When mom receives pink roses in a Mother's Day bouquet, it's the end of a long process that began 80 days before, when a farmer, typically one living in the Andean mountains of Ecuador, pinched his flowers to start a new cycle and have peak of production in time for the holiday.
"Mother's Day is known as a holiday of volume, but the last few years the production for Mother's Day has been slow because of the weather conditions in Ecuador and Colombia," said José Vicente Mantilla, a manager at Bellaflor Group. The company manages a 38-acre farm, 7,874 feet above sea level in the suburbs of Quito, Ecuador.
Although Bellaflor sells more flowers on Mother's Day, revenue on Valentine's Day is larger because moms may receive a mix of flowers, while Valentine's Day is more skewed to pricier roses. Though this year, because of the weather conditions, Mother's Day prices are approaching Valentine's Day level prices, said Mantilla.
Mother's Day, which falls on May 12 this year, is a big holiday for the $34 billion floral industry—it represents a quarter of annual sales, said the Society of American Florists. Its calculation includes sales of all floriculture items in retail outlets.
This year mothers are expected to be pampered a bit more than last year as the economy seems to be slowly awakening this spring. Spending on mom for meals, gift certificates for a day spa and of course flowers, is expected to rise 11 percent to an average of $168.94, according to the National Retail Federation. All told, about $20.7 billion will be spent on celebrating the day.
When it comes to buying roses, American consumers prefer shorter stems—between 15 and 23 inches long. That differs from other consumers such as those in the Russian market, who typically want 40-inch stems and a large flower head, said Mantilla. Europeans constantly search for new varieties of roses, and Bellaflor maintains close relationships with breeders to stay on top of the new trends.
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Ecuadorian farms such as Bellaflor and those in Colombia supply the bulk of flowers to the U.S. market, since they have a favorable climate and cheaper labor. In 2012, Ecuadorian farms sent out 127,000 metric tons (140,000 tons) of flowers and 40 percent of it went to American wholesalers and supermarkets.
Flowers take a 10-day journey from a farm in Ecuador to the U.S. consumer's vase, and all this time flowers are stored in cold to maintain freshness, said Scott Kitayama, president of Greenleaf, a large family run wholesaler that grows flowers in California, but still imports about 80 percent of its flowers, mainly from Colombia and Ecuador.
Next week, supermarkets and local florists will see a huge spike in foot-traffic, and traffic will also surge for the online flower services.
Teleflora processes 10 to 15 times more orders on its website for Mother's Day than on a regular week.
"People are looking now for a little bit more than just flowers, I think they are looking for something that's got longer-stay appeal as well," said Tracey Moses, chief marketing officer at Teleflora, which offers add-ons with its bouquets to meet this demand. In general, pink or lavender roses and lilies are the traditional go-to for this holiday.
The industry is slightly growing compared with the past year, but it is not yet on the precrisis level, she said.
"We start seeing a heavier spike [orders] a week before Mother's Day," Moses said. The last two days before the weekend gets hit with the most orders.
"It is definitely our largest holiday of the year," Moses said.