- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

The war of the roses is on. An expected surge in St. Valentine’s Day flower purchases this year is proving to be a boon for both South American growers and major shipping companies. Atlanta-based UPS Inc. and Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp. are bringing in extra workers and planes to handle all the flower shipments from Colombia and Ecuador, where the bulk of the roses sold in the United States are grown.

Demand is predicted to be high, with roughly 175 million roses produced for Monday’s holiday, according to the Society of American Florists.

FedEx this week expects to carry 900,000 shipments of Valentine’s Day gifts, including flowers, teddy bears and chocolates. UPS said it expects to move more than 20 million flowers alone.

“While our total volume is roughly the same as last year, our peak day — Monday — is going to be 30 percent higher than last year,” said Jack Muhs, FedEx’s vice president of global network planning.

FedEx doesn’t deliver on Sundays, so that means more shipments of flowers this year will be made on Monday. Last year, the holiday fell on a Saturday.

“Most of the husbands or sweethearts want to get the product there on Valentine’s Day,” he added. “This year, with the holiday falling on a Monday, we’re focusing a lot of attention on the weekend.”

To handle the extra volume, FedEx is adding more than 100 refrigerated trucks and more than 50 flights this week. Spokeswoman Lourdes Pena said about 40 corporate employees have volunteered to help at the company’s Miami distribution hub.

UPS said that during the run-up to Valentine’s Day, it doubles its number of flights out of South America to handle the flower shipments. Retailers place their orders with growers in Ecuador, who work with export-cargo agents to get shippers like UPS to bring the flowers into the United States.

UPS operates a 200,000-square-foot warehouse at the Miami airport that it uses to store the flowers brought from South America.

“UPS’ transportation responsibility is to deliver the flowers on time to our warehouse in Miami. The import agents collect those flowers from us and take them to distribution centers,” said Tom O’Malley, UPS’ vice president of cargo.

The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend less on average this Valentine’s Day, though more people will be celebrating the holiday, which could give a boost to overall spending. It says Valentine’s Day spending in 2005 is expected to reach $13.2 billion.

Greeting cards remain the most popular gift, though nearly 58 percent of men surveyed by the retail group said they plan to buy flowers for their sweethearts.

Valentine’s Day cards account for 7 percent of all individual greeting cards sold industrywide for the year, with about 200 million cards exchanged by sweethearts, said Rachel Bolton with Hallmark Cards Inc. That’s not including boxed cards and miniature Valentines often exchanged among students.

That slice of the market ties Valentine’s Day with Christmas for the biggest card-giving holiday.

Cards often accompany flowers on the most romantic of holidays.

“Good roses always sell,” said Peter Sessler, director of purchasing for Los Angeles-based Mayesh Wholesale Florist Inc., which imports flowers and sells them to retail shops and party planners.

Flower prices have remained relatively stable in recent years, which has helped keep demand strong.

Last year, the average price that U.S. florists charged for a dozen arranged roses was $71.13, compared with $68.64 in 2001, said Jennifer Sparks with the Society of American Florists. The Alexandria industry group won’t have this year’s average price until after the holiday, but it is not expected to fluctuate much.

Colombia, which supplies about 75 percent of imported flowers sold in the United States, expects to export the same number of flowers this year for Valentine’s Day as in the past few years, said Ana Cristina Bueno with the Colombian Association of Flower Exporters. In 2004, Colombia exported 196,000 tons of flowers, 8 percent of them for Valentine’s Day.

Competition from Holland, Kenya and South Africa have kept prices low, she said.

In Colombia alone, there are more than 200 flower-exporting companies, all of which are privately owned. U.S. and other foreign companies have stakes in about 13 percent of those companies, Ms. Bueno said, adding that no single company or group of companies dominates the market.

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