. We’re probably going to hire more agricultural engineers in the future and more technicians,” Charlton said. “This is going to create new jobs and different types of jobs.”

Connecting to Next-Generation Consumers

Flower consumption in the U.S. has continuously declined as the industry has struggled to engage a younger consumer demographic. Millennials, those born between 1982 and 2004, aren’t buying flowers at the same rate as previous generations, and traditional floral businesses have largely been unable to claim a share of their buying power.

“Millennial consumers do not purchase floral products due to perceptions of them being expensive or their longevity being too short,” said Chengyan Yue, Ph.D., professor of Horticultural Marketing at the University of Minnesota, in Minn, who researched millennial attitudes toward floral products in a 2016 study sponsored by the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters (Asocolflores) and funded by the American Floral Endowment (AFE) Floral Marketing Research Fund (FMRF).

Yue also found that the millennials interviewed in her study were generally interested in flowers, could name five or more types of flowers, like the ambience of flower shops, and were interested in learning more about the meaning of individual flower types and how to arrange them.

“Floral retailers can counter ‘expensive’ perception by providing artistically designed arrangements at various price points and by offering coupons, discounts and loyalty programs,” Yue said. In addition, she suggested floral retailers offer more opportunities for customers to engage and become familiar with floral products by hosting store events, offering customization or personalization options like arranging their own bouquets.

Yue pointed out that floral retailers should increase their use of social media to engage this more digitally focused customer base. “There are many opportunities for businesses to utilize smart phones and other mobile devices in their marketing strategies,” Yue said, pointing to the marketing potential of social media influencers, the positive effects of having a mobile-friendly website and the increasingly targeted marketing opportunities offered by mobile apps.

Alena is a full-time print journalist living in Palm Springs, California. She has a personal passion for flowers and sparked by early morning visits to the Los Angeles Flower Market during her time as an exchange student at the University of California Los Angeles. Originally from Germany, she graduated with a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City in 2017. Alena has a particular interest in working with data and pursuing stories across borders.