Rose prices have rocketed due to shortage in supply. (Getty)
  • Some flower prices have rocketed amid a shortage of imported flowers, the weak rand and seasonal squeeze on supplies.
  • But as local exporters struggled to get their product out, there is a glut of South African flowers like proteas. 
  • The industry is facing a crisis, with weak demand due in part to a lack of weddings and functions during the national lockdown.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Some flower prices have shot up, partly because of the disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdown.

The prices of roses and chrysanthemums have tripled while the prices of carnations and lilies have doubled, according to some industry players.

In March, local roses were selling at R4.50 a stem on the wholesale market. But rose prices had now shot up to between R8 and R12 a stem, price levels which were “unheard of”, says Ronnie Gross, owner of Alsmeer Fresh Cut Flowers. Alsmeer is a wholesaler that buys flowers on auction at the Johannesburg-based Multiflora Flower Market, the centre of the local flower trade. The company also buys flowers from local farmers and imports flowers from Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Holland, Kenya, Thailand, and Zimbabwe.

The national lockdown closed the local flower industry from March 27, and the government allowed it to reopen again on May 1. When the flower market opened in May, there was a limited supply of local roses because it was autumn and it was getting cold, Gross said.

Colin Glover, the owner of Johannesburg-based Benmore Florists, said red roses saw the most significant price hikes followed by white, yellow and orange roses. The consumers who have noticed the sharp increases the most were those in the habit of buying a bouquet of roses, Glover said. “Some of these consumers have baulked at the price of red roses and opted for another rose colour,” he added.

Farmers need to prune their roses over July and August, and this meant that there was little supply of local roses during those months, he said.

The prices of imported flowers, like certain varieties of roses, tulips and orchids, have also increased partly because of the weakening in the rand against major currencies – as well as because of recent increases in freight costs, especially for flowers from South America.

The cost of a chrysanthemum stem increased from R3.50 before the start of the lockdown on March 27 to R11 a stem, which is a more than tripling in the flower’s price, Gross said.

Chrysanthemums are one of the most important cut flowers used in bouquets and floral decorations like boutonnieres, which people use for special occasions and wear them on a lapel.

The prices of carnations and lilies had doubled, Gross said. Carnation stems now cost between R5 and R6.50 a stem compared to R3.50 before the lockdown.

Lilies were usually in good supply between May and July, Gross said. But farmers planted much smaller quantities of this flower this year because of the lockdown. The price of lilies has shot up from R3.50 to R6.50 a stem, he added.

In sharp contrast, the local market for proteas and “Cape greenery”, which farmers usually exported, crashed amid an oversupply of these flowers because of freight space restrictions and higher logistics costs. This situation created a “very cheap” local market for these flowers, Gross said.

Wilting flower sector

The local industry continues to take a hard knock due to the national lockdown and the pandemic.

The closure of the flower sector from March 27 until May 1 forced Alsmeer to throw away R1-million worth of flowers. When the sector reopened in May, there was uncertainty about who could operate, and this situation cast a pall over the industry.

Since then, demand for flowers has been weak.

An owner of Johannesburg-based florist said that the Multiflora Flower Market was only operating at about 60% of its normal capacity.

“The market is very quiet. There is no variety of lovely flowers,” she said.

“Who can live without flowers in these sad times?” she added.

The organisers of events like weddings and funerals usually placed significant orders for flowers, but these functions have died down, the florist said.

Weddings and funerals were now much smaller given the Covid-19 regulations, and organisers of these gatherings had slashed their flower budgets, she said.

“We are praying for the return of functions,” Gross said.

Companies have also slashed their spending on flowers too.

The national lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic had been ”traumatic” for the local flower industry value chain, which extends from farms through to florists and the ordinary person, Gross said. Many people throughout the chain have lost their jobs.

Alsmeer had kept all its staff so far, but the company had put some of them on “temporary retrenchment” and short time. This situation means that the Alsmeer staff were only on duty when there was work available, and only half of them were working right now.

The lockdown and pandemic have forced more flower businesses to shift their business online.

NetFlorist dominated e-commerce in the local flower industry, while several smaller florists had online shops too. E-commerce had caused the collapse of the traditional florist, Gross said.

Alsmeer for the first time set up an online flower shop as the company realised that the market would shift there in the long run, Gross said. Sales on the online shop were slow for now but would grow as Alsmeer introduced more products and services, he added.

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